We Did Not “Carpet Bomb” Hanoi!

G*damit! So, I’m listening to the Republican convention in passing and in the little video revealing McCain’s life story, they say that McCain’s father ordered the “carpet bombing” of Hanoi. 

Jeebus! Where to start. First of all, McCain’s father was an Admiral and any wide-area saturation bombing would be carried out by the Air Force. [update: see first comment]

Second, we never “carpet bombed” any inhabited area in Vietnam. This book excerpt nicely summarizes the bombing campaign against Hanoi. “Carpet bombing” by definition means saturating an area with bombs, by dropping them so close together that their blast effects overlap. The goal is to completely obliterate everything in the broad target area.

Had we “carpet bombed” Hanoi nothing would remain of the city. Most of the structures in the city were made of wood and the resulting firestorm would have scorched the entire city to the bare earth. Instead, we attacked specific militarily relevant buildings in and around the city. All the films you see of B-52s unloading over Vietnam are pictures of the bombing of troops in the jungle or the bridges that connect North Vietnam to China. 

It’s a sad thing that not even Republicans can get this right. 

7 thoughts on “We Did Not “Carpet Bomb” Hanoi!”

  1. During the Vietnam War, Admiral John S. McCain Jr. was the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command from 1968 to 1972. This covered Vietnam – he was in charge of all US forces in Vietnam. So orders to bomb would have come through his office – although would have been controlled directly in Washington.

  2. As the say in the business, “Shack, Lead!”

    I caught that as well and gagged. I was there in ’66 driving an F-105 and I was back in ’72 in an F-4E. We didn’t carpet-bomb in Rolling Thunder and we didn’t carpet-bomb in Linebacker I/II. The Rules of Engagement were very explicit and very restrictive and very frustrating.

    It should also be noted that CINCPAC might have been the nominal commander of the forces but all targeting came from JCS (LBJ/McNamara) through 7th AF at Saigon and bypassed Hawaii.

    Revisionist history from either side is a pain.

  3. I have to agree with Martin, and take it a step further: As CINCPAC, the senior McCain would have been directly involved in the decisions to initiate the bombing campaign against Hanoi. Washington may have largely micromanaged the war, but McCain would have been involved.
    As for carpet bombing, we did carpet bomb, or saturation bomb the railyards in and around Hanoi and Haiphong. B-52s at that time weren’t capable of much other than saturation bombing or area targets. They were until the last ten years, “stupid” bombers instead of smart ones.

  4. Andy,

    As for carpet bombing, we did carpet bomb, or saturation bomb the railyards in and around Hanoi and Haiphong.

    Railyards are large diffuse targets. You can do a lot dumb bombing inside them without hitting anything outside of them.

    When someone says “we carpet bombed -city name-” it means that we just unloaded on the general area of the city. We never did that as evidenced by the fact that Hanoi was still there when Jane Fonda visited in 1972. We never did that in Vietnam. We unloaded a great deal of ordinance on limited areas but we never tried to wipe cities off the map.

  5. Folks,

    I too was stunned when I heard the false statement. Having been a grunt, I defer to the flyboys as to what exactly we did and who exactly was in the chain of decision makers. But I was frighteningly close to the business end of B-52 strikes in South Vietnam, so I have some sense of how it works.

    What shocks me more in that the statement has been ignored by those who did not know it was false (apparently almost everyone). To carpet bomb the largest and most concentrated population center in North Vietnam would have been equivalent to dropping a low-yield nuclear device. We killed more in Tokyo and Hamburg with conventional carpet bombing than we did in Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nukes. Such an attack on Hanoi would have been seen by the world as major war crime and probably by the Chinese and Soviets as a casus belli.

    For convention delegates and others to let the statement pass says to me that they were not surprised or bothered by a reference to the destruction by the US of a city and the slaughter of tens or hundreds of thousands–mostly civilians. I guess if it was OK then, it would be OK tomorrow. Thank God that our military has knowledge, decency, and common sense and can act as a brake on our civilian leadership.

  6. Thanks to all of you for clarifying a claim that grabbed my attention too! Thank God I didn’t go to Vietnam until this century, but I did notice many older buildings in Hanoi that probably wouldn’t be there if we had indeed carpet bombed the city. Of course, carpet bombing another nation’s capitol city would be a particularly bad war crime, but that’s another story.

    Given the biblical edge to everything this mob does, I guess we are supposed to compare McCain’s father to Abraham, meaning McCain represents Isaac. McCain may not want to carry this analogy too far. After all, Isaac’s main accomplshment is that he is the longest-lived patriarch.

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