Setup: What the Air Force Did in Vietnam and Why



American military professionals, especially the US Air Force, have had a difficult time understanding their role in this nation's defeat in Vietnam. Dr Tilford provides a critical self-analysis and questions the underlying assumptions of the Air Force's strategy in Southeast Asia. He argues that we must understand what went wrong in Vietnam and why and not manipulate the record and paint failure as victory. He explains what led to the "setup," which not only resulted in a failure for airpower but also contributed to the fall of South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia to Communist forces in 1975.Tilford—a retired Air Force officer and a widely respected historian in his own right—is not squeamish about demolishing the myths that abound concerning the air war in Southeast Asia. He is forthright in challenging both the USAF's strategic tunnel vision and the cherished misconceptions of many civilian historians whose criticisms of the air war in Vietnam are long on politics and short on facts. The integrity of Dr. Tilford's research, his knowledge of air power theory and technology, and his expertise as a historian all contribute to a high quality effort that proves, among other things, that neither the Air Force nor its civilian critics have yet secured a monopoly on truth.In his analysis of the air war against North Vietnam, Tilford presents one overwhelming lesson: that USAF strategic bombing doctrine is ethnocentric and Eurocentric, and is conceived utterly without regard to important cultural and political variations among potential adversaries. This lesson, more than any other, is one that today's Air Force must learn if it is to establish any relevance in a post-cold war world in which the global, superpower war for which it has planned almost exclusively since 1945 becomes an ever more remote possibility. Whatever the Air Force's operational role in the twenty-first century turns out to be, it seems likely that an air technocracy geared toward fighting a general war against a modern, industrialized major power will become even less relevant than it proved to be in Korea and Vietnam. At the very least, the Air Force of the future will do well to heed Dr. Tilford's other major conclusion that because war is more than sortie generation and getting ordnance on targets, statistics are a poor substitute for strategy.

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