1. Introduction
    1. Audio
  2. Chapter I
  3. Chapter II
    1. Audio
    2. Documents
  4. Chapter III
    1. Documents
  5. Chapter IV
    1. Audio
    2. Video
    3. Documents
  6. Chapter V
    1. Audio
    2. Documents
  7. Conclusion
  8. Appendix
    1. Audio
    2. Video
    3. Documents
    4. Photo Gallery

Operation Linebacker II: "The Christmas Bombings"

[Does] Mr. Nixon want to go down in history as one of the most bloodthirsty of American Presidents?

—The Guardian

From December 18 – 29 (with a 24 hour reprieve, suggested originally by Alexander Haig, on Christmas Day) the United States Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps flew 3, 420 sorties over North Vietnam including up to 120 B-52 sorties per day. In that short period, the US Air Force dropped more bombs on North Vietnam than it had in the years 1969 to 1971. Coming on the heels of weeks of optimistic reports from Paris, this massive US bombing campaign came as huge shock and drew world-wide indignation. It seemed in direct contradiction to the popular assumption that the war was winding down.

Over the course of the air campaign, the United States lost fifteen B-52's (14 more than had been lost in the war previously and 12% of the total force) and thirteen tactical aircraft. Thirty-one pilots and crew became POWs and 93 were declared Missing in Action [MIA]. Although civilian targets were not intentionally targeted, the bombings produced enormous collateral damage. In Hanoi, the Bach Mai hospital was destroyed, and five different residential districts and eight foreign embassies were damaged. According to historian Jeffrey Kimball, 2,196 civilians were killed and 1,577 were wounded.

The international and domestic press condemned President Nixon and the bombings. James Reston of the The New York Times said it was "war by tantrum." The Daily Mirror proclaimed that the bombing was "an act of insane ferocity, a crude exercise in the politics of terror." The Times of London added to the outrage stating the bombing has "a particular horror because of its massive scale [and] its indiscriminate character." The Guardian asked if "Mr. Nixon wants to go down in history as one of the most bloodthirsty of American Presidents." Leaders throughout Western Europe appealed to the United States to stop the bombing and continue the peace negotiations. Congressional criticism was equally strong and came from both parties. Senator William B. Saxbe (R-Ohio) wondered if President Nixon had "taken leave of his senses." Senator Majority Leader Michael J. Mansfield (D-Montana) called the bombings a "stone age tactic." The bombings according to Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) "should outrage the conscience of all Americans." The American public was equally unsettled by this surprising turn of events and President Nixon's approval rating dropped by 11%. Although some politicians and newspapers came out in support of President Nixon, they were drowned out by the sheer volume of the negative reaction.

Henry A. Kissinger & Le Duc Tho shake hands.

On December 26, North Vietnam agreed to resume the talks on January 2. President Nixon stopped bombing above the 20th parallel on December 29. Kissinger and Tho reconvened on January 8 and had a significant breakthrough the next day, President Nixon's birthday. Tho agreed to go back to the agreement of November 25 and he compromised on the language describing the DMZ. In addition, Hanoi agreed that the cease-fire would start in Laos fifteen days after the cease-fire in Vietnam instead of thirty. Kissinger called President Nixon to extend birthday wishes and to tell him about the major developments. The talks concluded on January 13 with the final agreement looking similar to the November 25 agreement. The US was able to get the language on the DMZ strengthened to include language about civilian movement across the line. Although not reflected in the agreement in writing, the US and North Vietnam compromised on the size of the ICCS, with the final number being closer to the US demands. There were also some minor technical and translations changes.

Despite these new compromises, Thieu still refused to sign any agreement that left enemy troops in his country. This time, however, Washington was not prepared to allow Saigon to veto an agreement. In an Oval Office conversation on January 3, 1973, Nixon lamented that the South Vietnamese leader "was living in a dream world," while Kissinger described him as "demented."21 On January 17, President Nixon fired off a letter to Thieu telling him he had "two essential choices: to continue a course, which would be dramatic but short-sighted, of seeking to block the Agreement; or to use the Agreement constructively."22 Thieu finally submitted to US pressures on January 21, without receiving any additional changes to the agreement. Washington did, however, restate its commitment to vigorously enforce the agreement. On January 27, twenty-eight years after America first became involved in the affairs of Vietnam, the agreement was officially signed and America's longest war ended.

Twenty-seven months after the agreement was signed, in April 1975, North Vietnam defeated South Vietnam and established a communist regime throughout the united country.

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Map of Vietnam

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