Fifty Years Ago, A Lie Led To War: The Gulf Of Tonkin Resolution Under Lyndon B. Johnson

A half century ago, the move toward massive escalation of the war in Vietnam began, with the false, misleading report of the supposed attack on US ships, the Turner Joy and the Maddox, by North Vietnamese patrol boats off the of the Gulf of Tonkin.

Lyndon B. Johnson immediately called for a resolution from Congress, infamously known in history as the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, calling for a bombing attack on North Vietnam and its key cities, the capital of Hanoi and the port city of Haiphong.

The push for quick action led to a 416-0 vote in the House of Representatives, and an 89-2 vote in the US Senate, with Oregon Senator Wayne Morse and Alaska Senator Ernest Gruening, both Democrats, the only negative votes, and with both heavily criticized as “unAmerican” for their skepticism and doubts, and their desire to know much more information before they cast their vote for military action.

This event led to a war which killed 58,000 Americans, and divided the nation like nothing had since the Civil War a century earlier!

It divided the Democratic Party, and caused its defeat in 1968, as the nation repudiated LBJ through the defeat of his loyal Vice President, Hubert H. Humphrey.

It led to total disillusionment with American foreign policy, and growing distrust of the Presidency as an institution, something which remains the same way today!

LBJ might be remembered for his great domestic achievements under the appellation of the “Great Society”, but it caused the loss of his stature when he misled the nation on the road to proving his “manhood” by going to war, and it ultimately destroyed the liberal coalition which brought his domestic reforms.

This is a very sobering moment a half century later, what might have been if only LBJ had not gone into a massive war in Vietnam, including maybe a continuation of the “Great Society”, and no Richard Nixon in the White House at all!