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The Hanoi-Haiphong Bombings

Critics Grow More Critical, Supporters More Enthusiastic

By Stephen D. Lerner

The recent bombing raids on Hanoi and Haiphong did more than pour burning oil on the troubled waters of Vietnam. The decision to bomb the oil depots close to civilian centers sparked a domestic and international debate with highly explosive overtones.

The announcement and execution of the bombing came practically simultaneously with qualified assurance from the Administration that the United States was winning the military war. Immediately after the bombing, additional assurance came from Pentagon experts that China would not enter the war as a result of the air attack.

Step up the Ladder

In spite of the official optimism, many people were more concerned than elated over our tactical coup. Some felt it was another step up the ladder of escalation in a futile war. Others were worried over headlines indicating that North Korea had pledged support to the Viet Cong and that Great Britain, until now one of our staunchest allies, drew the line at attacks on civilian centers.

Although in general critics became more critical, and supporters more enthusiastic, both factions were asking the same questions:

* Are we really winning the military war, and if so how will it effect our chances of negotiating a successful peace?

* Was the bombing a military necessity, what was the reason for timing it at this juncture, has it simply entrenched the North Vietnamese more firmly than ever?

* Is the slogan that we are fighting to raise the price of aggression an accurate description of our war effort in Vietnam?

* What are the international consequences of the bombing; is the U.S. becoming more isolated while North Vietnam draws sympathetic support?

* Is there a significant split emerging in our government between politicians and generals who would prefer to push our serial tactical advantage as far as possible?

At Harvard opinions differed radically. Albert M. Craig, associate professor of Japanese History, said that although he read the same newspapers everyone else did, he did not see any new evidence that we are winning the war. The Viet Cong seem to be stepping up their enlistments, so that one can't judge how well we are doing by the number of enemy dead. On the other hand, he continued, thousands of villagers are leaving the countryside and coming to the cities, which would imply that the Viet Cong will have fewer people to fall back on. The United States will probably be able to control major territories if it sends in upwards of 450,000 ground troops, but Craig wondered if this would be winning the war.

George H. Quester, instructor in Government, and head tutor in Government, disagreed. "We won't be driven out of Vietnam--the figures are credible that the North is losing more troops, and they will have to stop before we do." Quester said that the Viet Cong had been expecting a military victory, and that the reversal will probably cause hem to lose the momentum they have had until now. But he admitted that prospects still remain uncertain.

Of course, bombing the oil depots in the North, Craig said, won't help the Viet Cong. What bothers him more are the reports that from two to six civilians are killed for every Viet Cong on our regular bombing runs in the South. Craig added that it was perfectly possible that our bombing Hanoi and Haiphong had simply entrenched the resistance of the North Vietnamese. More crucial is whether we really know what we would negotiate for. If U.S. terms are a coalition government, Craig said, than the Viet Cong should be perfectly willing to negotiate with us because it would be virtually impossible to keep them from gaining complete control. On the other hand, if we expect to "clear the Communists out of South Vietnam," then the job is of impossible dimensions and negotiations are futile.

Weakened Position

Quester said that although it could be impossible to get rid of all the Communists, they might be forced into abandoning the revolution as they did in Greece. As to Craig's objection that we didn't really know what our negotiation terms would be if we ever got to a peace table, Quester pointed out that it would weaken our bargaining position if we let the opposition know "what we would bargain for." You can't do much haggling, he explained, if the other party knows your limits.

Donald W. Klein, research fellow in East Asian Studies, said there was a marked lack of clarity as to what the Administration wanted in the way of negotiations. Klein associated himself with Craig's position on this issue. "We all know what the Administration is against," Klein said, "but everyone, including the Administration, seems fuzzy about what they are for."

Diplomatically, Klein saw the decision to drop the bomb as a wrong one. He cited the lesson of the Korean War where we leveled the North without moving our opponents any nearer to the peace table. As for the timing of the escalation, Klein speculated that it was a domestic move on Johnson's behalf, and that the President feels this is the "tidy war" the Gallup Polls favor.

While Craig said the bombing was probably the result of a sense of frustration, Quester suggested the decision was made on a basis of China's inability to retaliate. "The primary factor in our decision to time it at this point was that China would have to put its own house in order before it could effectively deal with a challenger from without." Quester didn't think it had anything to do with U.S. domestic politics, because if Johnson had really wanted to capitalize on the move, he would have waited until the elections were closer.

Price of Aggression

When asked whether he thought we were really raising the costs of aggression, Quester said that the bombing both made the Viet Cong less capable of waging the war, and at the same time made aggression more expensive. Although the damage is only temporary, he continued, "we have played a delicate game well. A few years ago no one would have thought that careful escalation was a possible alternative." The reports that Hanoi has said that it will need greater help from its allies within a year seem perfectly plausible, Quester said.

The slogan stating that the U.S. was raising the price of aggression assumes that the war originates in the North, Craig said. There is obviously infiltration from the North, but the war, until very recently, has been primarily a civil war in South Vietnam. Craig implied that the slogan funds to distort the picture and make it appear a Korean like situation.

As to whether the recent bombing would provoke North Vietnam's allies to give greater material aid and possibly volunteer manpower, Quester said that as of right now neither Russia nor Red China were giving much aid, and that he doubted whether there would be any significant increases as a result of the bombing.

Klein doubted that Red China would send troops unless South Vietnamese and American troops landed in the North. As for U.S. allies, Klein said that Prime Minister Wilson had probably denounced our bombing Hanoi because of internal political pressure from left-wing Labourites. Quester agreed with this interpretation, but went one step further, saying that he thought a number of countries which decry our actions publicly, are quietly quite pleased with U.S. policy in the Far East.

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