The Christmas Bombing

O f the many controversies that swirl around the American role in the Vietnam War, one of the most contentious centers on the Christmas bombing of Hanoi in December 1972. This event followed Henry A. Kissinger's October news conference in which he said, "Peace is at hand," and President Richard Nixon's triumphant reelection in November. It preceded the signing of the armistice in January 1973 and the release of the American POWs.

According to Nixon and his supporters, the Christmas bombing forced the North Vietnamese to make concessions, accept an armistice, and release American POWs. It was a great U.S. victory that brought peace with honor.

According to Nixon's critics, the armistice agreement signed in January 1973 was identical to the one reached in October 1972. The bombing brought no concessions from the enemy, nor was it intended to; its purpose was to persuade the South Vietnamese to go along with an armistice to which they were violently opposed. The bombing ended not because the enemy cried "enough" but because American losses of B-52s were becoming intolerable. In addition, conservative critics called the bombing an American defeat that brought a temporary cease-fire at the cost of a free and independent South Vietnam.

Like so much else in the Vietnam War, the issue of the Christmas bombing was divisive and remains so. To the prowar hawks, it was done with surgical precision, sparing civilian lives; to the antiwar doves, it was terror bombing,

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