The Limits of Air Power: The American Bombing of North Vietnam

By Mark Clodfelter | Go to book overview

Introduction

In the 16 years since the initial publication of The Limits of Air Power, I have continued to study the use of American air power as a political instrument. The compilation of my thoughts from teaching air power courses at the Air Force Academy, the School of Advanced Airpower Studies (SAAS), the University of North Carolina, and the National War College resulted in the framework for evaluating air power effectiveness that now appears as this book's epilogue. In presenting that framework I provide more detailed explanations of "positive" and "negative" political objectives than I did in the original edition; plus, I examine key variables that affect whether air power can succeed as a political tool. The reader may find the additional chapter helpful in understanding my analysis of the American air campaigns against North Vietnam.

The new chapter refers to several uses of American air power since the Vietnam War. Indeed, the United States has relied on air power as a vital instrument of military force in all of its post-Vietnam conflicts, particularly those of the last decade and a half. Air power alone challenged the Iraqis for the first 38 days of the 42-day 1991 Persian Gulf War, and America contributed only air power as a military means to thwart aggression in Bosnia and Kosovo. To wreck Taliban rule in Afghanistan, the United States committed a handful of Special Forces troops and large doses of air power, and an aerial display of "shock and awe" triggered the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In many respects Presidents George H. W. Bush, William Clinton, and George W. Bush have mirrored the emphasis on air power shown by Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Both Johnson and Nixon believed that bombing would end a difficult war in Vietnam without a significant commitment of American ground forces, although the situation each man faced was certainly different—Johnson hoped to preclude a ground build-up, while Nixon sought to remove troops from a war the bulk of the American people no longer supported. In both cases air power, with its promise of a cheap and speedy victory, seemed to offer the solution to a thorny predicament.

-ix-

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The Limits of Air Power: The American Bombing of North Vietnam
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Preface and Acknowledgments xiii
  • I - From Unconditional Surrender to Flexible Response 1
  • II - The Genesis of Graduated Thunder 39
  • III - An Extended Application of Force 73
  • IV - Restraints and Results, 1965–68 117
  • V - Nixon Turns to Air Power 147
  • VI - Persuading Enemy and Ally: the Christmas Bombings 177
  • VII - Assessment 203
  • VIII - Epilogue 211
  • Notes 225
  • Bibliography 277
  • Index 299
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