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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 вЂ?better’ intelligence picture of the coast вЂ?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 вЂ?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 вЂ?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 get the PT boats into American safety.

Trouble first hit the Maddox on the night of August 1st and into the 2nd, when the COMVAN onboard intercepted a message that was decrypted by the NSA COMVAN workers that a decision was made to attack that night; shortly followed by another transmission that located the enemy vessel which the location specified was that of the USS Maddox. (Moise 69) A third message came through that was decrypted to elaborate on how the attack was to be accomplished; the DRV would employ small boats with explosives to ram the Maddox, or string explosives between two boats. As the Maddox moved on, a line of fishing boats (junk boats) was moving in a line outward from the shore, parallel to the shore. Captain Herrick sped his destroyer up and turned back out to sea; Lt. General Moore was confident that if Captain Herrick did not make that move, they would have been attacked. The thought that this was orchestrated in Hanoi and implemented during the same night is outrageous. Two nights earlier the area which this occurred, the island of Hon Me, OPLAN 34-A raids had successfully shelled the island. The junk boats could have had explosives but were more likely a defense for the defenseless island as the massive destroyer appeared to be coming in to finish the job.

As the USS Maddox continued north heading further out, its radar located that three torpedo boats were moving fast towards the destroyer from the Island of Hon Me. The ship went to General Quarters immediately (battle stations) as Captain Herrick directed the Destroyer to safety in the Southeast, away from Vietnamese coast line. (Moise 74) What followed was the DRV torpedo boats missed their target as their transmission was intercepted and they ended up west of the destroyer. As the three torpedo boats moved into chasing the destroyer the DRV torpedo boats received fire, the Maddox recorded firing 283 shells before the three boats backed off. (Moise 79) The problem comes in, in how this was evaluated by Secretary McNamara. He claimed, “Our navy played absolutely no part in, was not associated with, was not aware of, any South Vietnamese actions, if there were any. …Maddox operating in international waters,… routine patrol.” The USS Maddox was originally 8 miles from shore before she turned out after sighting the line of junk boats inside the agreed 12 mile buffer; the Maddox was also a part of the covert DeSoto Mission that consequently was executed in perfect timing with another covert CIA mission, OPLAN 34-A. The boats



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