Like Rolling Thunder: The Air War in Vietnam, 1964-1975
by Ronald B. Frankum Jr. Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Md., 2005, hardcover $24.95.
For those unfamiliar with the major air campaigns conducted by the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marines in Southeast Asia between 1964 and 1975, this book is a good place to start. Designed as an introduction to the subject, it is part of a new series of “brief and engaging volumes” (in the words of the publisher) titled “Vietnam—America in the War Years” that examines the many aspects of the war and its impact on American life.
Frankum approaches his subject thematically, beginning with the bombing of North Vietnam from 1965 to 1968 and then proceeding to cover the air war in the South and the efforts to interdict the flow of supplies through Laos and Cambodia. He finishes with the role of air power in 1972, first in stopping the communist Easter Offensive and then in bringing North Vietnam back to the negotiating table with the December bombing. For each of these campaigns, the author focuses on the objectives American planners hoped to achieve, the difficulties they faced and what they did to overcome them, and the effectiveness of the operation. In the end, he concludes that the air war was a success because it was able to strike most of its objectives, but that it was a failure because it did not significantly alter the course of the war.
Although many will come away thinking that Frankum has raised more questions than he has answered, in the context of the series to which he is contributing, he has fulfilled his purpose. Those wishing to go further can start with his extremely fine bibliographical essay included in this volume.
Originally published in the February 2007 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here.