In September 1972, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) reviewed the case of Air Force General John D. Lavelle and determined that General Lavelle had conducted unauthorized bombing missions over North Vietnam and ordered the falsification of post-mission reports. As a result, the SASC demoted him to major general in retirement. In August 2010, after the release of taped conversations by President Richard Nixon revealing that the President had ordered many of the raids in question, the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records submitted a request to the SASC, endorsed by the Pentagon and President Barack Obama, to restore posthumously Lavelle’s retired rank to General. The SASC denied that request in December 2010, stating that “the decision by the [Air Force] Board, and the analysis underlying it, appears to be incomplete.”
In particular, the 2010 SASC recommended that the Air Force Board examine the Department of State’s 1972 documentary record of the Vietnam War in the Foreign Relations of the United States series, released after the Board had reached its decision regarding General Lavelle. The SASC also asked the Board to examine the impact of Army General Creighton Abrams’s authorization for General Lavelle to attack a North Vietnamese radar site at Moc Chau in early January 1972; after the attack, the Joint Chiefs notified General Abrams that he had exceeded his authority. The SASC further remarked that the Board had not adequately considered the analysis of Lavelle’s conduct presented in the authorized biography of Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird. Finally, the SASC stated that the Board did not sufficiently consider the importance of falsified reports submitted by General Lavelle’s command. The SASC concluded: “Before the Committee take action on this nomination, we consider it essential that the Department reconcile this conflicting documentary evidence regarding the actions of President Nixon, Secretary of Defense Laird, Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker, and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and the sworn testimony of the witnesses who appeared before the Committee in 1972.” Additionally, the SASC stated that “living witnesses to the events in question” should receive the chance to provide evidence and comment on issues raised by the nomination, and emphasized again the need to examine General Lavelle’s role in the falsification of post-mission reports.
National War College Professor Mark Clodfelter has addressed all of those concerns, and much more, in his recent monograph, Violating Reality: The Lavelle Affair, Nixon, and Parsing the Truth. Dr. Clodfelter makes a compelling case that the 1972 SASC decision was a grave injustice stemming from a lack of information that he has now uncovered. Based on exhaustive research that includes documents declassified in 2015, Dr. Clodfelter’s work reveals that General Lavelle had proper authorization for all of the missions that his command flew against North Vietnam. Moreover, Dr. Clodfelter shows that General Lavelle correctly reported the results of the missions in question to his superiors, with many of those reports going to the President. Dr. Clodfelter further cites the recent comments of New York Congressman Otis Pike, who initiated the 1972 House Armed Services Committee review of General Lavelle’s actions, and R. James Woolsey, the SASC General Counsel in 1972. Both agree that the current SASC should overturn the 1972 SASC’s decision. Finally, Dr. Clodfelter reveals that some of the testimony given during the SASC hearings was inaccurate. In light of those findings, he contends that the SASC should examine the Lavelle case once again and right the wrong that has endured for more than 43 years.
The full monograph can be found on the National Defense University Press web site:
Violating Reality: The Lavelle Affair, Nixon, and the Parsing of the Truth