“Hell, those dumb, stupid sailors were just shooting at flying fish!”
– U.S. President Lyndon Johnson commenting on the Gulf of Tonkin incident
Fifty years ago yesterday, on August 7, 1964, Congress passed the now infamous Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which led to a massive escalation of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Without a formal declaration of war, the resolution permitted President Johnson to take “all necessary measures” to support South Vietnam, including armed forces. This resulted in 58,000 dead Americans and well over a million dead Vietnamese, both civilians and military personnel.
The resolution was passed based on President Johnson’s claim that the destroyer USS Maddox had been attacked for the second time in one week. While the Maddox did indeed suffer from a torpedo attack on August 2, 1964 after a raid on the North Vietnamese coast by South Vietnamese gunboats, the second attack was a pure fabrication. Furthermore, Johnson never discussed the background on the initial incident to Congress. Had Congress actually knew what happened it may have prevented this resolution from passing, thus saving millions of lives. Here’s a quick summary from History.com:
On August 2, shortly after a clandestine raid on the North Vietnamese coast by South Vietnamese gunboats, the U.S. destroyer Maddox (conducting electronic espionage nearby) was fired on by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. Two days later, in the same area, the Maddox and another destroyer reported that they were again under attack. Although these reports now appear to have been mistaken, Johnson proceeded quickly to authorize retaliatory air strikes against North Vietnam. The next day he gathered congressional leaders and, without divulging the circumstances that might have helped provoke the torpedo attack, accused the North Vietnamese of “open aggression on the high seas.” He then submitted to the Senate a resolution that authorized him to take “all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.” The resolution was quickly approved by Congress; only Senators Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska voted against it. Later, when more information about the Tonkin incident became available, many concluded that Johnson and his advisers had misled Congress into supporting the expansion of the war.
Even worse, within days of the attack, Johnson reportedly told State Department official George Ball that “Hell, those dumb, stupid sailors were just shooting at flying fish! So he clearly knew he was escalating a war based on a fabrication.
Things clearly haven’t changed much when it comes to U.S. foreign policy. After all, how did Barack Obama celebrate the 50th anniversary? By bombing Iraq again of course.
Since I’ve been alive, pretty much every ten years the government I was born under bombs Iraq. — Michael Krieger (@LibertyBlitz) August 8, 2014