March 28, 2011

Study: Aerial Bombing Ineffective for U.S. In Vietnam Conflict

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Prof. Thomas B. Pepinsky, government, and two Yale professors found that aerial bombing in the Vietnam War that targeted civilians was counterproductive to United States counterinsurgency operations.It is not the first study conducted on the effectiveness of civilian bombing, but the authors said they believe that their analysis is superior because of the “unparalleled” amount of data used to support their findings. “We’ve done it better than anyone else ever has. [It’s] fairly groundbreaking,” Prof. Matthew Kocher, political science, Yale University, said. He added that the research and use of instrumental variables by the group is unique in studies of aerial bombing.The scholars found that bombing of Vietnamese civilian populations by the U.S. was consistently counterproductive to counterinsurgency efforts.“Higher frequencies of bombing correspond unambiguously to higher levels of downstream control by the Viet Cong,” the paper states. Pepinsky said that the military understands that mass aerial bombardment near civilians is not useful, either because it is immoral or because it has a “demonstration effect” on other civilians that does not portray the U.S. in a favorable light.According to Prof. Fredrik Logevall, history, director of the Einuadi Center for International Studies, this understanding has evolved into a modern counterinsurgency strategy. General Stanley McChrystal embraced this logic during his tenure as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, making the reduction of civilian casualties a major priority.“There’s an idea that counterinsurgency is about non-military measures,” Logevall said. In order to win, the U.S. must win the “hearts and minds” of the population, which cannot be accomplished through massive aerial bombardment.Pepinsky said that he hoped this study would stimulate the U.S. military to release more data on aerial bombing in Afghanistan and Iraq so that scholars could conduct similar studies about the efficacy of aerial bombing in these locations. Pepinsky, along with Kocher and Prof. Stathis Kalyvas, political science, Yale University, used data from the U.S. military’s Hamlet Evaluation System, a five-point scale developed by the U.S. Army to assess control over the hamlets in Vietneam that were bombed in September 1969.Kocher and Pepinsky said the group focused on Vietnam because of the enormous scale of the HES data, which tracked control over the hamlets before and after bombing runs.Pepinsky said that the study was also conducted in an attempt to return Cornell to the forefront of Southeast Asian studies. Pepinsky said that “old guard” would be proud of the way that the new generation of scholars is now looking at the war. Pepinsky said th­­­at the HES data the group used was not perfect, as Army officers could overstate the amount of control Viet Cong forces had over hamlets. However, he said that since the group was only interested in the amount of change, the data is still very reliable.“We’re probably underestimating how ineffective aerial bombing was [in Vietnam],” Pepinsky said.Logevall said that military scholars have considered the type of aerial bombardment used in Vietnam ineffective “for a long while.” However, he said that more recently, some scholars have argued that the policy has worked in some cases. They point to the “success” of counterinsurgency operations under the leadership General Creighton Abrams, who commanded military operations in Vietnam from 1968 to 1972 and repelled a full-scale Viet Cong offensive in 1972.“[The study] shows very powerfully the problems with that argument,” Logevall said. Kocher and Pepinsky said that their findings about the Vietnam War are relevant, even in an age where unmanned drones can fire a missile within a few meters of a designated target.According to Kocher, the study could also be very useful for nations with less advanced military technology that face insurgencies, such as Pakistan and Russia.Logevall said that the study has “tremendous contemporary resonance.”

Original Author: David Marten