Aerial Bombing and Counterinsurgency in the Vietnam War


  • Matthew Adam Kocher is a Lecturer in the Department of Political Science and The Jackson Institute, Yale University, P.O. Box 208301, New Haven, CT 06520-8301 ( Thomas B. Pepinsky is Assistant Professor of Government, Cornell University, 322 White Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853 ( Stathis N. Kalyvas is the Arnold Wolfers Professor of Political Science, Yale University, P.O. Box 208301, New Haven, CT 06520-8301 (

  • The authors thank the following people: Jonathan Caverley, Holger Kern, Adria Lawrence, Jason Lyall, Michael Noonan, Sarah Parkinson, Abraham Parrish, Dianne Pfundstein, James Raymond Vreeland, Jennifer Ziemke, and five anonymous reviewers. We also thank workshop participants in the Comparative Politics Workshop, University of Chicago; the International Relations/Foreign Policy Workshop at the Dickey Center, Dartmouth College; and the Columbia University International Politics Seminar.


Aerial bombardment has been an important component of counterinsurgency practice since shortly after it became a viable military technology in the early twentieth century. Due to the nature of insurgency, bombing frequently occurs in and around settled areas, and consequently it tends to generate many civilian casualties. However, the effectiveness of bombing civilian areas as a military tactic remains disputed. Using data disaggregated to the level of the smallest population unit and measured at multiple points in time, this article examines the effect of aerial bombardment on the pattern of local control in the Vietnam War. A variety of estimation methods, including instrumental variables and genetic matching, show that bombing civilians systematically shifted control in favor of the Viet Cong insurgents.