Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

THE GULF OF TONKIN INCIDENT

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TonkingunboatsThe Gulf of Tonkin Incident, 2 August 1964. I thought I’d write about it because it is one of the formative incidents that led to our current national situation. Or more accurately, the incident led to Congress passing the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which basically gave the US government a blank check to go to war without congressional approval. Presidents Johnson and Nixon used the resolution to wage the Vietnam War against three nations.

Getting ahead of myself though. The incident in question, the destroyer USS Maddox was cruising up the coast of North Vietnam hugging the 12 mile limit, sometimes crossing it. This is where we have the first problem. This was not a routine cruise, this was a spying cruise and a deliberate act of provocation. Especially since it was not unusual for these cruises to be followed by South Vietnamese gunboat raids on the North Vietnamese coast. In other words, the USS Maddox was not peacefully minding its own business in international waters.

On the day in question, three North Vietnamese motor torpedo boats set out to confront the Maddox. (Image above.) We have no idea what their intentions were, but they were the ones defending their territorial waters. The Maddox fled, the patrol boats pursued, the Maddox opened fire. Ostensibly to fire “warning shots,” but there’s no such thing as warning shots under international law. The motor torpedo boats started firing in response, though at the time the Johnson administration neglected to mention the warning shots, and simply claimed the North Vietnamese had fired first. The patrol boats did launch torpedos, but none hit their target. The Maddox was hit by one 14mm machine gun bullet. Navy planes arrived, and the patrol boats were destroyed or driven off.

Two days later, the Maddox and another destroyer, the USS Turner Joy, started another “patrol.” During the night they were apparently attacked again. The attack consisted of both ships making sporadic radar contact with unknown bogies, opening fire on them, and making evasive maneuvers for four hours. Some visual contacts were claimed, and the ships claimed two torpedo boats were sunk. No wreckage was found, and even at the time there was a strong suspicion that no attack had occurred, it was just jumpy sailors shooting at ghosts. And since then all evidence has confirmed no actual second attack took place.

Didn’t stop Johnson. He promptly interrupted US television to give a speech claiming the US had been attacked in international waters. And asking Congress for authority to defend the US against Ho Chi Minh and his communist aggression. The speech was a masterpiece of omission and deception, and sadly the American mainstream media wildly exaggerated the attacks. Many politicians were already calling for war, and the incident gave them and Johnson all the excuse they needed to pass The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. This gave the president the authority to wage war without Congress actually declaring war as the constitution stipulates.

And the Vietnam War was off. Ultimately hundreds of thousands of US troops deployed, three countries in ruins, worst chemical weapons atrocity in history, and more bombs dropped than were dropped by all of the participants in all of World War Two. Plus the US played an instrumental role in dragging Cambodia into the war, leading to the rise of Pol Pot and the eventual Killing Fields genocide, one of the worst in history. And nearly 60,000 dead Americans and as many as a million or more dead Vietnamese. All to prop up a wildly corrupt and unpopular rump state in South Vietnam for a few decades before the reunification of Vietnam in 1975.

Three points I think are good takeaways from this. The first is that even if the attacks had been unsullied North Vietnamese attacks on innocent Americans, this was not Pearl Harbor or anything like it. It was a border incident or border clash at worst, not some all out North Vietnamese attack on the US. And our response to it was disproportionate at best. One kid shoves another on the playground doesn’t give the hit kid justification to start bashing the first kid in the head with a rock.

The second more grotesque point is that the US portrayed itself as the victim and the defender in the whole mess, and indeed the whole war was characterised as defence against global communism. Even at the time people pointed out that this was nonsense. All the Vietnamese wanted after World War Two was independence, the fact that the independence fighters in Vietnam were “communist” was not part of some global plot. In fact after World War Two the Vietnamese were shocked that the US sided with French efforts to recolonise Vietnam instead of supporting their desire for independence.

Which brings us to the third point. Vietnam is another great example of how America has betrayed its founding principles, and instead uses them as window dressing for what is simply colonialism and imperialism in any real sense of the words. America is all about self determination and democracy, so long as the country in question chooses our chosen government.  I’d say more, but still don’t really know how to explain to people that the US is not really a force for freedom in the world. Maybe a list of all the times America has thwarted the will of the people of foreign lands? Future post I guess.

Yes, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was roundly criticised and pushback mounted until it was repealed in 1973 and replaced with the War Powers Resolution. Which basically just said the president can wage any war they want, as long as they send Congress a memo or two. It still is basically giving up Congress’s Constitutional mandate to decide with who the US goes to war with.

On the plus side, Senator Wayne Morse did his best to raise awareness of the deceptions the Johnson Administration was using to rush the Tonkin Gulf Resolution through Congress. There’s always a few people standing up for what is right. Came across a wonderful story along those lines the other day. Next post.

Comments, suggestions, shares appreciated.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: The three motor torpedo boats in the first incident. Credit: Official U.S. Navy photo NH 95611 from the U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage. Some of the people in this image did not live out the day.)

Written by unitedcats

May 29, 2019 at 7:24 am

Posted in History, Propaganda, Vietnam, War

2 Responses

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  1. The United States supports Communism because Communism is Jewish and the Jews ontr our Government shown by Roosevelt supporting the Soviet Union in WW11, Truman declaring Israel a state, getting involved in Korean war to a stalemate, the jet Nan war to let the immunization have it all,Trump declaring Jeruselum the capital of Israel , giving the Jews the Golan Heights etc. etc. etc. etc etc. The Jews now have their capital of their world empire.

    Eugene

    May 30, 2019 at 6:48 am

  2. The United States supports Communism because Communism is Jewish and the Jews ontr our Government shown by Roosevelt supporting the Soviet Union in WW11, Truman declaring Israel a state, getting involved in Korean war to a stalemate, the jet Nan war to let the immunization have it all,Trump declaring Jeruselum the capital of Israel , giving the Jews the Golan Heights etc. etc. etc. etc etc. The Jews now have their capital of their world empire.

    Eugene

    May 30, 2019 at 6:48 am


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