Document Created: 22 August 2007
Air & Space Power Journal Fall 2007
Powerful and Brutal Weapons: Nixon, Kissinger, and the Easter Offensive by Stephen P. Randolph. Harvard University Press (http://www.hup.harvard .edu), 79 Garden Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, 2007, 416 pages, $29.95 (hardcover).
In past issues of this journal, I thought I had recommended to prospective air warriors all they would ever need in books on the air war in Vietnam. I had told them about Marshall Michel’s two studies: Clashes: Air Combat over North Vietnam, 1965–1972 (Naval Institute Press, 1997) and The Eleven Days of Christmas: America’s Last Vietnam Battle (Encounter Books, 2002). I had also recommended Wayne Thompson’s To Hanoi and Back: The U.S. Air Force and North Vietnam, 1966–1973 (Smithsonian Institution Press, 2000). None of those three said much about the tactical air war in South Vietnam, covering the air battles over the North instead. The air war in the South is well handled in John Schlight’s The War in South Vietnam: The Years of the Offensive, 1965–1968 (Office of Air Force History, 1988). But now I must add one more splendid work to that impressive array: Col Stephen Randolph’s Powerful and Brutal Weapons.
Starting in 1974, Randolph served 25 years in the Air Force before he retired, flying F-4s and F-15s as well as participating in Operation Desert Storm. That experience and the fact that he is a splendid writer qualified him well for his assignment on the Joint Staff. He is now a civilian faculty member at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, DC, teaching subjects having to do with strategy and space. The Developing Air Leaders Initiative some years ago was commissioned to address a shortage of senior officers who had not only a firm grasp of their technical/tactical specialties but also a broad knowledge of politics and culture. At the time, Randolph seemed to have been at least one officer who fit that prescription.
The beauty of Powerful and Brutal Weapons is that it seamlessly melds the domestic, political, diplomatic, cultural, technical, tactical, and strategic factors affecting the air war in 1972. Meticulously researched, it depends heavily on primary sources from all sides of the fight—American, North and South Vietnamese, Soviet, and Chinese. Randolph uses a chronological organizing scheme, starting with the Easter Offensive in the South and moving on to the mounting of Linebacker One.
The book yields a fine illustration of the notion that strategy making is a two-way street dealing with a thinking, reacting, and intelligent enemy. It also shows some of the difficulties involved in civil-military relations, especially the interplay between politics and military action while negotiations to end the war continued in Paris. Randolph deals with tensions between the Washington leadership’s desire to bring heavy pressure to bear on Vietnamese leaders in the North and military requirements of the close-run ground battles in the South. He does not glorify the fighter effort, giving due credit to the role of the gunship and airlift crews who lost their lives in the successful defensive battles in Military Region III. He avoids the common traps of trying either to condemn the American effort or to duck the blame for frustrations of the war in 1972. He gives due credit to the work of the naval aviators up north. To Randolph, airpower was neither omnipotent nor valueless in affecting decision making in Hanoi. Along with the successful diplomacy involved in the opening of China and the conclusion of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks I with Moscow, airpower was among the deciding factors in bringing an end to the war and limiting our humiliation there.
We now have great literature on the air war in Vietnam. Powerful and Brutal Weapons is one of the best air-campaign studies—if not the best study—available. Readers who can accommodate only one book on air war this year should make it Randolph’s fine work.
Dr. David R. Mets
Maxwell AFB, Alabama
and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author
cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of
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