The Limits of Air Power analyzes the American bombing campaigns in Vietnam and shows why the use of air power, so effective in previous wars, proved unsuccessful in a limited war.
Major Mark Clodfelter, a military historian, assesses the American use of air power from World War II through the Vietnam War, and shows how its effectiveness declined in Vietnam when air commanders and political leaders were faced with a very different kind of conflict than they had previously experienced. During World War II there was a very clear military objective – destruction of the Axis powers, in which the critical role of air power culminated in the detonation of two atomic bombs over Japan. During the Korean War, the threat of aerial attacks against North Korean dams hastened that war’s conclusion. But in Vietnam – where the enemy fought a guerrilla war and was not dependent on supply lines, and where no industrial economy existed – the threat of air power had less effect. The lessons learned from Vietnam, says the author, must become a part of Air Force doctrine going forward, and we ignore the lessons at our own peril. The New York Times praised The Limits of Air Power as “a courageous book. . . . It will enlighten any citizen interested in knowing whether the Air Force is prepared to do its job.”
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About the Author
Mark Clodfelter is a professor of military history at the National War College in Washington, DC.
Read an Excerpt
The Limits of Air Power
The American Bombing of North Vietnam
By Mark Clodfelter
University of Nebraska Press
Copyright © 2006
University of Nebraska Press
All right reserved.
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.
Excerpted from The Limits of Air Power
by Mark Clodfelter
Copyright © 2006 by University of Nebraska Press.
Excerpted by permission.
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