The Tonkin Gulf Resolution and the Vietnam War

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Stephen Hamilton
Professor Charlie Dee
History 236
24 April 08
The United States of America is the longest lasting democracy to date, but America did not get there in holy grace as many believe it to have done. The fact is America got to where she is through failures, miscalculations, terrorism, conspiracy, and lying to its very own people through many facets of foreign policies and actions in other countries. The Vietnam War, specifically the Gulf-of-Tonkin Resolution and the Gulf-of-Tonkin Incident, are prime examples of how far American Presidential Administrations went to exclude themselves from their own Constitution to give themselves a blank check for war. The Gulf-of-Tonkin Incident was a complete fabrication that from the start was meant to provoke a military response from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

The time frame is December 1962 and the Joint Chiefs of Staff started a covert reconnaissance patrol just off the shores of a few high interest western Pacific Ocean countries, dubbed the DeSoto Patrol. (Moise 50) The claimed purpose “was to collect information about seaborne infiltration from North Vietnam to South Vietnam.” (Moise 51) Another released purpose was to determine the DRV’s coastal patrol activity and to also get a ‘better’ intelligence picture of the coast ‘in case’ we had to engage in operations. . The December 1962 and the following April Patrol in 1963 was said to be a waste of time by their crews, visibility was low and little to no intelligence was gathered; Lieutenant Gerrell Moore who was the officer in charge of the simply equipped NSA listening ‘COMVAN’ that was on board the ships and said, “We had no capability to learn anything significant in that area.” (Moise 51) What the real objective was; there was no real objective! This was also a cover story in the larger plan of the provocation of the DRV hoping to get them to fire at US forces. The equipment in the COMVAN was simple at best, nowhere near the technology they needed nor the distance capabilities they needed. A small excursion ordered by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in January 1964 was also unsuccessful once again to bad weather, but newly in Command Captain John Herrick of the USS Maddox would forever change the way history is written in late July and early August. A July 27th briefing to commanding officers of the USS Maddox left them feeling like they were embarking on a leisure cruise with no hostility expected. July 28th they departed Taiwan not knowing yet that OPLAN-34A was also getting ready to raise tensions in the area in 36 hours.

OPLAN-34A was Operation Plan 34-A,”and ill-conceived CIA/Pentagon scheme for sabotage and hit-and-run attacks against the interior and coast of North Vietnam.” (Bamford 291) OPLAN was a government funded logistical system for orchestrating small scale classified covert missions into places we shouldn’t be. OPLAN-34A was a claimed unsuccessful covert CIA mission that served as the Johnson Administration’s catalyst to create the Gulf-of-Tonkin Incident. The South Vietnamese Navy launched 60 foot American PT Boats from the My Khe base to head 75 miles to the north to shell the Island of Hon Me. (Moise 56)

Senior Commanding Officers of the Seventh Fleet knew OPLAN activities had raised tensions in the area, however Vice Commander of the 7th fleet in 1964 Admiral Roy Johnson gave the protocol that if DRV air craft, patrol boats, or radar installations payed attention to them, that it should be treated as a “significant event” mandating a special situation report. (Moise 56) Admiral Johnson sought after the schedule of the raids, as they were assumed to have caused increased tension in the gulf and he was ‘worried’ the DRV would be mislead into thinking the USS Maddox was the responsible aggressor; Admiral Johnson was unsuccessful in retrieving the schedule. (Moise 59) It was thought by officers that if the OPLAN raids ran into aggression that they were there to...
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