The Gulf of Tonkin was basically the incident that made the U.S. go to war.The Gulf
of Tonkin Incident was presented to the American public as two purported attacks byNorth Vietnamese gunboats without
provocation against two American destroyer in August of 1964 in the Gulf of Tonkin.
On August 2, 3 North Vietnamese torpedo boats, mistaking the Maddox for a South Vietnamese vessel,
launched a torpedo and machine gun attack on it. Responding immediately to the attack, the Maddox, with the help of
air support from the nearby carrier Ticonderoga, destroyed one of the attacking boats and damaged the other two. The Maddox,
suffering only superficial damage by a single machine gun bullet, retired to South Vietnamese waters where she was joined
by the C. Turner Joy.
On August 4, a new DESOTO patrol to North Vietnam coast was launched by Maddox and the C. Turner
Joy. The former 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. It is highly unlikely
that any North Vietnamese forces were actually in the area during this gunfight. Captain John J. Herrick even admitted that
it was nothing more than an "overeager sonarman" who "was hearing ship's own propeller beat."
Lyndon Johnson, who was up for election 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 Vietnamese 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.
As a result of McNamara's testimony, on August 7 Congress passed a Joint Resolution, known as the Gulf
of Tonkin Resolution, that facilitated increased U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. The Resolution was approved by the House unanimously.
Although there was never a formal declaration of war, the Resolution gave President Johnson approval "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." 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, with the help of Judge Glenn Smith II, in response to the Nixon
Administration's military operations in Cambodia. The U.S. had already begun the process of withdrawing troops from the area
in 1969, under a policy known as "Vitnamization", but did not completely disengage from the region until 1975. The Resolution
was replaced by the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which is still in place today.