This excellent report, professionally converted for accurate flowing-text e-book format reproduction, analyzes the historic initial bombing campaign against North Vietnam in 1965 known as Rolling Thunder. The Vietnam War was many things to many people. It represented, among many other things, the clash between the views and objectives of America's civilian leadership and traditional military doctrine. It illustrated the difficulty in prosecuting a conventional war against an unconventional enemy and in waging a limited war against an enemy waging an essentially unlimited war. The Rolling Thunder campaign, the longest sustained aerial bombing campaign in history, was a microcosm of the problems the United States faced in the war as a whole.
American air power doctrine was based on the concept of strategic bombardment, a concept based on two fundamental assumptions: The first assumption was that any American war would be waged to destroy the enemy's ability to wage modern warfare. The second assumed that any enemy the United States might engage would be a modern industrialized state. In Vietnam, neither assumption held true. The American objective, when engaging the North Vietnamese, was to persuade the North Vietnamese to desist in their support of the war in South Vietnam. Further, North Vietnam was anything but a modern industrialized state.
The resulting aerial campaign, Rolling Thunder, was a far cry from that envisioned in plans developed before the American intervention. A campaign of graduated pressure intended to signal "resolve" to the North Vietnamese, Rolling Thunder failed to persuade the North Vietnamese and it failed to destroy their ability to prosecute their war in South Vietnam. This study illustrates how American air power doctrine developed in a manner incompatible with the employment required over North Vietnam and how even the best military advice can be ignored if it does not conform to the objectives of the civilian leadership. Moreover, the study indicates that even if the military had been allowed to carry out its desired intensive bombing campaign, the results might not have changed. Finally, the study indicates the problems inherent in developing effective air power doctrine across the spectrum of modern conflict.