The Gulf of Tonkin and Lessons for the Global War on Terror

There has been understandable focus this week on the lessons of August 1914 and the events that precipitated World War I. But, with respect to our current national security policy and the wisdom of restraint, Americans—and particularly our elected leaders—should instead recall events that occurred just 50 years ago this month off the coast of Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin.

In August 1964, with tensions running high in Southeast Asia and U.S.military ‘advisors’ already committed to Vietnam, the Johnson administration claimed that North Vietnamese ships had attacked a U.S. destroyer, the USS Maddox, in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin. Under pressure to respond, President Johnson ordered the bombing of North Vietnamese targets on August 5 and rushed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution through the Congress on August 7, 1964. The resolution authorized the use of all necessary force to assist any Southeast Asian country threatened by communist aggression, effectively writing a blank check to the Johnson administration, which had long sought to strengthen its containment of perceived communist expansion in Southeast Asia.

This article was originally published in Defense One.