Lyndon B. Johnson's Immediate Advocacy of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution
President Lyndon B. Johnson's immediate advocacy of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, acting as head of state, influenced Congress to unintentionally give him a blank check in conducting the Vietnam War. Johnson's accusation of unjustified attacks on American ships by the North Vietnamese in the Gulf of Tonkin led to the resolution's nearly unanimous passage in Congress three days later. Although with the passage of time the certainty of these attacks has come into question, President Johnson through his presidential powers was able to get the Tonkin Gulf Resolution passed, which gave him near free reign in conducting the ...view middle of the document...
These OPLA 34A raiders attacked the North Vietnamese islands of Hon Me and Hon Ngu during the first hours of July 31. The Maddox was aware of these covert operations, but did not plan its' route based on them.
During the afternoon of August 2, three North Vietnamese torpedo boats from the island of Hon Me attacked the Maddox when it was not far by, and this was the first attack. The Maddox left the Gulf of Tonkin afterwards, but returned on August 3, with the USS Turner Joy, as they were heading away from the North Vietnamese coastline they believed they were being attacked, and opened fire. Most of the presumed attacking vessels appeared on the radar screen of the Turner Joy, but not on the radar of the Maddox. Some men aboard the destroyers believed that what had appeared on the radar were ghost images, while others believe that they were actual torpedo boats attacking them. This incident is referred to as the second attack, and the following afternoon retaliatory air strikes approved by President Johnson were carried out. (2)
The Johnson administration's presentation of what occurred in the Gulf of Tonkin on August 2 and 4 must be taken in context with their eagerness for a resolution. Their account of the events stated that on August 2, the Maddox while navigating on a routine mission through international waters off the central coast of North Vietnam was attacked by three North Vietnamese patrol boats without provocation. Their presentation of the Maddox's voyage as a routine mission is directly contradicted by later information that proved it was, in fact, on a reconnaissance mission. Their account further stated that the Maddox returned fire, but the United States chose to only issue a warning because they treated it as an isolated incident.
Johnson and his administration insisted that after a second unprovoked attack two days later in the Gulf of Tonkin, the President had no further options but to order air strikes against North Vietnam. They painted the second attack to be a certainty, convincing the Congress, press, and public, while substantial firsthand accounts left themselves short of certain. His administration also declared that North Vietnam's aggressive intent was evident through these two unprovoked attacks and, therefore, a congressional resolution that authorized the president to take all necessary measures in protecting American interests in Southeast Asia was required. (3) Obvious discrepancies exist between the Johnson administration's account and the modern-day accepted version of the Gulf of Tonkin incidents, which should be viewed with knowledge of the administration's desire for a resolution.
As Johnson's staff advocated the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution's passage through Congress based on the certainty of the incidents, legitimate doubts about their occurrence cast questions to the executive's actions. In reference to the second incident, Commodore John J. Herrick, in charge of the Maddox's...