US military's precision bombing: learning from history

Stephen Hewitt 2 August 2002

Here's a report on American military behaviour over thirty years ago, by Max Hastings, veteran war correspondent and former editor of the Daily Telegraph.

It was difficult to sustain any vestige of faith in Washington's tactics, or those of the Saigon regime. One day, when we were filming a Vietnamese fighter bomber squadron, I flew in the co-pilot's seat on a Skyraider ground-attack sortie. Our pair of aircraft circled for more than an hour above a rendezvous near the Lao border, waiting in vain for a target. Then the pilot radioed to the American Bird Dog spotter aircraft that his fuel was running low. "Okay," replied the Bird Dog, "you see those hooches maybe one click east of the river? Bomb on my smoke. " We made three passes at the "hooches" - huts - with bombs and cannon fire, to no visible military purpose, save that I came close to throwing up all over the cockpit as the old prop-driven aircraft dived, banked and soared upwards again. Any vestigial glamour attached to the trip had faded for me soon after take-off. I felt so ill in the oily, stifling grip of the cockpit atmosphere, that I yearned only for the sortie to be over. But, back on the ground, we asked the questions: what was the target? What was the point? Were there civilians in the huts? The truth was brutally simple. There had been no defined purpose or military objective - merely a requirement to record the unloading of a defined weight of ordnance somewhere within a defined region of that tragic country. This was the way the Vietnam War was by 1971.
Going to the Wars, Max Hastings, 2001 Pan Books, page 110

Here's another example, from The Memory Hole. I have independently corroborated their text against the book: Article on archived from