London, Tokyo and Hanoi did not surrender under air assaults and neither will Ukraine
We should never forget what Russia is doing to Ukraine. Not when the war is over. Not ever!
Jeff writes in reference to the Christmas bombing of Hanoi: “The idea was to break Hanoi’s will and force it to sign a peace treaty that would return our POWs and allow the U.S. to get out of the war.”
Granted, Jeff is right on in arguing that the bombing of Ukraine by Russia is designed, as was the London blitz, to break the will of a brave people and that it will not succeed. But attempting to buttress this case by analogizing it to the Hanoi bombing and its purposes and effects is tortured poetry.
In mid-October 1972, Henry Kissinger left Paris with what he thought was workable if bare bones formula for a Vietnam peace accord underwritten by his North Vietnamese counterpart Le Duc Tho. He was on his way to selling it to the South Vietnamese who had had been left out of the negotiations. But in the meantime, the CIA’s best penetration agent, a master spy named Vo Van Ba, delivered an intelligence report to the CIA station, and to the South Vietnamese government, that torpedoed Kissinger’s best laid plans.
Throughout the peace process, Ba’s reporting, which was based on field briefings at COSVN, the communist command in the south, had been one of best information sources for the CIA on Kissinger’s back-and-forth with Le Duc Tho.
Why did the CIA need such a backstop? Simple answer: Kissinger had severely limited distribution of all official readouts about the secret discussions and had thus left the CIA’s vast analytical directorate largely in the dark. Many of us directly responsible for assessing the enemy’s intentions for the White House and the likelihood of success in Paris had to rely on the enemy’s own readouts to understand fully what was going on.
The October report from Ba was just the latest gem from this extraordinary intelligence asset. But for Nguyen Van Thieu it read like a death sentence.
By Ba’s account, Hanoi was even then instructing its forces and cadre in the field to prepare for a ceasefire any time after October 15 by grabbing as much land as possible in the forty-eight-hour period before and after the terms were announced.
The report confirmed Thieu’s worst suspicions that the US was trying to lock him into an agreement that would leave all North Vietnamese forces in the south and under terms that doomed the South Vietnamese. His fears were ramified by the transcript he obtained of an interview that a Newsweek reporter had just conducted with North Vietnamese Premier Pham Van Dong, who gloated over what was in the offing.
In response, Thieu dug in his heels and signaled to Washington that the proposed agreement was a no-go for his regime. The North Vietnamese, who had spies everywhere, confirmed Thieu’s intransigence and threatened to step away from the peace process themselves.
Faced with a total collapse of negotiations, Nixon approved the Christmas bombing as a message with two addressees. It was designed to intimidate the North Vietnamese into re-embracing a peace agreement that was basically a giveaway to them anyway. It was aimed at assuring Thieu (falsely) that he could count on game-changing U.S. support if the Communists violated the prospective agreement.
The murderous two-way leverage worked. In late January 1973, the agreement went into effect with North Vietnamese laughing all the way to the lopsided payoff and the South Vietnamese grudgingly acceding to it. Even then Thieu had no complete copy of the agreement negotiated on his behalf.
Ba’s report is mentioned though without reference to Ba himself on page 82 in Allan E. Goodman’s magisterial 1978 study,” The Search for a Negotiated Settlement in the Vietnam War.” I wrote of the double dealing by Kissinger and the double messaging of the bombing in my memoir Decent Interval. I knew in real time of Vo Van Ba’s role in exposing to Thieu the U.S. sellout in Paris – I had been in direct periodic contact with Ba since 1971 and a major advocate of his reporting -- but I could not name him in Decent Interval because the Ba case remained highly classified at the time. Ba’s former Vietnamese case officer, who now lives in the United States, published a recent web post that specifically credited Ba by name as the source of the information which persuaded Thieu to haul back on the negotiating levers and helped set the stage for the secret bombing.
I greatly respect Jeff, who has graciously published some of my own articles on Spytalk. But as a former intelligence officer in Vietnam, he will doubtless want to give more fulsome treatment to the Christmas bombing next time he ventures that way in print. Far from being simply a sledgehammer effort to “break Hanoi’s will” it ultimately was a tragically effective tactic to get the North Vietnamese to accept a peace accord that already served their every interest.
My comment here inevitably truncates all the twists and turns that led to the Christmas bombing and implementation of the Paris agreement, but I have endeavored to ensure the essential facts, as I see them as a first-hand witness to the events, are served.
Other bombing campaigns didn’t have smart weapons and were not located directly next to their foe. Bombing campaigns won’t win the war but invasion may. Also campaign against Serbia, that worked due to concentration on infrastructure