3-26: Gulf of Tonkin Resolution Based on a Lie

Vietnam, the war, was waged and escalated based on a lie. The American public as well as the world at large were flat out lied to. Excerpts below from www.history.com highlight key portions of the ruse, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, under which President Johnson assumed unprecedented unilateral power to escalate hostilities. The question is, why did he think he needed such power? And why did so many military and civilians on both sides have to die or have their lives changed forever?

It took Vietnam veterans a long time after their return from Southeast Asia to even acknowledge the loose marbles that were scattering around their brains. The injury of PTSD has smitten thousands upon thousands of vets; the insult related to it is the knowledge that the war did not have to be waged in the first place. Yeah, wrestling with that in my head leaves me loopy sometimes.


Painting depicting engagement between USS Maddox and North Vietnamese torpedo boats on August 2, 1964 [Painting depicting engagement between USS Maddox and North Vietnamese torpedo boats on August 2, 1964]

On August 2, 1964, the U.S. destroyer Maddox exchanged shots with North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin…. Although most historians … have since concluded that (a) second … attack never actually occurred, it served as the pretext for an immediate ramp-up of the Vietnam War….

After World War II, France reoccupied its former colonies in Southeast Asia, only to be kicked out again by the forces of Communist leader Ho Chi Minh. In 1954, as the conflict wound down, the world’s powers reached an agreement to temporarily divide Vietnam in two, with all Ho supporters going north and all French supporters going south.

The Treaty of Versailles after WWI did little more than set the stage for the eventual, inevitable WWII.  To the victors went the spoils; the losers, Germany big-time, bided their time until nationalism could fester openly under their upstart demagogue, Adolph Hitler.

And how did creating artificial borders in the Middle East based on oil producing capacity work out? Western interference in South Asia fared no better. Colonialism? Imperialism? What’s the difference?

Elections were supposed to reunite the country (Vietnam) within a couple of years, but the United States opposed them over concerns that Ho would win the presidency.

Do we believe in the validity of elections–self-determination–or don’t we? Obviously, we don’t. Not if “our guy” isn’t going to win.

 Under presidents Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, the United States gave France—and then South Vietnam—economic aid and weapons with which to fight the Communist rebels…. As part of (a) covert operation, the United States trained and directed South Vietnamese sailors to bombard radar stations, bridges and other targets along the North Vietnamese coast. Meanwhile, U.S. warships such as the Maddox conducted electronic espionage missions in order to relay intelligence to South Vietnam….

In the pre-dawn hours of July 31, 1964, U.S.-backed patrol boats shelled two North Vietnamese islands in the Gulf of Tonkin, after which the Maddox headed to the area. As it cruised along on August 2, it found itself facing down three Soviet-built, North Vietnamese torpedo boats that had come out to chase it away. The Maddox fired first, issuing what the U.S. authorities described as warning shots. Undeterred, the three boats continued approaching and opened up with machine-gun and torpedo fire of their own. With the help of F-8 Crusader jets … the Maddox badly damaged at least one of the North Vietnamese boats while emerging completely unscathed, except for a single bullet that lodged in its superstructure.

… On August 4, the Maddox and Turner Joy reported that they had been ambushed, with enemy boats firing 22 torpedoes at them. In response, President Johnson ordered air strikes against North Vietnamese boat bases and an oil storage depot. “Aggression by terror against the peaceful villagers of South Vietnam has now been joined by open aggression on the high seas against the United States of America,” he said that evening in a televised address. He also requested a congressional resolution, known as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which on August 7 passed unanimously in the House and with only two dissenting votes in the Senate, essentially giving him the power to wage war in Southeast Asia as he saw fit.


Throughout these hectic few days, the Johnson administration asserted that the destroyers had been on routine patrol in international waters.

In actuality, however, the destroyers were on an espionage mission in waters claimed by North Vietnam.


The Johnson administration also described the two attacks as unprovoked; it never disclosed the covert U.S.-backed raids taking place. Another problem: the second attack almost certainly never occurred…. According to National Security Agency documents declassified in 2005. “The overwhelming body of reports, if used, would have told the story that no attack had happened” … “So a conscious effort ensued to demonstrate that an attack occurred.” The Navy likewise says it is now “clear that North Vietnamese naval forces did not attack Maddox and Turner Joy that night.”

Johnson’s escalatory actions from this day forward baffle me.

In private, Johnson himself expressed doubts about the Gulf of Tonkin Incident … He also questioned the idea of being in Vietnam at all. “A man can fight if he can see daylight down the road somewhere,” he told a senator in March 1965. “But there ain’t no daylight in Vietnam, there’s not a bit.” Yet even as he said that, he was committing the first ground combat units and initiating a massive bombing campaign.

I served in one of those units, the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, and I witnessed the effects of the massive bombings. Why did he allow even one more death to occur?

Government lied / People died.

One thought on “3-26: Gulf of Tonkin Resolution Based on a Lie”

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