In this lesson, students will view selected video segments from The Vietnam War and examine the effectiveness of the bombing campaign known as “Rolling Thunder,” which directed air attacks against Hanoi and Haiphong in hopes of forcing North Vietnam to negotiate a peace settlement.
- Assess the merits of Operation Rolling Thunder.
- Assess the effectiveness of the US strategy of using overwhelming force on the enemy.
- Assess whether the use of overwhelming force changed Americans’ perception of the US war effort.
- Evaluate the Johnson administration’s continued use of the overwhelming force strategy.
About The Author
Greg Timmons has been a social studies teacher for over 30 years. He has written lessons for several PBS productions including The NewsHour, FRONTLINE, Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise and various Ken Burns productions including The War, Prohibition, The Dust Bowl, Baseball, The Tenth Inning, The Central Park Five, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, and Jackie Robinson. He is the winner of the 2007 American Educational Publishers Award.
1. Have students view the first segment, “Reassessing Rolling Thunder and the Crossover Point,” which features President Johnson stating publicly his desire to end the war and his private concerns that the current strategy isn’t hurting the enemy enough, and that more pressure is needed. Then show the second segment, “Repairing the Ho Chi Minh Trail,” which reveals the results of increased bombing of North Vietnam and the ability of the North Vietnamese to rebound from the punishing destruction.
2. Have students discuss the questions for each video segment in a small group or as a full class. Then, review the debriefing questions with the full class. You can use the debriefing questions for a writing assignment or a debate.
Discussion Questions for “Reassessing Rolling Thunder and the Crossover Point”:
- What was General Westmoreland’s crossover-point strategy, and why were Johnson administration officials concerned about it?
- What was President Johnson’s reasoning for deciding to increase the bombing campaign known as Operation Rolling Thunder?
Discussion Questions for “Repairing the Hồ Chí Minh Trail”:
- Summarize Secretary Robert McNamara’s strategy for destroying the morale of the enemy. How did reports on the effectiveness of Rolling Thunder debunk his strategy?
- What is your assessment of the effectiveness of Operation Rolling Thunder? Why do you think President Johnson opted to increase the bombing in North Vietnam and along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in spite of the collateral damage involved?
Class Debriefing Questions
- Discuss the merits and drawbacks of Operation Rolling Thunder. Why did the strategy seem rational to Americans but in reality proved totally ineffective?
- How did the continuation of the use of overwhelming force prove counterproductive on the battlefield and at home in the United States?
- Why do you think the Johnson administration and the US military continued the overwhelming force strategy in spite of the knowledge that it wasn’t working?