President Johnson and the Decision to Curtail Rolling Thunder
Within two months of Tet, President Johnson ended the bombing of North Vietnam north of the twentieth parallel. His decision neither ended Rolling Thunder (the bombing of North Vietnam) nor reduced the weight of the air war in Southeast Asia. But, combined with his public decision not to run for reelection and his private decision not to send reinforcements to General Westmoreland, the decision on the bombing marked a watershed.
To some extent the well-known story of how Johnson decided against reinforcing Westmoreland and the decision to stop bombing North Vietnam above the twentieth parallel are one and the same. At the strategic and operational levels, however, the two decisions differed. The choice not to send reinforcements was conditioned by lack of American resources, military and financial. The separate but related choice to stop the bombing north of the twentieth parallel represented less of a departure in policy, because LBJ had already publicly offered to stop bombing North Vietnam. The previous September, President Johnson had declared in a speech at San Antonio that
The United States is willing to stop all aerial and naval bombardment of North Vietnam when this will lead promptly to productive discussions. We, of course, assume that while discussions proceed North Vietnam will not take advantage of the bombing cessation or limitation.1
Having by this time chosen to mount the go-for-broke Tet Offensive, North Vietnam did not respond. As Tet wound down in March 1968, the president found himself, however, in a political box from which a curtailment