Book outline, Randolph, Powerful and Brutal Weapons (Winder)
SAASS Purpose: President Richard Nixon was elected in 1968 in part because of his promise to unveil a “secret plan” to end the war in Vietnam. To his inner circle, he boasted that he was “playing a much bigger game—we’re playing a Russia game, a China game, and an election game.” The story of the Nixon Administration’s use of air power in 1972 as part of the endgame in Southeast Asia is a fascinating case study of the nexus between military force, domestic politics, diplomacy, and grand strategy. This is one of the most important books you will read in your SAASS year.
My Summary (after seminar): This book tells the story of Nixon’s Vietnam (1969-1973) with focus on the Easter Offensive (Spring 1972) while highlighting three major themes: Presidential leadership in wartime, the dynamics of military effectiveness, and the adaptation that results from action and reaction from tactics through strategy. Ultimately, Nixon achieved peace with honor by putting the Vietnam war in the larger context of the Cold War and by exploiting Soviet (food) and Chinese (honor) weaknesses through diplomacy to isolate the North politically and open the door to more aggressive and coercive actions. Ultimately, airpower was effective at holding ground on Nixon’s minimum objectives, but it could not deliver a decisive victory, only stave off defeat.
Vietnam really served as a transition war, from Eisenhower’s general war, nuclear deterrence focus, to an acceptance of limited war, and tactical emphasis, ultimately toward a nuclear and conventional divide.
Stage 1: What is the book about?
1. 'Classify the book according to kind and subject matter
b. 'Author bio and bias
c. 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.
d. Stephen P. Randolph is professor of military strategy at the National Defense University, where he directs the annual Space Industry Study conducted by the Industrial College of the Armed Forces and instructs courses in grand strategy, logistics/mobilization, and space policy.
2. 'State the unity of the whole book in a single (at most a few) sentences
a. Nixon shaped American military strategy objectives not just for Vietnam, but because “we were playing a bigger game, we’re playing a Russia game, a China game, and an election game.” 3
3. Define the problem(s) the author is trying to solve
a. Put Nixon’s actions and the war in context
Stage 2: Rules for interpreting the content
4. 'Find important words and come to “Terms” with the author
a. Dau Tranh – generally translated as “the struggle” though with connotations of a vast effort toward a noble end. This struggle played out in two forms, armed dau tranh or political dau tranh. There was no fundamental difference between negotiations, urban struggle, and armed warfare. 24
5. 'Locate/construct the basic argument (by finding them in the connection of sentences)
i. Nixon’s air campaign allowed him to meet his minimum objectives, but so did the North’s offensive campaign.
b. 'Major Propositions:
c. 'Presidential Leadership in Wartime (Major Theme)
i. And the implementation of strategic guidance
ii. Nixon’s objectives
1. Withdraw US troops with honor
2. Preserve the Thieu regime
iii. Ultimately, the US strategy rested on the ability of South Vietnam to build its own security forces, governance, and economy. 12
1. The North’s offensive effectively destroyed the US/South Vietnamese CoG, the ARVN’s strategic reserve/marines who were the most highly trained and effective units.
iv. In early Dec 1970 (executed Jan 30, 1971) Nixon directed a South Vietnamese offensive, Lam Son 719, which failed and exposed the weaknesses of Vietnamization 13
v. Due to failure, Nixon worried that congress might legislate an end to the war
vi. Nixon believed in concentration and shock with military forces, he wanted to break the status quo 88
vii. The first prerequisite for command is to understand the situation, he had to improve the information flow 88
viii. Second, he wanted a massive escalation in US strikes
ix. This massive final effort vs Vietnam directly contributed to the hollow force to follow117
x. Strategy’s Way focused on blockade and bomb 164
xi. Nixon recognized the failed military C2 structure, but could not make the change during a time of crisis 167
xii. Linebacker I focus: rail lines from China, road and rail network south, petroleum products, and targets of opportunity196
xiii. Nixon viewed the whole of US bureaucracy against him 227
xiv. Nixon recognized the need for an “Information” department that could focus on the propaganda side, but never instituted it 230
xv. Ultimately, the North was the biggest winner, the US second, and the South got the shaft 333
xvi. Nixon preserved America’s credibility as a great power and ally 333
d. 'The North Vietnamese Strategy
i. Create a fundamental change on the battle field to affect negotiations
ii. No full-scale route of US, but sufficient to induce final withdrawl
iii. Demonstrate the failure of Vietnamization and
iv. Reestablish NVA control of countryside
e. ' The dynamics of military effectiveness (Major Theme)
i. Specifically equipment, training, command capabilities, and doctrine in defining combat effectiveness on both sides
ii. Bombing the DRV’s power network (and most all objectives in Linebacker) were only possible with precision guided weapons, both for weapons effects and to achieve international political acquiescence by reducing civilian casualties
iii. Second, viewing target sets as a system instead of as individual targets vastly improved effects 297
f. ' The action-reaction cycle between the Americans and the Vietnamese (Major Theme)
i. An Loc is a great story of adaptation by airlifters to overcome the siege 243