Bombing, Population Displacement, and Insurget Strength: Micro-Scale Evidence from the Vietnam War
32 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 8 Feb 2014
Date Written: 2010
This paper is a first cut at the analysis of a new (and as of this writing) incomplete database on bombing and territorial control in the Vietnam War. The aim of the paper is to evaluate the logic of attrition in insurgencies at the village level. More specifically, I address two questions. First, how did the very extensive US aerial bombing of South Vietnam affect the population growth (or depopulation) of villages? Second, what consequences did bombing and population change have on the ability of the Viet Cong to control villages? Did attrition via bombing tend to flip villages to South Vietnamese government control or did it undermine counterinsurgency efforts?
The preliminary findings are quite striking: as we might expect, bombing was highly associated with village depopulation. Yet, in spite of its effects on the population, bombing appears to have been catastrophically counterproductive. Villages that were bombed intensively during the half-decade from 1965 – 1970 emerged under Viet Cong control in 1971 at a much higher rate than similar villages that were less heavily bombed.
In the next section, I outline the logic of attrition in insurgencies and I briefly discuss existing findings. In the next section I describe my data. I then present my results, and finally I conclude.
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