12/18 – Linebacker II

A bombing run by a B-52 as seen from the air. (National Air Force Museum)

On this day in 1972, American president Richard B. Nixon announced a renewed Christmas bombing campaign of North Vietnam: a massive aerial strike of civilian and military targets by B-52 strategic bombers codenamed Operation Linebacker II. The previous iteration of “Linebacker” had failed in its objective – to force North Vietnamese leadership to the negotiating table and work out a positive (for the Americans) end to the Vietnam War – so Nixon hoped his larger, more punishing wave of bombings would do the trick.

Like many of history’s bombings of civilian “targets” – Dresden, Guernica, London – Linebacker II failed at breaking the will of the its intended targets and only worsened the reputation of the bombers. 15,237 tons of high explosives were dropped and nearly 2,000 North Vietnamese people were killed. Although American diplomat Henry Kissinger was eventually able to get his communist counterparts to acknowledge the legitimacy of the South Vietnamese government, little else came of the bombings – and the entire country fell to North Vietnam the following year. If anything, Linebacker II helped further the disturbing trend begun during WWII: that, in the “modern age”, civilians were acceptable targets during war.

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