Tonkin Gulf Crisis the Debate Term Paper

Pages: 19 (4928 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 20  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Military


Ellsberg is not the only one who exposed the conspiracy. In 1977, former Under Secretary of State George Ball stated: "Many of the people associated with the war...were looking for any excuse to initiate bombing. The DeSoto Patrols were primarily for provocation....There was a feeling that if the destroyer got into trouble, that would provide the provocation needed (Ford, 1997)."

For those who are convinced that the Johnson administration knowingly deceived Congress and the American people, the only question that remains is "why?" The resolution clearly stated, "Upon request of South Vietnam or the Laotian government to use all measures including the commitment of U.S. Armed Forces in their Defense (Ford, 1997)." This resolution had been prepared in May 1964, three months before the "unprovoked attacks" took place, whether in actuality or not.

When the resolution was prepared, Johnson was running his presidential campaign based on peace. Johnson's opponent for presidency, Senator Barry Goldwater, was wanted a tougher U.S. stance in Southeast Asia. An "unprovoked attack" by North Vietnam would enable Johnson to respond with limited force and improve his image with the American people without appearing to agree with his main political opponent. The timing was perfect.

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Many people believe that this was Johnson's plan when he used deceitful tactics to pass the resolution. In response to the Tonkin Gulf attacks, the president launched a limited airstrike and warned Hanoi that the U.S. would not tolerate any more aggression. As a result, just prior to the November election, the American public viewed hum as a firm leader who was still not pushing for war. His approval rating increased and he was reelected. The resolution had also given him the power to declare war.

Term Paper on Tonkin Gulf Crisis the Debate Assignment

McNamara describes the significance of the controversial Tonkin Gulf Resolution (Ford, 1997): "The fundamental issue of Tonkin Gulf involves not deception, but rather, misuse of power bestowed by the resolution. The language of the resolution plainly granted the powers the President subsequently used and Congress understood the breadth of those powers....But no doubt exists that Congress did not intend to authorize, without further, full consultation, the expansion of U.S. forces in Vietnam from 16,000 to 550,000 men, initiating large scale combat operations with the risk of an expanded war with China and the Soviet Union, and extending U.S. involvement in Vietnam for many years to come."

President Johnson's Role

For Johnson and all Americans, the Vietnam War was a great tragedy (Herring, 1996). Johnson had not created the U.S. commitment in Vietnam and initially tried to ignore it. However, pressure from the U.S. government and military caused him to reluctantly take on the war, which he was unable to win. The war undid all of Johnson's good work, including his Great Society domestic programs. In addition, it just about tore the U.S. apart.

Johnson inherited the situation in Vietnam when he assumed presidency. While he repeatedly assured the American public that he would defend the nation's interests without going to war, he faced harsh opposition when it came time for his presidential reelection. He had to show that he was not too soft. This is most likely the reason for his actions in the Tonkin Gulf Crisis.

Johnson's Tonkin Gulf Resolution was most likely issued through deception, yet allowed Johnson to "take all necessary measures" to "prevent further aggression" and gave him the power to launch an undeclared war in Vietnam (Herring, 1996). With this power and his reelection, Johnson led the country to war, yet he did not realize the ramifications of his actions.

Johnson had inaccurately assumed that the war would be over before serious opposition arose in the U.S. (Herring, 1996). This turned out to be a gross miscalculation. By the end of 1967, the war had affected the U.S. In ways he never imagined and the U.S. had become greatly torn. Many critics attacked the war on moral grounds. Others encouraged Johnson to pursue it. However, as the war continued, more deaths occurred and more money was wasted. More and more Americans questioned this heavy investment of lives and money. By late 1967, the administration was shocked by the growing opposition to the war. Johnson was viewed as a failure in America's eyes.

Use of the Media in the Tonkin Gulf Crisis

On August 5, 1964, a Washington Post headline announced, "American Planes Hit North Vietnam After Second Attack on Our Destroyers; Move Taken to Halt New Aggression." The news created a stir amongst the American people, which was further fuelled by a New York Times headline later the same day, which read "President Johnson has ordered retaliatory action against gunboats and 'certain supporting facilities in North Vietnam' after renewed attacks against American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin (Cohen and Solomon, 1994)."

In reality, there was no "second attack" by North Vietnam. Claims of "renewed attacks against American destroyers" were false (Cohen and Solomon, 1994). However, by reporting official claims as truthful news, American newspapers fuelled the fire for the Vietnam War. Over the next few years, the government continued to plant untruthful seeds in the media, leading to over 50,000 American deaths and millions of Vietnamese casualties in the war.

According to the newspapers, North Vietnamese torpedo boats launched an "unprovoked attack" against a U.S. destroyer plane on "routine patrol" in the Tonkin Gulf on August 2, 1964 and that North Vietnamese PT boats launched a "deliberate attack" on two U.S. ships two days later (Cohen and Solomon, 1994). However, this story was not true.

The U.S. destroyer Maddox was not on routine patrol on August 2.Instead, it was on an aggressive intelligence-gathering mission in cooperation with coordinated attacks on North Vietnam by the South Vietnamese navy and the Laotian air force. "The day before, two attacks on North Vietnam...had taken place," according to scholar Daniel C. Hallin. These attacks were "part of a campaign of increasing military pressure on the North that the United States had been pursuing since early 1964 (Cohen and Solomon, 1994)."

Two days later, the U.S. Pentagon announced that a second attack by North Vietnamese PT boats took place earlier that day in the Tonkin Gulf. President Lyndon Johnson reported this statement on television that evening as he announced an escalation in the war: air strikes against North Vietnam (Cohen and Solomon, 1994). This statement was untrue yet Johnson gave orders to U.S. bombers to "retaliate" for the North Vietnamese torpedo attack, even though it never actually took place.

Before the U.S. air strikes, Washington officials had evidence that the Aug. 4 attack by North Vietnam never took place. Cables from the U.S. task force commander in the Tonkin Gulf, Captain John J. Herrick, gave reference to "freak weather effects," "almost total darkness" and an "overeager sonarman" who "was hearing ship's own propeller beat (Cohen and Solomon, 1994)."

Navy pilots flying overhead that night recalled, "I had the best seat in the house to watch that event and our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets -- there were no PT boats there.... There was nothing there but black water and American fire power."

In 1965, Lyndon Johnson revealed, "For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there (Cohen and Solomon, 1994)."

However, the media took Johnson's fraudulent speech on Aug. 4 very seriously. The next day, the New York Times reported that Johnson "went to the American people last night with the somber facts." The Los Angeles Times called for the need to "face the fact that the Communists, by their attack on American vessels in international waters, have themselves escalated the hostilities (Cohen and Solomon, 1994)."

In the book The War Within: America's Battle Over Vietnam, author Tom Wells describes the Tonkin Gulf incidents (Cohen and Solomon, 1994). In an interview, Wells reveals that the American media "described the air strikes that Johnson launched in response as merely 'tit for tat' -- when in reality they reflected plans the administration had already drawn up for gradually increasing its overt military pressure against the North." Wells provides a reason for the flawed new coverage, stating that the media had an "almost exclusive reliance on U.S. government officials as sources of information" and a "reluctance to question official pronouncements on 'national security issues.'"

Still, in the book

The "Uncensored War," author Daniel Hallin says that journalists had "a great deal of information available which contradicted the official account (of Tonkin Gulf events); it simply wasn't used (Cohen and Solomon, 1994). The day before the first incident, Hanoi had protested the attacks on its territory by Laotian aircraft and South Vietnamese gunboats." In addition, "It was generally known...that 'covert' operations against North Vietnam, carried out by South Vietnamese forces with U.S. support and direction, had been going on for some time."

On August 5, 1964, Johnson went before Congress to discuss the situation. According to the Department of State Bulletin, these were his words (Department of State, 1964):

Last night I announced to the American people that… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Tonkin Gulf Crisis the Debate.  (2003, April 17).  Retrieved May 29, 2020, from

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"Tonkin Gulf Crisis the Debate."  April 17, 2003.  Accessed May 29, 2020.