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Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution is the name given to the Joint Resolution[?] (H.J. RES 1145) of the United States Congress made August 7, 1964 that facilitated increased U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Although there was never a formal declaration of war, this resolution gave approval to President Lyndon Johnson "to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty[?] requesting assistance in defense of its freedom." The Resolution was approved by the House 416 to 0, and by the Senate 88 to 2. Senators Wayne Morse[?] and Ernest Gruening[?] cast the only nay votes.

On July 31, 1964, the American destroyer USS Maddox (DD-731)[?], began a reconnaissance mission in the Gulf of Tonkin. The purpose of the mission was to obtain information about the North Vietnamese coastal defense forces.

On August 2, 1964, the Maddox was attacked by three North Vietnamese torpedo boats. During the exchange of fire, the Maddox suffered only superficial damage by a single 14.5-millimeter machine gun bullet. Planes from the carrier Ticonderoga strafed the three torpedo boats, destroying one and setting another afire. The next day, intelligence indicated that the North Vietnamese were planning to again attack the U.S. ships operating off their shores, although this intrepretation was incorrect.

Two days later, a destroyer accompanying the Maddox got radar signals that they believed to be another attack by the North Vietnamese. For some two hours the ships fired on radar targets and maneuvered vigorously amid electronic and visual reports of torpedoes. Later, Captain John J. Herrick admitted that it was nothing more than an "overeager sonarman" who "was hearing ship's own propeller beat."

Though information obtained well after the fact indicates that there was actually no North Vietnamese attack that night, U.S. authorities were convinced at the time that one had taken place, and reacted by sending planes from the carriers Ticonderoga and Constellation to hit North Vietnamese torpedo boat bases and fuel facilities.

Squadron commander James Stockdale was one of the U.S. pilots flying overhead August 4th. In the 1990s Stockdale stated that he "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."

Lyndon Johnson, who was running for reelection that year, launched retaliatory strikes and went on national television on August 4. Although the Maddox had been involved in providing support for South Vietnamese attacks at Hon Me and Hon Ngu, Johnson's Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, went before Congress and denied that the United States Navy was supporting South Vietnames military operations. He thus characterized the attack as "unprovoked". Despite the fact that there was no second attack, he also claimed before Congress that there was "unequivocable proof" of an "unprovoked" second attack against the Maddox. A year later, Johnson said in private "for all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there."

As a result of McNamara's testimony, on August 7, the Joint Resolution passed the House unanimously, and the Senate with only two 'no' votes: Senators Wayne Morse of Oregon, and Ernest Gruening of Alaska.

Both Johnson and President Richard Nixon used the Resolution as a justification for escalated involvement in Indochina. The Resolution was repealed in June of 1970 in a rebuke to the Nixon Administration's illegal bombing campaign Cambodia. The U.S. had already begun the process of withdrawing troops from the area in 1969, under a policy known as "Vietnamization", but didn't completely disengage from the region until 1973.

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