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Was the bombing of North and South Vietnam effective? Why or why not? How does one define “effective’ from the American and Vietnamese perspective.
Around 1964, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed, allowing for President Johnson use of any sort of military power without any formal declaration of war. This would subsequently lead to Operation Rolling Thunder, a series of attacks and bombings on Vietnam. The main purpose of the bombings was to demonstrate the United States’ air supremacy, and essentially show off their big guns to scare the Viet Cong. However, there was a limitation to such bombings, as the United States was restricted from what they could actually bomb in “fear of provoking a Soviet/Chinese response” (Trueman). Objectively, Operation Rolling Thunder had two main purposes: destroy the morale of the North Vietnamese, and prevent the flow of weapons and military from the North to the South (Valentine). The results were quite the opposite. In regards to United States casualties: “Due to operational circumstances, more than 900 U.S. aircraft were lost, 745 crewmen was shot down. According to an estimate by CIA, damage inflicted by U.S. bombardment in North Vietnam was about $370 million in physical destruction and 90,000 casualties, including 72,000 civilians” (Valentine). Even then, Operation Rolling Thunder would only further heighten morale in North Vietnam. The North Vietnamese would use the bombings as propaganda in order to foster more hatred and resentment against the United States. Additionally, the war would only be extended to the south, and the Viet Cong were well supplied. Ultimately, making the bombing of North Vietnam ineffective.
In terms of defining the effectiveness, one must evaluate the objectives of any sort of offensive campaign. In regards to the American perspective, it can be evaluated that the attacks were ineffective. This is because the main objectives of their campaign was to destroy Viet Cong morale and essentially show their military might. This was ineffective because it only fostered greater morale for the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese. The Viet Cong used these bombings as a tool to criminalize and depict the United States in an unfavorable light. This would mobilize both the already established followers of Ho Chi Minh as well as the peasants that were on the fence in supporting either the ARVN or the Viet Cong forces. This failure in achieving such an objective might even have been detrimental to the United States as it brought forth a greater resiliency of the Viet Cong to win in a war that they were greatly committed and passionate about. The second objective was to prevent and destroy further advancement into the South. This was obviously a failure as soon the Viet Cong would eventually launch a Tet Offensive and the Viet Cong forces would have no problem with getting into the south and infiltrating the establishments there. This was evidenced by Heyslip’s narrative, showing how the Viet Cong were prominent influences in changing the perspectives of the southern peasantry. Because the Americans did not fulfill their objectives, and ultimately their attacks would only lead to putting them in a worse position, these attacks can be evaluated as ineffective.
In regards to the Vietnamese perspective of “effectiveness”, Operation Rolling Thunder would be very great, only for the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese forces, however. These bombings can be seen as “effective” simply because, the North Vietnamese only progressed further and grew even stronger as a result of the attacks. One of the biggest weapons the Viet Cong had was a strong sense of nationalism and patriotism, these two factors would fuel support in the war no matter how difficult it seemed for the Viet Cong. These attacks allowed them to create propaganda that would only further ignite this fuel and make it stronger. Therefore, from a Vietnamese perspective, the bombings were very effective in mobilizing support, perhaps not as effective as people ended up dying as a result. Thus in evaluating the Vietnamese perspective, one must consider the broader implications of such a result and see how the northern government capitalized on such bombings and what it did to the morale and the overall outcome of the war.
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