The Iran War Crisis: Are We Headed Towards a Gulf of Tonkin Incident?

Many analysts have argued that the rising tensions between the United States and Iran in the Persian Gulf region, especially the claims by the United States that Iran is increasing its military capabilities bear disturbing similarities to the run up to the Iraq war in 2002 and 2003, when the Bush administration falsely hyped Iraq’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. While this analogy may be correct, the events are actually more similar to the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which occurred in August 1964—something I remember well.

On August 2, 1964, the destroyer Maddox—which was part of a carrier battle group deployed to the Gulf of Tonkin to conduct reconnaissance and intercept North Vietnamese communications in support of attacks by South Vietnamese patrol boats on North Vietnamese coastal targets—was approached by three North Vietnamese torpedo patrol boats. As they drew near, the Maddox fired three warning shots and the North Vietnamese responded with torpedoes and machine gun fire. The Maddox returned fire, eventually expending 280 shells and damaging the North Vietnamese torpedo boats. These attacks also killed four North Vietnamese sailors and wounded six more. There were no U.S. casualties and the Maddox was essentially unscathed.

The above excerpt was originally published in The National Interest.