PayPal

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Have Overly Restrictive Rules of Engagement (ROEs) Repeatedly Cost America Victory in War, Starting with Vietnam? And if So, Why Do We Continue

Fighting Non-Defensive Wars?

 

The emasculation of our own warriors has proceeded to the point where, early in the War in Afghanistan in 2001, we had a clear shot at taking out Taliban leader Mullah Omar with a drone, only to have a lady Pentagon lawyer veto the move. And then, in 2003, when our boys took Baghdad, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered them to permit anarchy to reign in the city they had supposedly just conquered. Presumably that was because of Pres. George W. Bush’s fear of the blowback in the Arab Moslem world, and among their American Fifth column, if the world saw video reports of white, “infidel” American marines and soldiers shooting Arab Moslem looters.

As you read the following two articles about how internationalist ideology has been used to handcuff, and even persecute, the American military since at least 1964, while favoring our military enemies, consider how during the same period, America’s ruling elite’s ideology, first under the trademark of the “welfare-state,” and over the past generation under the brand of “multiculturalism” has handcuffed and persecuted the aggressive and legal exercise of law enforcement and criminal justice against organized and non-organized “Third World” criminals and terrorists, while unleashing the same authorities to act mercilessly against patriotic white Americans engaging in lawful activities.

Note, too, the domestic political ramifications: John McCain conducted his incompetent 2008 presidential campaign as if he were under the same “no-win” rules of engagement as when he was a Navy pilot in the War in Vietnam.
 

While historian Paul Johnson pinpointed "a unique succession of misjudgments, all made with the best intentions," as the indisputable cause.
However, whitewashing what happened in Vietnam as a succession of misjudgments wreaks of the kind of pollyannaism that has typified the Republican response to "mistakes" in U.S. foreign policy dating back to a series of similar "misjudgments" with Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Castro and later Ortega, Khomeini, Hussein, Artiside and now Milosovich. Amazingly, almost all of these henchmen were characterized kindly, at one time, to the American people as Uncle Joes, agrarian reformers, or as the George Washingtons of their respective countries. And so we supported them with money and technology, pulled the plug on their pro-western opponents, even as piles of evidence indicated that none of the above deserved an ounce of trust.

But then in the venture called internationalism, creating and aiding the enemies you later pretend to oppose, appears strangely to be an accepted rule of the game.

Steve Farrell


Why We Lost in Vietnam
By Steve Farrell
April 30, 2000
Newsmax

In 1985, actor Sylvester Stallone, starring for the second time as disillusioned Vietnam Vet and decorated fictional war hero John Rambo, gave us a film that was famously implausible for its action hero stunts, yet fabulously popular, and more importantly, bitingly astute concerning our loss in Vietnam.

His words were few, but his query, "Are we allowed to win this time?" received five stars from cheering veterans in the aisles of movie theaters who were just as anxious as Rambo to get another shot at victory, this time without one hand tied behind their back.

After viewing the film, one veteran told me with emotion, "For the first time I feel like I can hold my head high!"

As grossly animated a character as Rambo was, he did what the United States soldier could have done all along, if permitted, and that was send communist Vietnam into the trash heap of history. But, as in Korea, so it was in Vietnam, a war fought in the name of internationalism, would by design fail.

Many will dispute that point. Former State Department Head Henry Kissinger argued that we lost because of our military's unfamiliarity with guerilla warfare and by virtue of the divisive nature of our democratic government, which provided no staying power, and thus no match for a patient communist enemy. (1)

Others, such as the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in July of 1965, identified America's lack of a "will to win" as the problem. (2)

While historian Paul Johnson pinpointed "a unique succession of misjudgments, all made with the best intentions," as the indisputable cause. (3)

However, whitewashing what happened in Vietnam as a succession of misjudgments reeks of the kind of pollyannaism that has typified the Republican response to "mistakes" in U.S. foreign policy dating back to a series of similar "misjudgments" with Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Castro and later Ortega, Khomeini, Hussein, Artiside and now Milosovich. Amazingly, almost all of these henchmen were characterized kindly, at one time, to the American people as Uncle Joes, agrarian reformers, or as the George Washingtons of their respective countries. And so we supported them with money and technology, pulled the plug on their pro-western opponents, even as piles of evidence indicated that none of the above deserved an ounce of trust.

But then in the venture called internationalism, creating and aiding the enemies you later pretend to oppose, appears strangely to be an accepted rule of the game.
Vietnam fit the pattern.

It was our "fervent anti-colonialist" Office of Strategic Services, predecessor of the CIA, which sponsored Communist leader Ho Chi Minh in his putsch, known as the "August Revolution,' which ousted the pro-French emperor of Vietnam. (4)

A "misjudgment." And then when Ho Chi Minh began to do in Vietnam what we surely expect communists to do, he suddenly became our enemy.

But alliances need enemies, don't they?

Just maybe the "surprise" emergence of Ho Chi Minh, as the slavemaster of Indochina, was just what the doctor ordered. For his presence justified the creation of yet another United Nations regional military alliance, this time spreading internationalism's wings not into willing Europe but into stubborn, nonaligned Asia.
Or so it seemed.

The result. In 1954, with the zealous support of Democratic President Harry Truman, the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) was formed as a sister organization to NATO. (5)

Once in place, SEATO sprang to life in 1961, when President John F. Kennedy (6), without congressional consent, sent troops to Vietnam "because the United States and our allies [were] committed by the SEATO treaty or act to meet the common danger of aggression in Southeast Asia." (7)

And lest there be any confusion, this we did, said State Department Bulletin 8062, with the blessing of the "UN Security Council." Or as the Bulletin further explained: "The Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) was designed as a collective defense arrangement under Article 51 of the UN Charter." (8)

That should have been a clue that we were in for trouble in Vietnam.

Enter the "Rules of Engagement." Co-authored by fellow internationalists and Council of Foreign Relations members Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, these rules insured that we could not win and that the communists could not lose. Understandably, they were kept secret for 20 years.

It took a subpoena, and a lot of arm twisting, from Sen. Barry Goldwater to finally have these "rules of engagement" hauled out of the State Department's vaults, declassified, and published in the Congressional Record, for all the world to see, a decade after the war was over.

The rules were startling.

Here are a few: U.S. pilots were forbidden to bomb Soviet-made SAM missile sites under construction but could risk their lives firing at them after they were fully operational. Pilots and ground forces were not allowed to destroy communist aircraft on the ground but only those armed and dangerous in the air. Truck depots 200 yards away from main roads were forbidden targets for American soldiers, but trucks on the road could be attacked. Pilots flying over supply ships laden with war materials on their way to North Vietnam's Haiphong Harbor were ordered to look the other way, even though the weapons on board would be used to kill Americans.

Throughout the war, returning troops told of being ordered not to shoot until shot at, not to attack the enemy's "safe" areas, and not to hold terrain that had been won at considerable cost in lives and labor. (9)

Included, also, in this no-win strategy, was the on again off again ordering of ammunition "quotas," which halted attacks and reversed victories when an elusive daily quota had been met, while paradoxically, abandoning the policy, on other days, ordering vast quantities of ammunition to be fired at "undefined targets."

Quite a series of misjudgments! The Commander-in-Chief, Lyndon B. Johnson, added one more. By one stroke of his pen, he single handedly reversed U.S. Trade Policy, authorizing the wartime sale of U.S. "non-military" hardware to the East European communist block nations, who unsurprisingly converted the same into military hardware, which was then shipped to North Vietnam sporting labels "made in the U.S.A." (10)

Those made-in-the-U.S.A. weapons killed American boys.

Congressman H.R. Gross, R-Ia., summed up these "mistakes" as "a betrayal to international politics and intrigue." (11)

Which is the key point. This was the second U.S. war officially fought in the name of the International Order (Korea being the first), both supposedly fought to check communism, both of which by design preserved communism, and in Vietnam managed to make America look like a fool.

Thus, to be precise, it is time that the embarrassment for Vietnam should be placed at the doorstep not of anti-communism and U.S. nationalism, but on the doorstep of the United Nations, NATO's sister SEATO, and the host of internationalists in this country and abroad who support their institutions and philosophies. Vietnam was a war fought in favor of and in defense of the international order, nothing else.
Had it been a traditional American war of self-defense, things would have been different.

"The war against Vietnam [could have been] irrevocably won in six weeks," was the collective opinion of a prestigious panel of former and current Joint Chief of Staffs, Chief of Staffs and generals, interviewed in the March 1968 issue of Science & Mechanics.

But it wasn't, for we were choosing to fight "a war in a weak-sister manner that [was] unprecedented throughout the history of military science."

In the end, like Korea, Vietnam fell into the hands of the communists, 58,000 Americans died or were missing in action, 300,000 were wounded, 1.2 million Vietnamese perished, the rest were enslaved, and dominoes was the order of the day in Indochina

Our last "misjudgment" that tumbled South Vietnam, after our departure, was to recommend a familiar U.N. "democracy/unifying/peace" strategy - the creation of a coalition government between South and North Vietnam.

Democracy, unification, and peace resulted, all right, communist style.
Audaciously, the internationalists who gave us Vietnam never acknowledged their part in this fiasco but used the debacle of Vietnam as cause to condemn nationalism, as cause to elevate their cries for the outlawry of war, and as cause to insure that in the future the U.N. and its surrogates would intervene earlier, even before "threatening" nations attack - hence a more recent fiasco, Kosovo.
 

Footnotes: 1. Kissenger, Henry: "American Foreign Policy," W.W. Norton & Company Inc. New York 1974, p. 102. 2. Johnson, Lyndon, Public Papers, Volume IV, p 291 3. Johnson, Paul: "A History of the American People," Harper Collins Publishers, New York 1997, p. 877. 4. ibid., p. 878. 5. ibid., p. 879. 6. ibid., p. 880. 7. McManus, John F: ""Changing Commands: The Betrayal of America's Liberty," John Birch Society, Wisconsin, 1995, p. 117. 8. ibid., p. 117 9. Congressional Record, March 6, 14, and 18, 1985. 10. McManus, p. 119. 11. McManus, p. 121

Please email your comments and/or media requests to Steve at Cyours76@hotmail.com

 


The crews that flew the aircraft found the ROEs not only overly restrictive but extremely complicated, confusing, and difficult to learn and remember. The list of restrictions and limitations was so long and changed so often that they were difficult to comprehend on the ground, much less remember and keep straight while in a fast moving combat situation. Crews depended on daily study and on radar controllers to keep them from violations of the complex ROEs, and from flying where they might not be able to defend even when fired on.

Several incidents of ROE violations led to court-martial charges; one that led to charges against the commander and the aircrew was the strafing of the Soviet ship Turkestan in 1967 near Haiphong. Fear of ROE violations and the consequences of them led to a dilemma; many aircrews felt as if they could not accomplish their mission without either getting killed by the enemy or brought up on court-martial charges by their own government.
The Effects of Restrictive Rules of Engagement on the Rolling Thunder Air Campaign
By Major Matthew J. Dorschel, United States Air Force
CSC 1995

SUBJECT AREA - Aviation



EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Title: The Effects of Restrictive ROEs on the Rolling Thunder Air Campaign

Author: Major Matthew J. Dorschel, United States Air Force

Thesis: The ROEs that were in place for the Rolling Thunder air campaign were overly restrictive and made the conduct of the air campaign inefficient and hampered its effectiveness.


Background: The air war over North Vietnam has been at the center of many heated debates on the proper application of air power and how it should be used and controlled.

Rolling Thunder provides an excellent example of how difficult the task of planning and executing a successful air campaign is. Restrictive rules of engagement were put in place for Rolling Thunder chiefly due to the fear of escalation and direct involvement of the Soviet Union or China in the war. The goals of the air campaign were limited and President Johnson hoped to achieve results through tightly controlled, applied pressure on the N. Vietnamese government. The controls however, violated accepted air doctrine and tied the hands of the military commanders that were tasked to meet the arduous objectives of the campaign. Rolling Thunder barely achieved any of the desired results -- restrictive rules of engagement undoubtedly played a major part in the failure of U.S air power in this singular black mark on the record of American military aviation.

Recommendation: US leaders must evaluate national objectives in future wars and decide if they can be met with military means. Then, rules of engagement must allow those tasked to accomplish the mission, to do so in a way consistent with proven doctrine and strategy.

As Desert Storm illustrated, airpower can achieve decisive results without restrictive rules of engagement.

 
INTRODUCTION


United States air commanders possessed superior numbers of aircraft and a more capable air force than did North Vietnamese commanders during the air war in Southeast Asia. Then why did they experience such poor results? Specifically, why was the famous Rolling Thunder air campaign unable to achieve decisive results that might have positively influenced the outcome of the war in Vietnam? The overly restrictive rules of engagement (ROE), which put limits on where aircraft could fly, which targets they could attack, and how they may attack those targets, were a significant reason that American air commanders were unable to execute a successful campaign in Southeast Asia.

The restrictive ROEs in Vietnam were put in place by President Johnson to ensure the war did not escalate (Johnson feared Chinese and Soviet intervention). The President hoped to achieve results by using an "air pressure campaign" to coerce the North Vietnamese to discontinue supporting the Vietcong (VC). These restrictions violated Air Force doctrine and tied the hands of air commanders that were tasked with the execution of the air war in Southeast Asia.

Many airmen who flew during the Vietnam War believe that victory would have been possible for the United States had there been less restrictive ROEs. That assertion may not be entirely true; certainly there are multiple causes for the failures of U.S. air power in the Vietnam conflict; however, it is apparent that overly restrictive ROEs will have a dramatic negative affect on the outcome of any air campaign.

In all likelihood, America's involvement in future conflicts will be "limited" and political concerns will be similar to those that were important during the Vietnam War. As military leaders we must do what we can to ensure that ROEs will enable us to accomplish favorable results, not keep us from achieving our objectives. The lessons from Vietnam and specifically from the Rolling Thunder campaign have shaped Air Force doctrine and continue to influence the way airmen plan and execute an air campaign.

U.S. involvement in Vietnam began as far back as 1954, but the "official" position until late 1963 was that no combat missions were to be conducted. It was not until the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August of 1964 that U.S. air strikes became more aggressive: "On 4 August, North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked two U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. President Johnson ordered air attacks on the North Vietnamese boat bases and their supporting fuel storage facilities in reprisal."1 A substantial deployment of U.S. aircraft began and further attacks on U.S. facilities led to stronger action than retaliatory air strikes.

In the spring of 1965 the inability of the South Vietnamese military to thwart the Vietcong and what appeared to be a collapse of their government led American leaders to the determination that a bombing campaign was needed. The campaign was to achieve the following objectives: reduce the flow of men and material from North Vietnam to South Vietnam, send a clear message to the North Vietnamese leaders that continued action would exact a high price, and raise the morale of the South Vietnamese.2

From March of 1965 to November of 1968, a limited air campaign aimed at these objectives was run -- it was called Rolling Thunder. This strategic air interdiction campaign was conducted with rules of engagement that covered all aspects of the campaign, from planning to execution. The ROEs were so restrictive that it was all but impossible to achieve the desired results; they forced commanders and planners to go against the central principles of Air Force bombing doctrine.

The ROEs in place for the air campaign over North Vietnam included restrictions on where aircraft could fly, what conditions aircraft could attack enemy forces (when they were considered hostile), and what degree of force could be used both in self-defense and attack.3 Another part of the ROEs restricted pilots from attacking certain types of targets that were off limits; some of these were: enemy airfields, SAM sites, power plants, naval craft in some areas, a 30 mile area around Hanoi, and a 10 mile area around Haiphong.4

The inability to attack certain targets made it difficult to stop the flow of men and material into South Vietnam, and the requirements to spare North Vietnamese civilians limited the use of certain types of munitions, such as B-52s and napalm. Until early 1967, in many instances U.S. pilots were not allowed to engage enemy fighters unless they themselves had been attacked first.

According to the 1964 Air Force Manual I-I, Aerospace Doctrine, United States Air Force Basic Doctrine, the goal of strategic interdiction was to reduce enemy logistical support to levels below that necessary to sustain combat operations and to use the principles of surprise and mass to attack those targets vital to enemy war-fighting capability. By not following these proven principles of war, the air commanders were unable to wage an effective air campaign and Rolling Thunder lacked the impact that was necessary for achieving the stated political and military objectives.

Rolling Thunder ROE: -- Violation of Doctrine

Restrictive ROEs not only made it difficult to damage the most important targets in North Vietnam, they had an equally negative effect on the commanders and aircrews that were tasked to plan and fight with the tight restrictions. Civilian leaders believed that therestrictions were necessary to keep the war limited and achieve the objectives of reducing the supply flow and sending a clear message to North Vietnam leaders; they imposed the restrictions hoping that the threat of future destruction would force North Vietnam to the negotiation table.5 This philosophy was not embraced by military planners and aircrews who felt it was in violation of their training and contrary to Air Force doctrine.

U.S. Military planners and airmen realized that the limited style of warfare they were fighting was not producing the needed results. Air commanders proposed a set of tasks that was designed to achieve decisive results and reduce the war-making capability of North Vietnam. They wanted to disrupt external assistance being provided to North Vietnam and impede the flow of supplies into the south, and directly attack the resources, facilities, and operations in North Vietnam which were contributing the most to the enemy's war effort.6 However, civilian leaders were not convinced and the ROEs that protected these targets were kept while weak blows to the North Vietnamese periphery continued. The fear inside the beltway was that a more efficient air campaign would risk unacceptable civilian losses and collateral damage.

The disagreement between the military and civilian leaders continued throughout the Vietnam War, partly due to a mistrust that civilian leaders had for military leaders. The president and his advisors often disregarded the advice of military experts, believing that: "Generals know only two words: spend and bomb."7 The often referred to Tuesday lunches at the White House (where President Johnson did much of the planning and targeting for the air campaign) did not even regularly include the chairman of the JCS until late 1967.8

Due to the lack of military expertise, the targeting and planning effort was weak and very ineffective. There was never a lack of significant targets in North Vietnam, but aircrews were forced to fly against seemingly insignificant targets and even re-attack destroyed targets, while SAM sites and MiG airfields were off limits until 1967.9 The JCS target list was virtually ignored and targets remained protected for almost all of the Rolling Thunder campaign. Two of the most significant target areas on the list were Hanoi and Haiphong; targets in these areas could only be attacked if approved by LBJ's Tuesday lunch group. Often, these targets were approved for short periods or during periods of poor weather, which made it difficult (if not impossible) to achieve any desired effect.

Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara testified before Congress in 1967, in response to the targeting questions and stated that the targets influencing operations in South Vietnam were the roads and material moving over these roads. McNamara's testimony was an attempt to explain U.S. policy; he insisted that other North Vietnam targets were not fundamental to the operations in South Vietnam.10 Many military commanders disagreed with this assessment to no avail, "the President and the Secretary of Defense continued to make the final decisions on what targets were authorized, the size and frequency of sorties, and in many instances even the tactics used by the American pilots."11

Another restriction that tied the hands of American military commanders was the ROE that restricted the use of the B-52 in North Vietnam. This weapon had great range, armament capacity, and it struck fear into the enemy like no other weapon; it was extremely effective in South Vietnam. The B-52 was prohibited from extensive use in
Rolling Thunder because civilian authorities believed it would have signaled a higher level of escalation, and that it might cause Chinese or Soviet intervention.12
This prohibitive measure to maintain the limited objectives of the war denied air commanders from using the principal of mass, and forced them to fly multiple fighter sorties where one B-52 would have accomplished the job more effectively.

The crews that flew the aircraft found the ROEs not only overly restrictive but
extremely complicated, confusing, and difficult to learn and remember. The list of restrictions and limitations was so long and changed so often that they were difficult to comprehend on the ground, much less remember and keep straight while in a fast moving combat situation.13 Crews depended on daily study and on radar controllers to keep them from violations of the complex ROEs, and from flying where they might not be able to defend even when fired on.

Several incidents of ROE violations led to court-martial charges; one that led to charges against the commander and the aircrew was the strafing of the Soviet ship
Turkestan in 1967 near Haiphong.14 Fear of ROE violations and the consequences of them led to a dilemma; many aircrews felt as if they could not accomplish their mission without either getting killed by the enemy or brought up on court-martial charges by their own governrnent.15

American air losses over North Vietnam rose continuously with over 500 aircraft lost
during 1966 and 1967. Crews began to see that it was highly unlikely they would survive a 100-mission tour in Southeast Asia.16 Many of these losses resulted from restrictions against attacking SAM sites or other significant targets in or around populated areas. The ROE restrictions allowed the North Vietnamese to continuously build up their air defense systems in the most critical areas of the region (with Hanoi being the most significant).

The combination of restrictive ROEs and the heavy enemy air defenses made the job of air commanders and each aircrew member more difficult than it should have been.

North Vietnam Exploits U.S. ROE:

The restrictive ROEs in North Vietnam aided the enemy by providing sanctuaries and
restricted areas where they had the space and time to build up their air defenses to engage U.S. aircraft. The piecemeal approach to attacks in North Vietnam did not allow concentrated bombing and actually strengthened the will of the North Vietnamese as opposed to weakening it. American leaders made it clear in public statements that we had no intention of destroying the government of North Vietnam; the leaders in North Vietnam saw this as an opportunity to exploit an American weakness.17

The most significant restricted areas that provided sanctuary were the 30 mile area
around Hanoi, the 10 mile area around Haiphong, and a 25 to 30 mile "buffer zone" along the Chinese border. These sanctuaries prevented attacks against key targets in the north without prior approval from Washington. The North Vietnamese took advantage of this by offsetting the damage done by our aircraft in non-protected areas. Because Haiphong Harbor was a safe port, they were able to ship up to 85% of their war goods by sea and download them with impunity 24 hours a day at that location.18 These safe havens allowed the enemy to stockpile war materials until they could be moved to the south. The "buffer zone" along the Chinese border was thousands of square miles where the North Vietnamese could store and transport materials with no fear of U.S. attack. This made any attempts at reducing the ability of the enemy to sustain their combat operations almost futile.

The enemy also took advantage of the restrictions in areas where attacks might result in civilian casualties. North Vietnamese put air defense systems and war materials in or near populated areas to protect them. Because of improvements in air defense systems, the enemy was able to effectively identify/target U.S. aircraft from these sanctuaries. Even when U.S. intelligence showed these areas to be crowded with supplies (and a legitimate target according to the laws of war), ROEs prevented our aircraft from hitting them.19

When restrictions were lifted in some areas (1967) any collateral damage was used by the enemy as a propaganda tool to charge the U.S. with indiscriminate bombing of innocent people. Exaggerated reports of collateral damage were effective in destroying the already decaying support for U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

Because U.S. airmen were required to positively identify targets, they were normally restricted to fly during the day and in periods of good weather. When the enemy realized this they took advantage by concentrating forces and materials in protected areas during the day, and moving at night or during periods of poor weather. They were able to do this in part because of the relatively short distances between prohibited areas; large quantities of rolling stock could be moved the short distances at night or in periods of lousy weather.


Possibly the greatest advantage that restrictive ROEs gave the enemy was time. The ability of the enemy to build up their air defenses was due in large part to the freedom of movement they enjoyed in the havens protected by ROEs. The air defense system in North Vietnam was almost non-existent in 1965, but by the end of 1967 it became one of the most complete and sophisticated systems in the world. SAM sites increased from 15 in 1965 to 270 by 1968; missiles fired from these sites increase from 200 in 1965 to almost 3,500 in 1967. The number of AAA guns grew from 700 in 1965 to over 7,400 in spring of 1968.20

The predictable nature of the American offensive also gave a distinct advantage to the enemy in Southeast Asia; because of restrictions on where aircraft could fly -- the North Vietnamese knew our likely routes and concentrated their defenses is these areas. The redundancy of the attacks allowed the enemy to predict with measured success what the most likely targets were and when they would be hit.

 
The Bottom Line: Military Objectives

The initial objectives of Rolling Thunder were to stop the flow of men and material into South Vietnam, send a clear signal to the North Vietnamese leaders that continued support of the Vietcong would exact a high price, and build up the morale of the South Vietnamese. Although Rolling Thunder was effective in raising the morale of the South Vietnamese, it only slowed the flow of men and materials into South Vietnam, and the campaign had no noticeable effect on the support for the Vietcong from Hanoi.21

The objective of stopping the flow of men and material into the south would have been problematic regardless of restrictive ROEs. The enemy by nature could operate on very limited supplies and was able to move these supplies in small amounts over difficult terrain. The only way to completely halt the flow would have been total destruction of the enemy regime or occupation of its territory. Restrictive ROEs did limit the amount of bombing in North Vietnam, however, this alone was not enough to keep Rolling Thunder from achieving the goal of interdicting their supply lines. The flow of men and supplies continued to increase throughout the campaign: "In 1965 approximately 12,000 North Vietnamese soldiers had infiltrated South Vietnam, but by 1968 over 300,000 North Vietnamese troops had entered South Vietnam."22

Even with these problems Rolling Thunder was able to destroy a fair amount of the North Vietnamese infrastructure; according to reports the bombing destroyed 77 percent of all ammo depots, 65 percent of fuel storage facilities, 59 percent of all power plants, 55 percent of major bridges, and 39 percent of railroad yards.23 However, this success was not enough to keep North Vietnam from being able to withstand a long war against the United States (both economically and politically).24

A continuous flow of materials and a large, unoccupied labor force allowed the North
Vietnamese to withstand much of the destruction. Russia and China were able to supply
the enemy along routes that were protected by ROEs and to store and disperse the
supplies from ROE protected sanctuaries. Food and POL imports from outside sources
kept the North Vietnamese well supplied, and they were able to continue the guerrilla-style fight that was so effective.25 The large North Vietnamese labor force also did much to offset the destruction that Rolling Thunder accomplished. This force (over 300,000) of laborers was able to quickly repair the damage to major targets and almost nullify bombing efforts. An example of the effectiveness of this labor force and their determination was revealed in a 1965 Peking radio broadcast that reported how after U.S. aircraft hit a certain bridge, that night more than 3,000 people with lamps and tools repaired it and it was back in service immediately.26

If bombing restrictions had been lifted, it may have been easier for air commanders and crews to accomplish their mission, but the guerrilla warfare style of fighting and the agrarian nature of the enemy society would have made it difficult to accomplish more with a synergistic air campaign. American air power was geared towards fighting an industrialized country that relied on that industry day-to-day, but the North Vietnamese had almost no industry and the transportation system was limited. Repair of damaged LOCs, use of secondary roads and trails, use of ox and horse carts, and when necessary even use of bicycles are all evidence of the extreme measures that the enemy was willing to take to ensure supplies continued to move south.27

Some would also argue that due to the nature of guerrilla warfare, a more efficient
interdiction campaign would have done no more than require the North to take longer in achieving their objectives. Determination, patience, and a will to continue are hallmarks of the guerrilla warfighter, and those were characteristics that the American war machine could not attack. The determination of the North Vietnamese was evident throughout Rolling Thunder, willingly accepting great losses of trucks, rail cars and logistical watercraft to mention a few. The enemy also continued to buildup his air defense systems to offset the bombing campaign. When U.S. bombing increased the North Vietnamese countermeasures increased; the enemy met each challenge and responded by showing their resolve.

By the end of 1967, Rolling Thunder had failed to achieve two out of three of the
stated goals of the campaign; it hadn't broken the will of the North Vietnamese government or stopped the flow of material to the south. A 1967 Senate Armed Services report on the bombing campaign reached the following conclusions:

...the achievement of campaign objectives, to a greater extent, can
not be attributed to inability or impotence of air power. It attests, rather,
to the fragmentation of US air might by overly restrictive controls,
limitations, and doctrine of gradualism placed on US aviation forces which
prevented them from waging the air campaign in the manner and according
to the time table which was best calculated to achieve maximum results.28

This committee (along with the military commanders) recommended fewer controls and continued bombing in North Vietnam to achieve better results. In retrospect it seems that fewer ROEs were a big part of the problem; the strong will of the North Vietnamese people along with the guerrilla nature of the war were also factors in the equation that led to the lack of impact that Rolling Thunder had in Vietnam.

 

Conclusion


The restrictive ROEs in North Vietnam kept the United States from going beyond the
limited goals that our civilian leaders decided were necessary. This made the job of air commanders and crews that flew in North Vietnam difficult at best. Even the limited goals that were stated for the Rolling Thunder air campaign from 1965 to 1968 were virtually impossible to achieve. The ROEs were in violation of accepted and published U.S. Air Force doctrine and long standing principles of war. Because of limitations, U.S. airpower was applied in a piecemeal fashion and never had the effect that air commanders believed was possible.

The ROEs were an effective way for President Johnson and his secretary of defense to
control the level of violence, and prevent Chinese or Soviet intervention. In Vietnam
restrictions made it difficult to match military strategy with published doctrine; this factor alone may not be responsible for the lack of impact that the bombing campaign in North Vietnam had, but it was a significant factor. Civilian control of the military is extremely important, our elected officials have to answer to the American people; but the expertise of military advisors should be considered when trying to achieve military goals.

The effect that ROEs had on commanders and aircrews was profound. Commanders were tasked with stopping the flow of supplies into the south, but safe zones provided sanctuary for the enemy, and many vital targets were within these protected areas. Crews were forced to fly in predictable ways, fly the same routes over and over, and operate in ways that went against their training and experience. The continuous changes to the rules and the complexity of them made learning and remembering them a difficult task and the predictable nature of the campaign and the protected areas in North Vietnam caused heavy American losses. It was all but impossible to inflict the kind of damage necessary to achieve the stated goals of the offensive.

The success that Rolling Thunder did achieve was offset by the advantage that the enemy had due to the limitations imposed by Washington on the air campaign. War
supplies continued to move into North and South Vietnam through protected areas, and
ROEs allowed them to stockpile and disperse them without harassment from American
aircraft. The restrictions also gave the enemy time to develop an effective air defense system which knocked out a large number of American aircraft.

The lessons of Vietnam need to be remembered and applied to future conflicts that the
United States may be involved in. Since the collapse of the former Soviet Union a "new world order" and a cloudy world political picture make it more likely that we must be prepared for low intensity conflicts with limited aims. Air Force doctrine has not changed that much since the 1960s; we still advocate intensive bombing to take out key centers of gravity and destruction of the enemy capability to make war (while limiting collateral damage). War as a political objective is no more than measured violence; uncertainty about the correct amount of violence and how to control it will be key features of future wars.

During Desert Storm, General Homer (the joint forces air component commander) insisted on centralized control and decentralized execution for the air campaign. The air operations in the Gulf were a good example of air commanders being able to match published doctrine with the military strategy. ROEs were appropriate during the war in the Gulf and allowed us to achieve our objectives while minimizing civilian casualties and securing domestic and international support.

Our success in Desert Storm illustrates that we can plan and execute an effective air
campaign without ROEs that violate doctrine or accepted principles of war. Both military and civilian leaders need to evaluate national objectives in future wars and decide if they can be met with military means. The limits that may be placed on the military could prohibit success within those restrictions. Once this evaluation is accomplished and we match doctrine and strategy, airpower will accomplish what it sets out to.

END NOTES

1 Tifford, Earl H., SETUP: What the Air Force did in Vietnam and Why (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, June, 1991), p 81.

2 Winston, Donald D., Bomb Restriction Criticism Has Little Effect on Supplemental, Aviation Week & Space Technology, 20 February 1967, p 18.

3 Drake, Ricky J., The Rules of Defeat: The Impact of Aerial Rules of Engagement on USAF Operations in North Vietnam. 1965-1968. Air University Press, 1993, p 4.

4 Ibid. p4.

5 Department of Defense Pentagon Papers, Senator Gravel ed. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971-1972). p388.

6 Drake, Ricky J., The Rules of Defeat: The Impact of Aerial Rules of Engagement on USAF Operations in North Vietnam, 1965-1968. Air University Press, 1993. p 20.

7 Gelb Leslie H., & Richard K. Betts., The Irony of Vietnam: The System Worked. (Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1979) p 137.

8 Broughton, Jacksel M., Going Downtown: The War against Hanoi and Washington. (New York: Pocket Books. 1990). p 90.

9 Broughton, Jacksel M., Thud Ridge. (New York: Bantam Books, 1985), p 6.

10 McNamara, Robert S., Text of Hearings before Armed Services Committee on Air War Against N. Vietnam, Part 4. (90th congress, 1st session, 25 August 1967), p 278.

11 Momyer, William W., Airpower in Three Wars. (Washington, D.C.: Department of the Air Force. 1978). p 19.

12 Schlight John., The War in South Vietnam: The Years of the Offensive, 1965 - 1968. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1988). p 49.

13 Broughton, Jacksel M., Going Downtown: The War against Hanoi and Washington. (New York: Pocket Books, 1990), p 202.

14 Broughton. Jacksel M., Thud Ridge. (New York: Bantam Books, 1985), p 261.

15 Basil, G.I., Pak Six: (Associated Creative Writers, 1982). p 93-94.

16 Broughton, Jacksel M., Going Downtown: The War against Hanoi and Washington. (New York: Pocket Books, 1990),p 179.

17 Parks, W. Hays, Rolling Thunder and the Law of War. (Air University Review, Jan-Feb, 1982), p 3.

18 Sharp, Ulysses S. Grant., Report on the War in Vietnam. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1968), 3.

19 Sharp, Ulysses S. Grant., Strategy for Defeat: Vietnam in Retrospect. (San Rafael, CA: Presidio Press, 1968), p 118-119.

20 Lewy, Gunter., America in Vietnam. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978) p 405.

21 Broughton, Jacksel M., Thud Ridge. (New York: Bantam Books. 1985), p xii.

22 Sharp, Ulysses S. Grant, Strategy for Defeat Vietnam in Retrospect. (San Rafael, CA: Presidio Press, 1968), p3.

23 Lewy, Gunter, America in Vietnam. (New York: Oxford University Press. 1978). p 389-390.

24 Headquarters Pacific Air Forces, Project Checo Report: Rolling Thunder, July 1965 - December 1966 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1967), p 133.

23 Clodfelter, Mark., The Limits of Airpower: The American Bombing of North Vietnam. (New York: Free Press, 1989) p 135.

26 Ibid., p 202.

27 Headquarters Pacific Air Forces, Project Checo Report: Rolling Thunder, July 1965 - December, 1966 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1967). p 127.

28 Broughton, Jacksel M., Going Downtown: The War against Hanoi and Washington. (New York: Pocket Books, 1990), p 188.

29 Paret Peter., Innovation and Reform in Warfare. The Harmon Memorial Lectures in Military History. 1957-1987. (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1988) p 407.

 
BIBLIOGRAPHY


Air Force Manual (AFM) 1-1. Aerospace Doctrine, United States Air Force Basic Doctrine, August 1964.

Basil, G.I., Pak Six. La Mesa, Calif.: Associated Creative Writers, 1982.

Broughton, Jacksel M., Thud Ridge. New York: Bantam Books, 1985.

Broughton, Jacksel M., Going Downtown: The War against Hanoi and Washington. New York: Pocket Books, 1990.

Clodfelter, Mark. The Limits of Airpower: The American Bombing of North Vietnam. New
York: Free Press, 1989.

Department of Defense. Pentagon Papers, Senator Gravel ed. Boston: Beacon Press, 1971-1972.

Drake, Ricky J. The Rules of Defeat: The Impact of Aerial Rules of Engagement on USAF
Operations in North Vietnam, 1965-1968. Air University Press, 1993.

Gelb, Leslie H., and Richard K. Betts. The Irony of Vietnam: The System Worked. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1979.

Headquarters Pacific Air Forces. Project Checo Report: Rolling Thunder, July 1965- December 1966. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1967.

Project Checo Report: SEA ROE. 1 January 1966 - 1 November 1969. Washington,
D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1969.

Lewy, Guenter. America in Vietnam. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.

Momyer, William W. Airpower in Three Wars. Washington, D.C.: Department of the Air Force, 1978.

McNamara, Robert S. Text of Hearings before Armed Services Committee on Air War Against N. Vietnam, Part 4., 90th congress, 1st session, 25 August 1967.

Paret, Peter. "Innovation and reform in Warfare." In The Harmon Memorial Lectures in Military History. 1959 -1987. Edited by Harry R. Borowski. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1988.

Parks, W. Hays. "Rolling Thunder and the Law of War." Air University Review. Jdanuary - February 1982.

Schlight, John. The War in South Vietnam: The Years of the Offensive. 1965 - 1968.
Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1988.

Sharp, Ulysses S. Grant. Report on the War in Vietnam. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1968.

Sharp, Ulysses S. Grant. Strategy for Defeat: Vietnam in Retrospect. San Rafael, Calif: Presidio Press, 1978.

Tilford, Earl H. SETUP: What the Air Force did in Vietnam and Why. Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, June 1991.

"Vietnam Rules of Engagement Declassified." In Congressional Record. 99th Cong., 1st sess., 6 March 1985, vol. 131, no. 26, S2632-2641.

Winston, Donald C. "Bomb Restriction Criticism Has Little Effect on Supplemental." Aviation Week & Space Technology, 20 February 1967.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info...as soon as possible, right now we are broke, I'll donate to the cause. Please keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

I would say it goes back further with our failure to engage China in an expanded conventional war during the Korean conflict.

Defeat can also be traced back to the failure to engage North Vietnam in a conventional conflict, bringing the war to North Vietnam with a ground invasion.

One could also say that the failure to support the Royal Laotian government in its war with North Vietnam and allow the "neutralization" of Laos.

In the end, fighting a guerrilla war is almost always a failure. War should always be brought to the center of power of your enemy.

North Vietnam was never confronted, either in Laos, in the DMZ, in Cambodia, or in North Vietnam itself with consequences of its actions.

The same with China during the Korean War. The same with Iran and Syria during the Iraq War.

Always bring the war to your enemy's center of power.

Anonymous said...

I could NEVER understand why we allowed shipping from European countries to freely enter North Vietnam so that their material could be used to prop up the communists and keep up civilian morale. European shipping should have attacked without mercy with air and missiles. It was amazing to me that European and American whiners complained that we were attacking dikes and mining Haiphong harbor after Nixon went on the offense.

The USAF should have reduced the civilian infrastructure of NV to rubble; no way would NVA armor would have rolled into Saigon in 1975 if we had done that.