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The Limits of Air Power: The American Bombing of North Vietnam
Tracing the use of air power in World War II and the Korean War, Mark Clodfelter explains how U. S. Air Force doctrine evolved through the American experience in these conventional wars only to be thwarted in the context of a limited guerrilla struggle in Vietnam. Although a faith in bombing's sheer destructive power led air commanders to believe that extensive air assault ...more
Paperback, 312 pages
Published April 1st 2006 by Bison Books
(first published May 18th 1989)
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Dec 03, 2012 Mike Hankins rated it really liked it
The Vietnam War is one of the most disputed events in American History, with multiple waves of interpretation seeking to explain the problems it presents. Mark Clodfelter's examination of the bombing campaign presents an extremely well-written, thoroughly researched evaluation. He concludes that the reason the Linebacker bombings under Nixon succeeded where the Rolling Thunder campaign under Johnson did not was because early in the conflict, the enemy forces were not vulnerable to air attack. He ...more
Clodfelter's Limits of Air Power is an attempt to describe situations where military power, and specifically airpower, can be effective. It is, at the same time, a warning that there are instances where it is ineffective. The primary premise of the book is that there are both positive goals, those that are achieved only through military force, and negative goals which are achievable by limiting military force. Both goals must be met in order to achieve victory and in limited wars, the negative g ...more
Clodfelter uses the Vietnam War as the context for analyzing American airpower’s utility as a political instrument. He demonstrates that the US Air Force organized, trained, and equipped for a worst-case scenario (general) war. Air Force leaders believed that by preparing for general war, it would be inherently prepared to fight limited wars. Clodfelter argues that the Vietnam experience created “a modern vision of air power that focuses on the lethality of its weaponry rather than on that weapo ...more
This was a hard book for me to read. It was not as bad as Into the Quagmire in which VanDeMark described me as he described the protagonists, Johnson, MacNamara, etc., who knew they could not win the Viet Nam War because the government was not a viable government. But I did not know that. Like so many. I was conditioned by WWII, my Hungarian background, anti-Russian, anti-Marxist, etc. But I was smart enough, I think, to realize after my Air Force service that strategic bombers could not be brou ...more
A good overview of the political background to, and conduct of the Rolling Thunder and Linebacker campaigns. Clodfelter's main aim is to use the concepts of negative and positive political objectives to explain, at least in part, why Johnson's air campaign against the North was such a failure when compared with Nixon's. In so doing, Clodfelter seeks to dispel the conventional wisdom that if only the Air Force was given free reign in the 60s, it would have brought the war to an end as it did in 72.
This is a very good overview of the uses and limits of airpower, as found in the context of the Vietnam War, and how airpower can be used and misused to achieve positive and negative goals. Clodfelter details the rationale behind Rolling Thunder, Linebacker I, and Linebacker II. The micromanagement and mismanagement of Rolling Thunder was very interesting, as the Johnson administration attempted to keep the Vietnam war a limited conflict, while avoiding any provokation of the PRC or the Soviet U ...more
Professor Clodfelter's dissection of America's bombing campaigns during the Vietnam War ought to be required reading at all military academies and institutes the world over, and especially in the United States. The book illustrates the clash between doctrine and political limitations that usually accompany the road to war, Clodfelter making the important point that that while the people who ran the bombing campaigns based their expectations on how bombardment from the air was carried out during ...more