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Events Leading to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

Making Connections

All documents and text associated with this activity are printed below, followed by a worksheet for student responses.

Introduction

Read the documents as presented to understand and examine the events leading up to Congress's passing of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (August 1964) and the escalation of the Vietnam conflict. Answer the questions following each document to prepare for the final evaluation question under "When You're Done."


Name:
Class:

Worksheet

Events Leading to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

Making Connections

Examine the documents and text included in this activity. Fill in any blanks in the sequence with your thoughts and write your conclusion response in the space provided.

Memorandum Notifying President Johnson of Attack on the U.S.S. Maddox


1. Summarize the attack on the USS Maddox.
Enter your response

First Tonkin Gulf Incident


2. Was President Johnson's immediate response to the attack on the Maddox appropriate? Explain.
Enter your response

Message to U.S Congress Regarding Tonkin Gulf incidents


Message to U.S Congress Regarding Tonkin Gulf incidents


3a. Based on the document/speech, what reasons did President Johnson give when asking Congress for more control in seeking "the full and effective restoration of the international agreements" already made in Vietnam?

3b. What did Johnson specifically state he did not intend to do with this proposed resolution?
Enter your response

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, as Introduced, S.J. Res. 189


Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, as Introduced, S.J. Res. 189


4. After reading the draft of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (and keep in mind this first draft is near identical to the final draft), extract/state the quote that gives President Johnson the ability and authority to manage the conflict, peace, and security of the United States in Vietnam.
Enter your response



1

Activity Element

Memorandum Notifying President Johnson of Attack on the U.S.S. Maddox

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2

Activity Element

First Tonkin Gulf Incident

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3

Activity Element

Message to U.S Congress Regarding Tonkin Gulf incidents

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4

Activity Element

Message to U.S Congress Regarding Tonkin Gulf incidents

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5

Activity Element

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, as Introduced, S.J. Res. 189

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6

Activity Element

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, as Introduced, S.J. Res. 189

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Conclusion

Events Leading to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

Making Connections

Think about the events starting from the attack on the USS Maddox through the passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, as conveyed in the documents.

Was the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution the appropriate response to the attack on the USS Maddox?

Write a paragraph including your evaluation as whether the Resolution was the appropriate response (your argument). Make sure to support your argument with evidence from the documents and your knowledge of the Vietnam War, as well as America's involvement in Cold War events.

Consider U.S. involvement in Vietnam before the attack on the Maddox (under Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson) as well as the United States' greater commitment to the containment of communism and fear of the Domino Theory. Keep in mind that the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution would allow President Johnson, and later Nixon, to commit U.S. resources to escalate the conflict to a full-scale war. These aspects of the Vietnam War are important to justifying whether the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was an appropriate response to the attack on the USS Maddox.

Your Response




Document

Memorandum Notifying President Johnson of Attack on the USS Maddox

8/2/1964

This memorandum notified President Johnson about the attack on the USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin.
This primary source comes from the Collection LBJ-NSF: National Security Files.
National Archives Identifier: 2803386
Full Citation: Memorandum Notifying President Johnson of Attack on the USS Maddox; 8/2/1964; Operation Pierce Arrow 8/64; Vietnam Country Files, 11/22/1963 - 1/20/1969; Collection LBJ-NSF: National Security Files, ; Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, Austin, TX. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/memorandum-attack-uss-maddox, November 27, 2021]


Memorandum Notifying President Johnson of Attack on the USS Maddox

Page 1



Document

Press Release Following the First Tonkin Gulf Incident

8/3/1964

This is a press release informing the public of actions taken following the August 2 attack on the USS Maddox in the Tonkin Gulf.
This primary source comes from the Collection LBJ-WHPRSO: White House Press Office Files.
National Archives Identifier: 2803400
Full Citation: Press Release Following the First Tonkin Gulf Incident; 8/3/1964; White House Press Releases, 11/22/1963 - 1/20/1969; Collection LBJ-WHPRSO: White House Press Office Files, ; Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, Austin, TX. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/first-tonkin-gulf-incident, November 27, 2021]


Press Release Following the First Tonkin Gulf Incident

Page 1



Document

Message to U.S Congress Regarding Tonkin Gulf incidents

8/5/1964

This is a message from President Lyndon Johnson to Congress, after the second incident in the Tonkin Gulf, in which he asks for a resolution on Southeast Asia.

Johnson portrayed confrontations between U.S. and North Vietnamese ships in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of North Vietnam as unprovoked aggression. With little debate, legislators passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, giving Johnson unprecedented power to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.”

The South Vietnamese regime in Saigon was in chaos after, 9 months earlier, a military coup had removed President Ngo Dinh Diem from office and he was assassinated. North Vietnam sharply escalated the war in hopes of bringing Communists to power before Americans fully intervened. Despite doubts about its significance and winnability, Johnson said he was “not going to lose Vietnam.”

When contrary information surfaced, many believed Congress had been conned. It was too late. Historians now suspect the North Vietnamese boats had set out to attack an ARVN raid in progress when it encountered the destroyer USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin. The Maddox had been conducting electronic eavesdropping on North Vietnam to assist South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) commando raids on North Vietnamese targets.
This primary source comes from the Collection LBJ-WHPRSO: White House Press Office Files.
National Archives Identifier: 2803396
Full Citation: Message to U.S Congress Regarding Tonkin Gulf incidents; 8/5/1964; White House Press Releases, 11/22/1963 - 1/20/1969; Collection LBJ-WHPRSO: White House Press Office Files, ; Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, Austin, TX. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/lbj-congress-tonkin, November 27, 2021]


Message to U.S Congress Regarding Tonkin Gulf incidents

Page 1



Message to U.S Congress Regarding Tonkin Gulf incidents

Page 2



Document

Message to U.S Congress Regarding Tonkin Gulf incidents

8/5/1964

This is a message from President Lyndon Johnson to Congress, after the second incident in the Tonkin Gulf, in which he asks for a resolution on Southeast Asia.

Johnson portrayed confrontations between U.S. and North Vietnamese ships in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of North Vietnam as unprovoked aggression. With little debate, legislators passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, giving Johnson unprecedented power to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.”

The South Vietnamese regime in Saigon was in chaos after, 9 months earlier, a military coup had removed President Ngo Dinh Diem from office and he was assassinated. North Vietnam sharply escalated the war in hopes of bringing Communists to power before Americans fully intervened. Despite doubts about its significance and winnability, Johnson said he was “not going to lose Vietnam.”

When contrary information surfaced, many believed Congress had been conned. It was too late. Historians now suspect the North Vietnamese boats had set out to attack an ARVN raid in progress when it encountered the destroyer USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin. The Maddox had been conducting electronic eavesdropping on North Vietnam to assist South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) commando raids on North Vietnamese targets.
This primary source comes from the Collection LBJ-WHPRSO: White House Press Office Files.
National Archives Identifier: 2803396
Full Citation: Message to U.S Congress Regarding Tonkin Gulf incidents; 8/5/1964; White House Press Releases, 11/22/1963 - 1/20/1969; Collection LBJ-WHPRSO: White House Press Office Files, ; Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, Austin, TX. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/lbj-congress-tonkin, November 27, 2021]


Message to U.S Congress Regarding Tonkin Gulf incidents

Page 1



Message to U.S Congress Regarding Tonkin Gulf incidents

Page 2



Document

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, as Introduced, S.J. Res. 189

8/4/1964

On the evening of August 4, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson addressed the nation in a televised speech in which he stated that U.S. ships had been attacked twice in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin near North Vietnam. The following morning, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was introduced in the Senate.

Although the version shown here is the original draft resolution, the language was not amended and therefore reads the same as the final version that was signed into law August 10, 1964. When Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, they gave Johnson unprecedented power to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.”

There was little debate as legislators considered two incidents that had happened in the Gulf of Tonkin in the preceding days. On August 2 – the first Tonkin Gulf incident – North Vietnamese torpedo boats were spotted and attacked the destroyer USS Maddox. The Maddox was conducting electronic eavesdropping on North Vietnam to assist South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) commando raids on North Vietnamese targets, but that wasn't publicly known at the time. Historians now suspect the North Vietnamese boats had set out to attack an ARVN raid in progress when it encountered the Maddox.

On August 4, the USS Maddox captain reported a second incident, that he was “under continuous torpedo attack.” He later cabled “freak weather effects on radar and overeager sonarmen may have accounted for many reports,” but Defense Secretary Robert McNamara did not report the captain’s doubts to President Johnson. (A 2002 National Security Agency report made available in 2007 confirmed the August 2 attack, but concluded the August 4 attack never happened.)

Johnson portrayed confrontations between U.S. and North Vietnamese ships off the coast of North Vietnam as unprovoked aggression when he addressed Congress. When contrary information later surfaced, many believed Congress had been conned. It was too late.

The Gulf of Tonkin act became more controversial as opposition to the war mounted. A Senate investigation revealed that the Maddox had been on an intelligence mission in Tonkin Gulf, contradicting Johnson’s denial of U.S. Navy support of such missions. The Resolution was repealed in 1971 in an attempt to curtail President Nixon’s power to continue the war.
This primary source comes from the Records of the U.S. Senate.
National Archives Identifier: 2127364
Full Citation: Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, as Introduced, S.J. Res. 189; 8/4/1964; (SEN88A-B2); Bills and Resolutions Originating in the Senate, 1789 - 2002; Records of the U.S. Senate, ; National Archives Building, Washington, DC. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/tonkin-resolution, November 27, 2021]


Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, as Introduced, S.J. Res. 189

Page 1



Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, as Introduced, S.J. Res. 189

Page 2



Document

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, as Introduced, S.J. Res. 189

8/4/1964

On the evening of August 4, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson addressed the nation in a televised speech in which he stated that U.S. ships had been attacked twice in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin near North Vietnam. The following morning, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was introduced in the Senate.

Although the version shown here is the original draft resolution, the language was not amended and therefore reads the same as the final version that was signed into law August 10, 1964. When Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, they gave Johnson unprecedented power to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.”

There was little debate as legislators considered two incidents that had happened in the Gulf of Tonkin in the preceding days. On August 2 – the first Tonkin Gulf incident – North Vietnamese torpedo boats were spotted and attacked the destroyer USS Maddox. The Maddox was conducting electronic eavesdropping on North Vietnam to assist South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) commando raids on North Vietnamese targets, but that wasn't publicly known at the time. Historians now suspect the North Vietnamese boats had set out to attack an ARVN raid in progress when it encountered the Maddox.

On August 4, the USS Maddox captain reported a second incident, that he was “under continuous torpedo attack.” He later cabled “freak weather effects on radar and overeager sonarmen may have accounted for many reports,” but Defense Secretary Robert McNamara did not report the captain’s doubts to President Johnson. (A 2002 National Security Agency report made available in 2007 confirmed the August 2 attack, but concluded the August 4 attack never happened.)

Johnson portrayed confrontations between U.S. and North Vietnamese ships off the coast of North Vietnam as unprovoked aggression when he addressed Congress. When contrary information later surfaced, many believed Congress had been conned. It was too late.

The Gulf of Tonkin act became more controversial as opposition to the war mounted. A Senate investigation revealed that the Maddox had been on an intelligence mission in Tonkin Gulf, contradicting Johnson’s denial of U.S. Navy support of such missions. The Resolution was repealed in 1971 in an attempt to curtail President Nixon’s power to continue the war.
This primary source comes from the Records of the U.S. Senate.
National Archives Identifier: 2127364
Full Citation: Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, as Introduced, S.J. Res. 189; 8/4/1964; (SEN88A-B2); Bills and Resolutions Originating in the Senate, 1789 - 2002; Records of the U.S. Senate, ; National Archives Building, Washington, DC. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/tonkin-resolution, November 27, 2021]


Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, as Introduced, S.J. Res. 189

Page 1



Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, as Introduced, S.J. Res. 189

Page 2