On 14 December 1972, President Richard
Nixon authorized Operation Linebacker 11, an intense aerial bombardment
on North Vietnam which lasted from 18 to 29 December. Henry Kissinger
and Le Duc Tho immediately commenced negotiations on 8 January 1973.
Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, concluded.
"Air power given its day in court after almost a decade of frustration,
confirmed its effectiveness as an instrument of national power--in just
9% flying days."' Hanoi seemingly capitulated to US demands. "The
war-making capacity of North Vietnam had been virtually destroyed by the
bombings in December of 1972," Nixon concurred, "and we had the means to
make and enforce a just peace, a peace with honor.
Indeed, Admiral Ulysses S. Grant Sharp, Commander in Chief of Pacific
Command (1964-68), fully endorsed Linebacker 11 as a model operation as
opposed to Rolling Thunder.' His only regret--Nixon should have "press[ed]
home our advantage of the moment" to get a better deaL4 Echoing Sharp.
the USAF's official account raised the question that would reverberate
throughout orthodox Linebacker I1 accounts, " 'Why are we stopping now?
With their defenses nearly in shambles. we could strike with impunity.'
Another week of these missions, they argued, and the North Vietnamese
would have been suing for peace on our terms."' In the 1988 NBC's "Meet
the Press" interview. Nixon expressed deep remorse for not sanctioning a
Linebacker 11 type of operation earlier. The war would have been won by
But framing Linebacker I1 as a "9½ day"
conflict eschewed a host of personal, political and diplomatic factors
surrounding the decision.' Of particular importance was Nixon's
undercurrent of beliefs, motives and fears. Although they were the
essential blueprints for Nixon's future actions, their relations to
Linebacker 11 have not been extensively studied. The crux of this thesis
illustrates the importance of Nixon's psyche underlining many of his
military decisions. It was especially true for Linebacker I1 .
Following this, the failure of Nixon's three war termination
initiatives-- Vietnamization, Negotiations and
Triangulation--increasingly fuelled Nixon's burning frustration. Nixon
refused to be humiliated or seen as a hapless lame duck president unable
to fulfill his promise to achieve "Peace with Honor." He ruthlessly
resolved to conclude the conflict on his own terms. These themes formed
the leitmotif of Nixon's war. Especially prominent was Nixon's "Madman
Theory" which he held as his ace in the hole.
Air power via Linebacker 11 appeared ideally suited to serve Nixon's
needs. Politically, air power incurred no reintroduction of ground
authorizing Linebacker I1 promised Nixon positive impact on three
levels. One. South Vietnam could be convinced to depend on Nixon for
further support. Two, Nixon appeared a tough and decisive president.
Perhaps most importantly, it was time to make Hanoi pay.