Academic journal article Aerospace Power Journal

To Hanoi and Back: The U.S. Air Force and North Vietnam, 1966-1973 / the Transformation of American Airpower

Academic journal article Aerospace Power Journal

To Hanoi and Back: The U.S. Air Force and North Vietnam, 1966-1973 / the Transformation of American Airpower

Article excerpt

To Hanoi and Back: The U.S. Air Force and North Vietnam, 1966-1973 by Wayne Thompson. Smithsonian Institution Press ( edu/sipress), 470 L'Enfant Plaza, Suite 7100, Washington, D.C. 20560, 2000, 416 pages, $31.95.

The Transformation of American Airpower by Benjamin S. Lambeth. Cornell University Press (, 512 East State Street, Ithaca, New York 14850, 2000, 352 pages, $29.95.

After German troops blitzed through France in 1940, achieving a near-record-breaking victory over Western Europe, Franklin Delano Roosevelt committed the United States to a path of industrial rearmament that put a strong air force at the top of the nation's priority list. In May 1940, he addressed both houses of Congress and called for an increase in aircraft production capacity to at least 50,000 aircraft per year. Although the actual numbers never quite approached that figure, the role of airpower in achieving America's military objectives was solidified into national policy. During the 61 years that have elapsed since that speech, the debate over airpower's effectiveness in achieving the nation's objectives continues unabated.

Two recent books illuminate important elements of the airpower debate that have occurred within most of our lifetimes: Wayne Thompson's To Hanoi and Back and Benjamin Lambeth's The Transformation of American Airpower. Dr. Thompson examines the history of the use of airpower in Vietnam from 1966 to 1973, giving us detailed and well-researched insights not only into the tactical and operational factors affecting the employment of airpower, but also the strategic and political constr-aints that were a reality in that war. Dr. Lambeth picks up the narrative from the end of 1973 to the present day. After summarizing the situation in which the United States found itself after the Vietnam War, he leads us through the next 25 years of airpower's development, concentrating on the improvements made since the 1991 Gulf War. Each book was written for a different audience, and each offers airpower strategists different levels of analysis of both the history and effectiveness of airpower on the battlefield.

Dr. Wayne Thompson is an analyst at the Air Force History Support Office, an organization responsible for writing books, monographs, studies, and reports on the history of the Air Force. In 1990 he served in the Air Staff's Checkmate Division as an analyst and remained there throughout the Gulf War and later as a historical advisor on the Gulf War Airpower Survey team. His studies have also included duty in Italy examining the effects of bombing operations during Operation Deliberate Force in 1995 and again during Operation Allied Force in 1999.

To Hanoi and Back is a sequel to a previously classified book by Jacob Van Staaveren, Gradual Failure: The Air War over North Vietnam, 1965-1966, which the Air Force History Office has recently declassified. Dr. Thompson draws extensively not only from the unit histories and records available at the Air Force Historical Research Agency at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, but also from many personal interviews; collections from the presidential libraries; congressional records and testimonies; and, in some cases, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Soviet sources as well.

As its title suggests, the book is a history of the United States Air Force in Vietnam during these years, but it offers the reader much more than an operational narrative. It is written chronologically during the seven years that encompassed Operations Rolling Thunder, Linebacker I, and Linebacker II, as well as the many other minor operations during and between the larger ones. The real value of the book, though, for the airpower strategist is the skill with which Dr. Thompson weaves the contextual elements that ultimately decided how effective airpower could be during that period. As each operation unfolds, we are given both the details of the air campaign itself and the personalities and relationships among the various three- and four-star flag officers charged with planning and implementing the strategies. …

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