In what ways did the United States government manipulate the Gulf of Tonkin Incident to gain public support for intervention in Vietnam? All of the information used on this paper will come from two books: The Vietnam War: A History in Documents and Our Vietnam: The War 1954-1975. The Vietnam War: A History in Documents is my only primary source since it contains a plethora amount of documents and articles written during and some time after the war. Our Vietnam: The War 1954-1975 is a secondary source; it has many bias views of what occurred during the war and will be handled as such. By examining these two sources, a conclusion on whether the US government manipulated the details of the Tonkin Incident to gain public support for intervene in the Vietnam War shall be created.
B. Summary of Evidence
The Vietnam War was a major conflict between North Vietnam and South Vietnam for struggle of power. The actual war was centered around Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and lasted from 1959-1975. North Vietnam had become a communist territory, in which wanted to invade and conquer South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. The North Vietnamese had the support of Viet Cong (a light-armed South Vietnamese insurgency), Khmer Rogue (the communist ruling party of Cambodia), Pathet Lao (a communist and nationalist movement in Laos), People’s Republic of China, the Soviet Union, and North Korea. The South Vietnamese had the support of the United States, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, New Zealand, Khmer Republic (the Republican party of Cambodia), Thailand, and the Kingdom of Laos. Well, it all started back in 1950 when the communists nations led by China recognized Vietnam was a communist state since their government circled around the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
1 The following month, non-communist nations recognized the State of Vietnam led by Bao Dai. The United States viewed the outbreak of the Korean War as an example of communist expansion directed by Kremlin. Because of the communist take over of China in 1949, the Vietminh, a large group of people who wanted to separate Vietnam from France, was revived.2 With the help of China, the Vietminh had grown from a guerilla force into an actual army, which started to fight off the French. In September, the United States created the Military Assistance and Advisory Group (MAAG) to help with French aids and requests and to train Vietnamese soldiers. Seeing that the US was helping the French, China and the Soviet Union began to support the Vietminh, supplying money, food, and military equipment, just as the US was doing.
Overall, the US had spent $1 billion and was covering 80% of the war cost.3 The Battle of Dien Bien Phu marked the moment in which the French were defeated and the Vietminh invaded Vietnam, thus granting independence for Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Under the terms of the Geneva Convention, civilians of the temporarily partitioned state of Vietnam had the freedom to move along North and South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese president blocked all elections that would have been held because of the fear of a communist takeover. 4 Over one million North Vietnamese civilians had fled to the south, in fear of communist executions, and an additional two million more would have fled if they had not been stopped by the Vietminh.
At this time, the Vietminh had created a socialist state, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Around this occurrence, John F. Kennedy won the US election of 1960. While ignoring all warnings made by Eisenhower about Laos and Vietnam, Kennedy pledged “I will pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardships, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty”.5 The Kennedy administration was committed to the Cold War foreign policy kept by the Eisenhower and Truman administrations.
While US troops were being deployed over to Korea, Kennedy had three major crisis in his hands: the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, the construction of the Berlin Wall, and the negotiated settlement between Laos and Pathet Lao. If he were to fail in gaining control and stopping the communist movement, the credibility of the US would decrease immensely.6 Kennedy did not want to deploy any soldiers to Vietnam without a valid reason and stated that “Now we have a problem making our power credible and Vietnam looks like this place”7. When Lyndon B. Johnson took presidency, the Tonkin Incident occurred, in which the destroyer USS Maddox, was attacked in two different engagements, thus granting Johnson to intervene in the Vietnam War.8
C. Evaluation of Sources
The Vietnam War: A History in Documents is a book compiled mostly of articles and documents of the Vietnam War. This book starts off with the creation of Vietnam and goes into specific details of the articles within it. This book is very valuable because it has gigantic amount of primary sources, which include, and are not limited to, telegrams, letters, newspaper articles, and political cartoons. It is also valuable because it does not have any bias point of view within it; it shows both the views of the United States, as well as Vietnam, on what had occurred during the war and why the US got involved. Although this book has its uses, it is limited by the fact that some details, like torture for example, has been left out because of its immoral and inhumane ways, other information, such as anything that has to do specifically with the errors of the US government has been deleted because the US government does not want disobedience.
Our Vietnam: The War of 1954-1975 is a long book compiled with interesting information and opinions. This book is very bias in its ways, like “If the Twenty-second Amendment of the US Constitution had not barred him from a third term, Eisenhower could have beaten Kennedy or any other Democrat.”9 This book is a valuable source because it gives the reader an input of a different perspective of everything that occurred before and after the war. This is a secondary source, since it was written in the year 2000.
While reading both selected books, I came across one similar detail about the Tonkin Incident. To recap on what the Tonkin incident is, it was basically when the US destroyer, the USS Maddox engaged in combat with three North Vietnamese torpedo boats, in which the three torpedo boats suffered immense damage and had to retreat. A second battle engagement occurred two days later, which later resulted as false. This is where the similar detail occurs. As mentioned above, the second engagement resulted false later on, which means that the US government manipulated the USS Maddox’s report to gain support to intervene in the Vietnam War.
“It is not simply that there is a different story as to what happened; it is that no attack happened that night. […] In truth, Hanoi’s navy was engaged in nothing that night but the salvage of two of the boats damaged.”10 This quote clearly states how the second attack, which was on August 4, 1964, was completely false. “I maneuvered close to the water, unencumbered by a wing man, lights off, trying to find whatever boat the destroyers were talking about […] no wakes or dark shapes other than those of the destroyers were ever visible to me”11 stated Admiral James Stockdale, a US Navy pilot on duty flying over the USS Maddox on August 4th (the following quotes will be about what he saw and lived through). “[After landing I] wheel[ed] into the ready room I had hurriedly left three hours ago […] urged a complete evaluation of the mix up before any further action be taken.”
12 In that quote, it clearly states how the Navy within the warship were given the command to attack when nothing was in sight. Their excuse was “sonars not operating properly, radars not locking on targets, probable false targets, and false perception due to lack of visibility.” The next morning, on August 5, the Admiral was woken up because he was sent a message from President Lyndon B. Johnson, stating to bombard Vietnam. According to the Admiral, the strikes’ purpose were reprisal. Which confused him since nothing had happened. “we were about to launch a war under false pretenses, in the face of the on-scene military commander’s advice to the contrary…”13 the following excerpt is from a conversation between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Eisenhower’s former Secretary of State Robert Anderson.
LBJ: What happened was we’ve been playing around up there and they came out, gave us a warning, and we knocked hell out of ’em.
RA: That’s the best thing in the world you could have done—just knock the hell out of ’em.
LBJ: and we’ve got our people right there and we haven’t pulled out. We’ve pulled up.14
As seen clearly in this excerpt, the North Vietnamese gave a clear warning to the US destroyers about intruding in their territory, and President Johnson just gave the USS Maddox the OK to engage and blow everything up. The press was going crazy with information supplied by the US government, stating that the USS Maddox was attacked for no reason and that we need to strike back.15 Because of this “legit” information the press is sending out to the US citizens, President Johnson gained enough support from the citizens and was able to send out the command to the Navy intervene in Vietnam and “counterattack,” as repercussions for the attacks on the USS Maddox.
In conclusion, we can easily say that the US government did, in fact, manipulate the Tonkin Incident to gain public support to intervene in the Vietnam War. The fact that the second engagement of the USS Maddox was false and that President Johnson said what he said in the conversation with Anderson clearly shows that the US government wanted to “intervene in matters that has nothing to do with them.”16 As a result of the false engagement, 88 senators, which were forced by their respective citizens, voted in favor on the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which was to strike back, while 2 senators voted no.17 So basically, the US could have completely evaded this part of the Cold War, but then again, we were fighting to stop communism from spreading, but still failed at it.
F. List of Sources
Anderson, David L. TrappedBy Success: The Eisenhower Administration and the Vietnam War, 1953-1961. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.
Anderson, Terry. The Sixties. New York: Longman, 1999.
Appy, Christian G. The Working-Class War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina
Berman, Larry. No Peace, NO Honor: Nixon, Kissinger, and Betrayal in Vietnam. New York: Free Press, 2001.
Bradley, Benjamin. Conversations with Kennedy. New York: Norton, 1975.
Chomsky, Noam. Rethinking Camelot. Boston: South End Press, 1993.
Cohen, Steven, ed. Anthology and Guide to a Television History. New York: Knopf, 1983.
Dallek, Robert. Flawed Giant: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1960-1973. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Duiker, William J. Ho Chi Minh. New York: Hyperion, 2000.
Emerson, Gloria. Winners and Losers: Battles, Retreats, Gains, Losses, and Ruins from the Vietnam War. New York: Norton, 1992.
Franklin, Bruce H. M.I.A. or Mythmaking in America. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1993.
Gardner, Lloyd. Approaching Vietnam: From World War II through Dienbiennphu, 1941-1954. New York: Norton, 1988.
Gardner, Lloyd. Pay Any Price: Lyndon Johnson and the Wars for Vietnam. New York: Knopf, 1986.
Halberstam, David. The Best and the Brightest. New York: Ballantine, 1993.
Herr, Michael. Dispatches. New York: Knopf, 1977.
Herring, George. America’s Longest War, the United States and Vietnam 1950-1975 3rd ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 1995.
Hunt, Andrew. The Turning: A History of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. New York: NYU Press, 2001.
Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History 2nd ed. New York: Penguin, 1997.
Katsiaficas, George, ed. Vietnam Documents: American and Vietnamese Views of the War. Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1992.
Langguth, A.J. Our Vietnam: The War 1954-1975. New York: NY, 2000.
Logevall, Frederik. Choosing War: The Lost Chances for Peace and the Escalation of the
War in Vietnam. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.
McNamara, Robert and Brian Vandemark. In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lesson of Vietnam. New York: Times, 1995.
Olson, James S. and Randy Roberts. My Lai: a Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford, 1998.
Pratt, John Clark, compiler. Vietnam Voices: Perspectives on the War Years, 1941-1975. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999.
Reeves, Richard. President Nixon: Alone in the White House. New York: Simon ; Schuster, 2001.
Sheehan, Neil. The Bright and Shining lie: John Paul Vann and American in Vietnam. New York: Random House, 1988.
Wells, Tom. The War Within: America’s Battle over Vietnam. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.
Young, Marilyn B., John J. Fitzgerald, A. Tom Grunfeld. The Vietnam War: A History in
Documents. New York: Oxford, 2002.
Young, Marilyn B. The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1990. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.
1 Langguth, A.J. Our Vietnam: The War 1954-1975. Pg. 83
2 ibid pg. 89
3 Young, Marilyn B., John H. Fitzgerald, A. Tom Grunfeld. The Vietnam: A History in Documents. Pg. 26
4 Langguth, A.J. Our Vietnam: The War of 1954-1975. Pg. 106
5 Young, Marilyn B., John J. Fitzgerald, A. Tom Grunfeld. The Vietnam War: A History in Documents. Pg. 28
6 ibid Pg. 28
7 ibid Pg. 29
8 ibid Pg. 36
9 Langguth, A.J. Our Vietnam: The War of 1954-1975. Pg. 29
10 Young, Marilyn B., John J. Fitzgerald, A. Tom Grunfeld. The Vietnam War: A History in Documents. Pg. 74
11 ibid Pg. 75-76
12 ibid Pg. 76
13 ibid Pg. 77
14 Langguth, A.J. Our Vietnam: The War of 1954-1975. Pg. 310
15 ibid Pg. 316
16 ibid Pg. 331
17 Young, Marilyn B., John J. Fitzgerald, A. Tom Grunfeld. The Vietnam War: A History in Documents. Pg. 77.