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The operational results of ROLLING THUNDER reflected the tension that existed between the success of military leaders in persuading President Johnson to permit attacks on targets they considered critical, many of them near Hanoi and Haiphong - power plants, manufacturing and POL (petroleum, oil and lubricants) facilities, railroad lines and key bridges - and the constraining effect of graduated escalation and the periodic bombing halts - there were no less than seven - that Johnson offered the North Vietnamese as an inducement to negotiate. Militarily, the high point of ROLLING THUNDER came in the summer of 1967 when Johnson overrode McNamara's objections and permitted stepped-up attacks in the Hanoi-Haiphong vicinity. On 11 August, F-105s attacked the Paul Doumer bridge crossing the Red River at Hanoi, severing the primary transportation link between Haiphong and the south. When the North Vietnamese returned it to operation in October, it was dropped again. Navy strikes on industrial and transportation targets kept up the pressure. From the vantage point of Washington, the attacks, while tactically successful, served mainly to produce adverse publicity, recalling the previous year's controversy over Harrison Salisbury's New York Times dispatches from North Vietnam which had accused the U.S. of deliberately attacking civilian targets thus fueling the protests of an increasingly robust anti-war movement. In fact, ROLLING THUNDER was having a serious effect on the north and John Colvin, British charge d'affaires in Hanoi, was later to report that the North Vietnamese transportation system and economy was close to systemic collapse.


Whatever the reality, Johnson and his advisors were apparently unaware of the extent of the destruction U.S. air power had wrought. The campaign must be judged a strategic failure overall because, in the final analysis, it had no decisive effect on the war in the south. Moreover, it left numbers of shot-down American aviators in North Vietnamese hands: the largest single body of prisoners of war (POWs); they were to be important pawns in the peace negotiations which ended U.S.military involvement in the war. Military commanders and fighter jocks deeply resentedJohnson's and McNamara's tight control of the tactical details of ROLLING THUNDER and, when the President announced the campaign's termination in the wake of the 1968 Tet Offensive, few mourned its passing.




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