The Limits of Air Power: The American Bombing of North Vietnam

Tracing the use of air power in World War II and the Korean War, Mark Clodfelter explains how U. S. Air Force doctrine evolved through the American experience in these conventional wars only to be thwarted in the context of a limited guerrilla struggle in Vietnam. Although a faith in bombing’s sheer destructive power led air commanders to believe that extensive air assaults could win the war at any time, the Vietnam experience instead showed how even intense aerial attacks may not achieve military or political objectives in a limited war. Based on findings from previously classified documents in presidential libraries and air force archives as well as on interviews with civilian and military decision makers, The Limits of Air Power argues that reliance on air campaigns as a primary instrument of warfare could not have produced lasting victory in Vietnam. This Bison Books edition includes a new chapter that provides a framework for evaluating air power effectiveness in future conflicts.

About the Author

Mark Clodfelter

Dr. Mark “Clod” Clodfelter is professor emeritus of strategy at the National War College in Washington, DC, where he taught for 22 years. He has also taught at the Air Force Academy, the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and was an Air Force officer for nearly 23 years. During that span he led UNC’s Air Force ROTC detachment from 1994-1997. Clod has published widely and is the author of The Limits of Air Power: The American Bombing of North Vietnam (Free Press, 1989; University of Nebraska Press, 2006), Beneficial Bombing: The Progressive Foundations of American Air Power, 1917-1945 (University of Nebraska Press, 2010), Violating Reality: The Lavelle Affair, Nixon, and the Parsing of the Truth (National Defense University Press, 2016) and Fifty Shades of Friction: Combat Climate, B-52 Crews, and the Vietnam War (National Defense University Press, 2016). In spring 2023, he completed his first novel, Between Two Shades of Blue, published by Air University Press, the first novel that AU Press has published since its 1953 founding. Clod’s areas of interest are military theory and strategy, with an emphasis on air power and limited war. He has a BS from the Air Force Academy, an MA from the University of Nebraska, and a PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Clod is a die-hard fan of Carolina basketball, Air Force football, and St. Louis Cardinals baseball. He and his wife Donna are retired and live in Chapel Hill.

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