-- Richard M. Nixon in Nixon (1995)
In December 1972, the Nixon administration ordered a brief, exceeding violent bombing of North Vietnam, known to history as the "Christmas Bombing," but whose code name was "Operation Linebacker II." From December 18 to 29, with a day off for Christmas itself, the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps flew 3,420 sorties and dropped nearly 16,000 tons of ordnance on North Vietnam.
Widely denounced at the time and later -- though it has some defenders -- the move stands as an example of war "as the continuation of politics by other means." The administration asserted that the bombing was to get the North Vietnamese back to the bargaining table in Paris, to conclude a peace deal. A less straightforward motive has also been suggested -- namely, that the bombing was a way to get the South Vietnamese government to go along with a settlement in Paris, by showing them that the U.S. government was still willing to fight on their behalf.
The December 14, 1972, meeting between President Nixon, U.S. National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, and Al Haig, then deputy national security advisor, was captured on tape. In "Memoirs v. Tapes: President Nixon & the December Bombings," the Nixon Library describes the roundabout decision-making that occurred during that meeting, as documented by the tape recordings.
"When this round of talks finally broke down on December 13, both sides placed blame on each other," the library notes, referring to the Paris Peace Talks. "Although the talks were scheduled to resume in two weeks, the Nixon administration decided to reassess its entire approach. On December 14, in a meeting captured on tape, Kissinger and Haig discussed the next steps with the President....
"This presidential recording is our best evidence of how Kissinger persuaded President Nixon it was time to bomb. The President continued to believe the talks had reached an 'impasse,' whereas Kissinger was convinced the talks were finished without a change in the situation on the ground in Vietnam.
"Joined by Haig, Kissinger advocated 'bombing the bejesus out of them' and stated the U.S. needed to continue the bombing campaign for six months. Although less resistant than he had been earlier in the month to the idea of launching a new bombing campaign, President Nixon thought Kissinger unrealistic in thinking Congress would fund a six-month bombing assault on the North. President Nixon knew that a priority of the new Congress would be extricating the U.S. from Vietnam. Any bombing would have to be done before they came back into session.
"At no point during the conversation does the President say, 'OK, Henry, you are right. It's time to bomb.' But by the end of the 1 hour, 39 minute conversation, all three men are speaking of bombing as an inevitability."