Following the breakdown of peace talks with North Vietnam just a few days earlier, President Richard Nixon announces the beginning of a massive bombing campaign to break the stalemate. For nearly two weeks, American bombers pounded North Vietnam.
On December 13, peace talks between the United States and North Vietnam collapsed. The North Vietnamese and American negotiators traded charges and countercharges as to who was to blame. Infuriated, President Nixon ordered plans drawn up for retaliatory bombings of North Vietnam. Linebacker II was the result. Beginning on December 18, American B-52s and fighter-bombers dropped over 20,000 tons of bombs on the cities of Hanoi and Haiphong. The United States lost 15 of its giant B-52s and 11 other aircraft during the attacks. North Vietnam claimed that over 1,600 civilians were killed.
The bombings continued until December 29, at which time the North Vietnamese agreed to resume the talks. A few weeks later, the final Paris Peace Treaty was signed and the Vietnam War came to a close, ending the U.S. role in a conflict that seriously damaged the domestic Cold War consensus among the American public. The impact of the so-called “Christmas Bombings” on the final agreement was difficult to assess.
Some historians have argued that the bombings forced the North Vietnamese back to the negotiating table. Others have suggested that the attacks had little impact, beyond the additional death and destruction they caused. Even the chief U.S. negotiator, Henry Kissinger, was reported to have said, “We bombed the North Vietnamese into accepting our concessions.” The chief impact may have been in convincing America’s South Vietnamese allies, who were highly suspicious of the draft treaty worked out in October 1972, that the United States would not desert them. In any event, the final treaty did not include any important changes from the October draft.