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An examination of the public record of the first half of 1965 to determine whether U.S. air strikes against North Vietnam represented an attempt at military coercion. The validity of criticism of the failure of U.S. air power to force Hanoi to abandon support of the Viet Cong (VC) insurgency depends largely on the extent to which coercion was an objective of the bombing program. Comparison of official U.S. actions and decisions with a minimal set of actions necessary to indicate coercive intent reveals that at no time during the first half of 1965 was the coercive objective pursued alone. Only briefly was it a prominent feature of U.S. policy. Even then, the United States did not explicitly demand a specific course of action of Hanoi or threaten increasing punishment. Bombing was redirected toward the more immediate military objective of limiting Hanoi's infiltration of men and supplies to the South. Thwarting a Hanoi military victory by committing U.S. forces to ground combat in the South was increasingly regarded as the main way to persuade Hanoi to cease supporting the VC insurgency.

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