Sunday, December 17

Walt Rostow And The Bombing of North Vietnam, 1961-1968

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Walt Rostow and the Bombing of North Vietnam, 1961-1968

Walt Rostow Rostow was the most destructive civilian member of the John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson administrations in regard to the troublesome foreign policy issue that was troubling the administration: the Vietnamese Civil War.

Rostow advised Kennedy to deploy U.S. combat troops to South Vietnam, as well as providing the reasons to Johnson for the bombing campaign. “Rather than serving primarily as a muscular advocate of Third World development, as his background as an economic historian at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) seemed to portend, Rostow was one of the chief architects of America’s worst-ever military defeat”.

At this time, American was concerned, almost fanatic, with the subject of communism in Asia, especially Vietnam. He told the government that communism was a parasitic and troublesome infection within society. “Rostow argued that America alone possessed the capacity to guide developing countries towards the liberal-capitalist endpoint that he described unromantically as the “age of mass consumption.” But ironically, Rostow’s “stages of economic growth” were little more than Marx’s dynamic of historical materialism with a happier, capitalist ending. His was a model informed by economic determinism”.

Rostow believed that Vietnam would cave into America’s demands and promoted a forceful military reaction to communist infringements of the 1954 Geneva Accords in Laos and Vietnam.

Rostow proposed to Kennedy three possible means through which the frontier with Laos, the infiltration hotspot, could be closed. The first was diplomacy, of which Rostow was skeptical; the second was to patrol the border through the deployment of ground forces and air attacks; but the third was a “direct attack on North Vietnam sufficiently costly to induce Hanoi to end its war against South Vietnam. I had in mind not only the possibility of air action but, after a suitable program of diplomatic warning, moving forces into North Vietnam itself””.

Rostow suggested that the Americans should bomb Vietnam, as the country would be susceptible to conventional bomb attacks. In March 1965, the Rolling Thunder campaign commenced.

Because of Rostow’s advice and actions, he tore a large hole in the social fabric of American society as well as undermining the people’s trust in the government and ended the career of a president.

Rostow later commented on his detestable actions: “I don’t spend much time worrying about that period.”


Milne, David (2007) “Our Equivalent of Guerrilla Warfare”: Walt Rostow and the Bombing of North Vietnam, 1961-1968, The Journal of Military History, Society for Military History.


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