Was Vietnam Based On A Lie?

The Vietnam War is widely considered one of America’s greatest military follies The USA was directly involved from late 1964 to 1973

By the end, more than fifty eight thousand Americans had died, and up to 36 million people in total America was dragged into the conflict when Communist North Vietnamese attacked a US Navy ship in the Gulf of Tonkin

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But was this infamous incident, and America’s subsequent war in Vietnam, based on deception, manipulation and false pretenses? The Gulf of Tonkin incident took place between the 2nd and 4th of August, 1964 It began with a minor engagement between the USS Maddox destroyer and a number of North Vietnamese torpedo boats There were no major consequences Then, the Maddox and the USS Turner Joy reported another torpedo attack in the early hours of the 4th August By lunchtime in the Washington, President Lyndon B

Johnson sought congressional approval for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which allowed him to make retaliatory airstrikes It was a de facto declaration of war The media supported LBJ’s decision The New York Times, for example, proudly reported that Johnson “went to the American people last night with the somber facts” But James Stockdale, a US aircraft pilot who witnessed the second attack, claimed “our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets – there were no [torpedo] boats there… there was nothing there but black water and American firepower

” Stockdale believed the event that sparked America’s war in Vietnam was a military mistake Others believe that the Gulf of Tonkin Incident was really a false flag operation In 2002, Richard Sanders of the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade claimed that LBJ hoped that Americans in Vietnam would eventually provoke an attack by the Communists Failing that, he invented one In the years prior to the event, the US had engaged in a series of covert operations named OPLAN 34-A, in which American forces coordinated a series of South Vietnamese raids

According to the US Naval Institute, the USS Maddox’s mission was to gather intelligence for those raids Richard Sanders suggests it could also have been an attempt to goad the North Vietnamese Additionally, investigative journalist IF Stone said LBJ’s retaliatory air raids targeted coal mines rather than ports, as you would expect after a naval attack

Therefore, the US air strikes were strategic rather than retaliatory – preparations for war However, it may not have been LBJ’s scheme Gellhorn Prize-winning journalist Gareth Porter alleges that Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara deliberately deceived the president

He restricted access to military communications that showed the Tonkin incident never happened He also hid the fact that the captain of thee USS Maddox doubted an attack had occurred, and recommended reconnaissance before any retaliation According to Gareth Porter, it was a “brazen move to usurp the president’s constitutional power of decision on the use of military force” Recently declassified files shed an alternate light on what really happened on the 4th August, 1964 NSA reports, made public in 2005, reveal that the American “sonar operators may have seen their own propeller beats reflecting off the rudders” and mistook them for enemy combatants

Moreover, audio tapes of President Johnson’s conversations released in 2013 shed new light on how the Gulf of Tonkin incident was handled by the White House Six weeks after the incident, Johnson said to McNamara, “Just say that you want to be sure… that we were fired upon Because you just came in… a few weeks ago and said that – “Damn, they are launching an attack on us – they are firing on us” When we got through with all the firing, we concluded maybe they hadn’t fired at all” This clearly shows the government knew the Tonkin Incident was not real – but it also shows the government did not fake it

Professor Julian Zelizer of Princeton University says LBJ retaliated swiftly, not because he was eager for war, but because 1964 was an election year, and he did not want to look weak in front of his rival, Barry Goldwater One day before the incident, LBJ said, “That's what all the country wants because Goldwater's raising so much hell about how he's gonna blow 'em off the moon, and they say that we oughten to do anything that the national interest doesn't require But we sure oughta always leave the impression that if you shoot at us, you're going to get hit” The testimony of military personnel, the NSA reports and the White House recordings all confirm that the North Vietnamese did not attack the USS Maddox on the 4th August The question remains, then, as to why this incident led to full-scale war

Was it part of a gung-ho intention by LBJ to go to war in Vietnam on any pretext? Or was it a spur of the moment reaction to an unclear situation, motivated by the need to get re-elected?

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