Gulf of Tonkin

“[President Johnson] deflected proposals from the Joint Chiefs to bomb North Vietnam and even China and commit U.S. combat troops to the war.  But he sent more aid and advisers.  And when North Vietnamese gunboats on August 2 and 4 [1964] allegedly attacked U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin, he retaliated by bombing military installations across the seventeenth parallel.  Claiming on August 4 an unprovoked attack on U.S. ships in international waters, an assertion later disputed and now known to be false, he rushed through a compliant Congress with near unanimous consent a Tonkin Gulf Resolution authorizing him to use ‘all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the United States and to prevent further aggression.’ The president’s decisive action helped seal a landslide victory over Goldwater in November.  The Tonkin Gulf Resolution gave him authority to expand the war.  But when doubts were later raised about the August 4 attack, legislators cried deceit, widening LBJ’s credibility gap.” –George Herring, From Colony to Superpower, p. 738-39


Discussion Questions

  • How did domestic political considerations affect Lyndon Johnson’s decision-making during the early years of the Vietnam War?
  • Herring does an especially good job of situating the Vietnam War in a global context.  How did controversies surrounding the war effort affect US policies in other areas of the globe between 1963 and 1968?

 


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