Gulf of Tonkin incident
The Gulf of Tonkin incident was a confrontation in fall 1964 between the communist North Vietnam and the United States. President Lyndon Johnson exaggerated a conflict between the American destroyer USS Maddox and three North Vietnamese P-4 torpedo boats. There were two incidents, and historians feel that a false report of an attack on the Maddox by the North Vietnamese (the second incident) was publicized. Johnson presented this false information to Congress in order to obtain passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted Johnson the power to assist South Vietnam against communist aggression. This was not a declaration of war, but Johnson used it to support injecting the United States into the Vietnam War and to win reelection in 1964 in a landslide.
President Johnson, in the middle of his reelection campaign, exaggerated and lied about the incidents in special national television address, and liberal newspapers promoted his falsehoods further:
- the Washington Post headline of Aug. 5, 1964 screamed: "American Planes Hit North Vietnam After Second Attack on Our Destroyers; Move Taken to Halt New Aggression."
- the New York Times front page declared, "President Johnson has ordered retaliatory action against gunboats and 'certain supporting facilities in North Vietnam' after renewed attacks against American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin."
An official naval historian account reads as follows:
- In response to the actual attack of 2 August and the suspected attack of 4 August, the President ordered Seventh Fleet carrier forces to launch retaliatory strikes against North Vietnam. On 5 August, aircraft from carriers Ticonderoga and USS Constellation (CVA 64) destroyed an oil storage facility at Vinh and damaged or sank about 30 enemy naval vessels in port or along the coast. Of greater significance, on 7 August the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly passed the so-called Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which enabled Johnson to employ military force as he saw fit against the Vietnamese Communists. In the first months of 1965, the President ordered the deployment to South Vietnam of major U.S. ground, air, and naval forces.