On this date: 1964 - The Gulf of Tonkin Incident

In August 1964 , Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution—or Southeast Asia Resolution, as it is officially known—the congressional decree that gave Johnson a broad mandate to wage war in Vietnam. Its passage was a pivotal moment in the war and arguably the tipping point for the disaster that followed. The Resolution, passed by Congress on August 7, 1964, and signed into law on August 10, capped a series of events which remain controversial.

On the night of August 4, 1964, two American destroyers, the U.S.S. Maddox and C. Turner Joy, reported that they were being attacked by North Vietnamese military units in the Gulf of Tonkin, the body of water off the coast of central and North Vietnam. These alleged incidents followed reports of a similar engagement two days earlier, on August 2, between North Vietnamese PT boats and the Maddox. Characterizing these attacks as “unprovoked,” President Johnson ordered retaliatory strikes against North Vietnam and asked Congress to sanction any further action he might take to deter Communist aggression in Southeast Asia. Believing the administration’s account of these events, legislators acted swiftly, giving Johnson a virtual “blank check” to use U.S. military force in Vietnam.

Read more: A Communications Storm
and White House Tapes.

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