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The Tonkin Times


Hostile Aggression in Tonkin Gulf


On August 2, 1964, North Vietnamese speed boats attacked the U.S.S. Maddox, patrolling in the Gulf of Tonkin. The North Vietnamese fired three torpedoes and a round of machine gun fire, though only one shot actually hit the Maddox, and no casualties resulted. U.S. navy fighters off the carrier, Ticonderoga, under the command of Commander James Stockdale, came to the aid of their comrades. They sank one of the enemy boats and damaged two others (?The Vietnam War?).

Two days later, on the fourth, the captain reported a second attack on the Maddox and the U.S.S. C. Turner Joy. At first, officials believed it to be an act of aggression on the part of the North Vietnamese, however, rumors now abound that a storm in the Gulf caused interference with the ships? radar leading to false readings (Rice 95). Some of the sailors aboard the Maddox swear that they saw an enemy boat highlighted against the bright fire of a star shell round (Rice 99).

President Lyndon B. Johnson decided against any immediate retaliation, and the administration sent a message to Hanoi warning of consequences to any further acts of aggression after the reports of the first attack. The Joint Chiefs of Staff concurred that pro active measures needed to be taken and recommended a bombing raid on North Vietnam. Johnson agreed to the raids on the Communist North and stated in a televised broadcast the same day that, ?We Americans know, although others appear to forget, the risk of spreading conflict. We still seek no wider war,? (?The Vietnam War?). Eighty-five percent of Americans say they support the bombing in a poll taken on the fifth (?The Vietnam War?).


LBJ leads push for action in Vietnam

Major networks interrupted regularly scheduled broadcasting on August 4, and President Johnson addressed the nation concerning the incident in the Gulf of Tonkin and our proposed course of action. In his well-known Texas drawl, the president began his speech,

?As President and Commander in Chief, it is my duty to the American people to report that renewed hostile actions against the United States? ships on the high seas in the Gulf of Tonkin

have today required me to order the

military forces of the United States to take action in reply? (Rice 11).

He continued to elaborate on the attacks and concluded by stating he would ask for Congress to pass a joint Congressional resolution. In an effort to appease the American public and his colleagues in our distinguished Senate, President Johnson reached across party lines to apply the infamous policy of containment that gained its notoriety during the Korean War. To gain support for his proposed course, Johnson sought the backing of Arizona senator and Johnson?s main competitor in the upcoming election, Barry M. Goldwater. Typical of his party?s stance, Johnson continues to run as the ?peace? candidate and plays both sides of the fence on this issue, staunch in his conviction we must stand for right and as equally rigid that the U.S. will not be overt in its use of military force (Rice 12).

Johnson skillfully steered the perilous waters of American patriotism and Communist encroachment with his Janus? two-faced charm. Simultaneously, Johnson exalted himself in the eyes of the populous by supporting further action in Southeast Asia and protected himself effectively against possible future disasters and resulting retaliation by enlisting Congress?s support. While various members of his administration reassured him he could take action free of the reins of Congress?s oversight, Johnson carved his own path and waited on the passing of the historic Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (Rice 14).

The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed unanimously in the House and receive all but two votes, belonging to Wayne Morse (D-Oregon) and Ernest Gruening (D-Alaska) who said, ?All Vietnam is not worth the life of a single American boy," (?The Vietnam War?).  Senator Morse cautioned Senator William J. Fullbright (D-Arkansas), Johnson?s personal friend, that a full Senate hearing should be held on the Resolution, stating that the wording was too loose and gave any President too much power (Rice 109). The warning went unheeded and only time will tell whether his words hold an augur?s foresight or are just meaningless words of a leftist sympathizer. 


U.S. Naval Ships off Vietnamese Coast?

One of the burning questions deliberated from the offices on Wall Street to the street corners and around the dinner table is what were our ships doing off the coast of North Vietnam? As concern over America?s place in Vietnam rises proportionately to our young men?s involvement in the war, many question the veracity of the facts concerning the incident in the Gulf of Tonkin. Until August 2, 1964, few people had heard of Vietnam, much less knew that the United States had ships in the vicinity of the coast.

The truth is that the United States has been conducting covert operations in the Gulf of Tonkin since January of 1964. As early as December 1963, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara wrote a letter to Ambassador Lodge stating (Rice 40):

?Covert operations by the South Vietnamese forces, utilizing such support of U.S. forces as is necessary, against North Vietnam. Plans for such operations should include varying levels of pressure all designed to make clear to the North Vietnamese that the

U.S. will not accept a Communist victory in SouthVietnam and that we will escalate the conflict to whatever level is required to insure their defeat (Rice 41).?

This served as the catalyst for a new course of action called OPLAN 34A, a joint proposal by the CIA and the MACV, based on an older version of a Pacific Command plan. It gave the South Vietnamese military authorization to engage in attacks against the North Vietnamese, ranging from small, nuisance raids to large scale air raids against industrial and military sites. This commenced without direct involvement from the United States (Rice 43). Sec. McNamara signed off on OPLAN 34A in December of 1963, and President Johnson gave his nod of approval on January 16, 1964. Marine Corps Major General Victor Krulak, a counterinsurgency expert at the Pentagon, chose some of the low risk plans and formed them into a twelve month plan of action.

The administration established a group responsible for covert raids against the Communist North called the Special Operations Group (SOG). MACV retained leadership of SOG. This reversed the previous intelligence gathering relationship where the CIA conducted operations and received aid from the military (Rice 43). Under this new regime marops commenced in the Gulf of Tonkin on February 16, 1964, with a fleet of American swift boats, Norwegian Nasties, and South Vietnamese junks (Rice 48). The division of SOG that ran the marops went by the cover name of Naval Advisory Detachment and was based out of Ka Nang (Rice 49).

President Johnson emphasized covert operations at first against the Communist North in order to control the United States involvement and its publicity. To carry out missions against the North Vietnamese, military planners depended greatly on intelligence information supplied by the OPLAN 34A operations. DeSoto patrols resumed in the Gulf of Tonkin in January 1964 by order of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to help gather the needed data (Rice 54). The planners utilized the DeSoto patrols to gather information on the North Vietnamese by collecting radar signals from land bases (Rice 55).

Despite the fact that the DeSoto patrol operated in the same area at the same time as the 34A operations, they differentiated in procedures and in immediate purpose (Rice 54). Admiral Thomas H. Moorer commanded the DeSoto patrols, and SOG headed for the 34A operations. During the first missions they assiduously planned to insure that the Desoto patrols did not occur at the same time or in the same area as the 34A operations. In part, this played a role in causing the events that led to the skirmish between the Maddox and the North Vietnamese.

Admiral Ulysses S.G. Sharp ordered the Maddox on a DeSoto patrol of the Tonkin Gulf in response to a request by General Westmoreland (Rice 70). It arrived in the base at Taiwan and loaded the communications van from the MacKenzie (Rice 71), and set out to its destination on July 28. It was a typical reconnaissance mission with the carrier gathering electronic signals from sixteen points off the Vietnamese coast. It turned out to be anything but a usual assignment as we so well know (Rice 73).


Ghosts Ships in Tonkin Gulf

The C. Turner Joy joined the Maddox to increase security during the patrols, and they reentered the gulf on August 3, 1964. They then moved towards their assigned position of the Thanh Hoa province. Admiral Moorer ordered aircraft from the Ticonderoga and the Constellation to give the carriers some cover during the day (Rice 93). They were to spend the next three days traveling between certain designated points while staying a minimum of twelve miles from the North Vietnamese coast and retreating to the security of the middle of the gulf.

At approximately 2:35 P.M., Captain Herrick of the Maddox reported sighting what appeared to be a motor boat following them at a distance of about fifteen miles. The destroyers had radio intercepts from the North Vietnamese at this time that spoke of identified American vessels and a possible nighttime encounter. As a result, the commanders put the crews of both ships on alert who spent the following hours at their posts (Rice 94).

Captain Herrick again sent a message to the destroyers, this time stating that he had reason to believe an attack was impending. Hardly more than a minute passed before the Maddox picked up surface contact on their radar. The subsequent events are clouded in uncertainty. Radar contacts, supposedly enemy craft, appeared to be heading towards the carriers. Around 10:30 P.M., radar posts on both ships spotted another contact less than a mile away and coming towards them fast. Both ships opened fire and the target turned and disappeared. Simultaneously, Lieutenant Frederick Frick determined that it had been a torpedo, and the sonarman attested to hearing torpedo sounds. The Maddox and C. Turner Joy changed course to follow in the torpedo?s wake (Rice 98). Similar instances persisted over the next two hours and conflicting information only worsened the confusion. Three seamen aboard the C. Turner Joy claim to have seen a torpedo ship briefly silhouetted against the light of a star shell (Rice 99). Two pilots flying over the ships claim to have seen anti-aircraft fire and a torpedo, but most of the airmen in the area saw nothing (Rice 100). James Stockdale, one of the most vocal observers of that ?fight,? piloted of one of the Crusader jets that accompanied the two carriers. From the very beginning he claimed to have never seen any sign of hostile fire, torpedo wake, or anything other than the American vessels and American firepower (Kim).

Many experts now concur that the most probable cause of the radar blips was a phenomenon indigenous to (See ?Ghosts? on page 5)

(?Ghosts? continued from page 4)

the gulf known as the Tonkin ghosts or spooks. Instances of similar false readings have been ?widely noted but never adequately explained? according to Commander R.L. Schreadley (Rice 95).

Typically these Tonkin ?ghosts? occur when warm moist air sits right above the surface of the water in calm weather. On the night of August 4, a storm brewed on the horizon and winds clocked by army personnel reached a decent speed (Rice 96). Other factors that played a role in the chaos include differing radar frequencies which did not allow for comparison, and the high level of tension and stress experienced by the crews after a day at general quarters under the threat of attack (Rice 97).

We will probably never know the complete truth about what happened that night, but for all the evidence we have, the pivotal moment that thrust us into the conflict in Vietnam was nothing more than a simple case of mischievous spirits.

Does the Tonkin Gulf Resolution Give the LBJ too much Power?

Congress shipped off and continues to send the best and brightest of our young men, the future of our nation, to the other side of the world to fight in a war the majority of the nation knows nothing about. In all truth, they daily risk their lives on the line and taking enormous risks even though Congress has not declared war with the Vietnamese. How is this possible? Thanks to a little document officially entitled Senate Resolution 189, or more commonly known as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (Rice 14), the President can order any measures he deems necessary to discourage Vietnamese hostilities. It gives no parameters on what constitutes aggression or when this power becomes void. All is up to the President?s discretion (Rice 120).

These so called public servants have cleverly pulled the wool over our eyes, and those few who have voiced dissention over the prevailing view have been ignored. President Johnson and other members of his administration misconstrued the events in the Gulf of Tonkin in order to pursue their own objectives. Anxious to win votes in the coming election, Johnson pushed the nation in this direction to appear the patriotic leader and to give his colleagues the war against Communists for which they clamored (Rice 108).

Senator Wayne Morse, one of the only two votes against the resolution, has strived to convince others in that grand assembly the dangers such a document curtails for our nation. He pleaded with fellow Democratic Senator William J. Fullbright, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to conduct full Senate hearings on the Resolution. Alas, it was to no avail. Like so many prophets before him, Congress ignored Morse due to the ?urgency? of the situation (Rice 109).

Again, Senator Morse tried to convince others of America?s culpability in the squabble after a Pentagon staffer leaked him some information. However, the secrecy of the missions and scarcity of details prevented him from being able to establish any definitive evidence (Rice 110). The Senate passed the Resolution on August 7, 1964, with only Senators Morse and Gruening voting against it. Morse addressed the Senate afterwards espousing on the perilous nature of the decision:

?I believe that history will record that we have made a great mistake in subverting and circumventing the Constitution of the United States?by means of this resolution. As I argued

earlier today at great length, we are in effect giving the President?war making powers in absence of a declaration of war. I believe that to be a historic mistake.?

Perhaps it would be a different story if there was a true declaration of war, if there were established goals and objectives for this campaign, if the lines between right and wrong were not so blurred and smudged. But this is not the case, and the president keeps marching against the impossible, not at his own cost, but at the cost of our sons, husbands, fathers, and brothers.


Effects of the Gulf of Tonkin Incidences

The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution hurtled America into a war it was not prepared or willing to fight. Outside of the president?s inner circle, people had little available information and due to misinformation and ignorance, congressman and laymen alike cheered this confrontation of Communist evil. It did not take long for the realities of this protracted aggression to sink in. Sadly, this conflict has come to define this generation, and will affect us and future generations, directly and indirectly, forever.

The aforementioned act of Congress sent hundreds of thousands of troops to Vietnam between 1965 and 1973. The list of causalities is staggering. Approximately 300,000 soldiers were wounded, and 75,000 of them were permanently disabled. A total of nearly 58,000 men and women were killed in Vietnam, and of all those unaccounted for 2,266 are still missing in action.

But this hardly scratches the surface of the repercussions of the Vietnam War. The soldiers lucky enough to make it home are forever scared by the horrific experiences. Many refuse to talk about the war (Personal Legacy), some have even slipped into a mental depression. A significant minority suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, and suicides are, unfortunately, not uncommon (Price).

To compound the problems, the men returned home from Vietnam only to be ridiculed and slandered by those who stayed. The continuous news coverage of the war has left the American public sickened and portrayed the servicemen as heartless mercenaries and baby killers. Many of those young men did not hasten to war, but their sense of duty out weighed the fear or ideological protestation. They made that brave and honorable decision, but their parents and grandparents who had fought in the World Wars saw them as cowards and ingrates for not jumping blindly to the nation?s call. They were shoved into a war they were uncertain to fight, and then they were denounced for doing what others had coerced them into or were too afraid to do themselves (Rice 14).

It is frightening to think that the unchecked workings of a few politicians can wreak so much havoc. We cannot reverse what happened as a result of our inaction and stupidity. We can, however, support those who went and fought and did what no one should be asked to do.

They deserve of our gratitude and appreciation as much as the other courageous men who have gone before them. They certainly wrestled with their own moral dilemmas during that time and continue to live with the residual demons of that war. Let us not add to the hate and bitterness now that we resolved our part in the conflict.


Works Cited Page

Hoffman, E. Kenneth. ?Battlefield Vietnam: A Brief History.? PBS. Public Broadcasting Service. 14 Sep. 2005. <>.

Kim, Tom. ?The Gulf of Tonkin Incident 1964.?  North Park University. 17 Dec. 1999. North Park University. 12 Sep. 2005. <>.

?LCdr. D.M. Jackson with Bullet that Hit Maddox.? Naval Historical Center. U.S. Navy. 14 Sep. 2005. < h97000/h97897.jpg>.

Price, Jennifer L., Ph.D. ?Findings from the National Vietnam Veteran?s Readjustment Study.? National Center for PTSD. 27 Jul. 2005. National Center for PTSD. 15 Sep. 2005. <>.

Rice, Earle Jr. Tonkin Gulf and the Vietnam War. Greensboro, North Carolina: Morgan Reynolds, Inc; 2004.

?The Vietnam War: America Commits 1961-1964.? History Place. 1999. The History Place. 12 Sep. 2005. <>.

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