In his review Mr. Hankins "follows the crowd" in discussing the role of airpower in the Vietnam War. He takes issue with the author, Jeremy Black's, assertion that “air power acted as a substitute for troops [and] made up the difference as the Americans reduced their force numbers in South Vietnam, and provided a key context in which a compromise peace could be negotiated. Air power had not led to American victory, but it played a major role in preventing defeat.” I believe, however, that Black was essentially correct in this judgment.
While Mr. Hankins is also correct that Vietnam was undoubtedly an American defeat, it was not a defeat inflicted in 1972, when US airpower was decisive in defeating the "Easter Offensive" and forcing Hanoi to the table to accept a cease fire under the Paris Accords. When this offensive was launched early in 1972, all US combat troops had been withdrawn from South Vietnam, with the exception of a single brigade deployed around Da Nang airfield. Helicopters and advisors remained, supporting the ARVN. President Nixon reinforced US airpower with additional tactical fighter wings, Marine air groups, and aircraft carriers, all providing extensive close air support for the ARVN defenders, who held on to every major city. He also launched the Linebacker air campaign against North Vietnam and aerial mining of the approaches to Haiphong. After several months and mounting casualties Hanoi agreed to serious peace negotiations, realizing (as noted by historian Ronald Spector in his book _After Tet_, that they "had to get the US out of the war at any cost."
Shortly after the Paris Accords were signed and a cease fire went into effect, the US Congress began its investigation into the Watergate affair. The North Vietnamese leadership clearly heeded that old Sicilian proverb, "never stand in the way of your enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself." Only after President Nixon, the "mad bomber" of Linebacker II, was driven from office did Hanoi resume its march of conquest, and the US -- having slashed military aid to South Vietnam and passed the War Powers Act -- declined to honor Nixon's much-publicized "secret promise" to President Thieu of South Vietnam to reengage with US airpower if and when North Vietnam violated the Paris Accords. That was when we were defeated -- in 1975, when we remained on the sidelines as Hanoi conquered the South. When the Paris Accords were signed in January 1973 we were not defeated. I see no reason to change my belief that the Watergate affair was the decisive factor in the US losing the Vietnam War.
Ralph, am going to second, that air power was indeed a sub for ground forces; deliberately meant to cover troop withdrawal. A rough estimate is at least 3 divisions of US forces were able to leave behind its steel curtin as part of the overall Nixon withdrawal.
Will have to part company only slightly concerning the cause of US so called 'loss'. It was the Ford decision not to honor the secret agreement which knocked So. Vietnam out of the war. Now, they might have well had same result had US air re-involved, but that is all hypothetic in a world that never happened. The other cause, US, American people war weary with Vietnam and just wanting an end. Sometimes politicians must answer the people and their views. Many politicos were tired of it too; in fact, badly divided in the US political arena. As to the Vietnamese getting out of the way, they could not have stopped withdrawal. Nixon's mad option may or may not have been a ploy but his calculation showed him the honorable exit desired by insisting Vietnam's price for getting the US out would be too high if they did not. Indeed, So. Vietnam demonstrated after US, it did not have self-sustaining capabilities.
Wyatt, all true but I have to wonder, in November 1972 President Nixon won reelection by a massive margin over an explicitly antiwar candidate -- I cast my absentee ballot from Thailand, voting the second and last time for a Republican candidate -- does this not represent a failure of the antiwar movement, and the willingness of the American people to stay the course for "peace with honor?" Absent Watergate (the discovery of the burglary was a freakishly random event, I maintain), would Nixon not have remained on the pinnacle of his prestige? Would military aid to South Vietnam have been cut by 2/3, as it was in 1974?
My speculation is that if the hired thugs of CREEP had done a professional job taping the door between the Watergate garage and the building, the security guard would most likely never have noticed it. So, no conspiracy coming to light in 1973-74, and no inclination on the part of the Hanoi Politburo to renew the war with the "mad bomber" still riding high on a tide of public approval. The conquest of South Vietnam delayed until at least 1977, depending on who would inherit the presidency.
OK, I sometimes lean toward the counterfactual, the whimsical, non-deterministic view of history. Things don't absolutely have to happen the way they did. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand? Ludicrously random. No "guns of August," no world war, no Russian revolution, no USSR. The fact that CIA knew in early 2000 the identities of two al-Qaeda terrorists enroute to the USA, but did not share that information with the FBI? Tracking their movements and phone records, the whole crew of 19 could have been quietly rounded up. No 9/11. No invasion of Iraq, perhaps.
Oh, well, back to the real world. I think eventually we would have lost the Vietnam War, failing to reengage when the time came for Hanoi's final push, and the "mad bomber" was in honorable retirement, planning his Presidential Library. Americans happy about "peace with honor" were still getting tired of the war, for sure. I was tired and a bit disillusioned when I came home.
Being in Siam[Thailand of course] there were events in DC which may not have made the news where you were. As we know events from anywhere can affect what might happen somewhere else.........witness Barcelona, Spain today and Charlotte, Virginia a few days ago now.
What did happen however, like so often, tells something about possible changes or historical events about to happen. Yes, the antiwar move failed in 72. Poor Sen. McGovern, distinguished a flyer from WW II, took it on the chin; part of the outcome of Democrats split over Vietnam which opened Nixon's door in 68. That antiwar movement was ahead of its time only briefly cause as you recall Nixon had a secret plan to end the war, so he said. It turned out to be propaganda to get him elected. By 72, his promise to withdraw however was policy. As early as 1969, plans were in the works for an
opening to China which would help to alleviate
Vietnam conflict and US politics. But that did not make the press even though it was known publicly in some places. What was not known until almost the last, Nixon would go himself!
Watergate pretty much sank Nixon's boat after China. He had possible making of a truly great Presidency and yes, was cashed out by his own domestic paranoia[what else?] over politics and electioneering. Already, there were rumblings in the Senate about Vietnam and deep division over remaining also.
As to cutting mil aid in 74, by 1970 cuts in Defense staffing were already taking place due to plans for phase out of Vietnam. This had been taking place that soon before the 72 elections. It probably would have continued until 77 and how anyone would have inherited after that..........well, Nixon wanted to be the peacemaker for his historical record. He did get that but threw his place in history away over politics at home[US]. Vietnam was lost cause Vietnamese never proved themselves able to stand up against North Vietnam without the US. Sovs and China continued to support the North.
Nixon got his stalemate to work his peace efforts.
But Democracy lost out in Vietnam as a free country not under Communist rule.
It wouldn't have made much difference once Nixon and US decided to withdraw and leave history to take its course without a US presence. That may be his most important service to America.