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Context of 'August 4, 1964: Disputed Gulf of Tonkin Incident Allegedly Occurs'

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South Vietnamese gun boats attack the North Vietnamese island of Hon Me as part of operation OPLAN 34A. Daniel Ellsberg, a Pentagon official working under US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, will later describe 34A as a “100 percent US operations, utilizing some South Vietnamese personnel along with… foreign mercenary crews, totally planned and controlled by the US, through MACV [Military Assistance Command Vietnam], CIA and CINCPAC [Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet]; some people in the GVN [Government of (South) Vietnam] had very limited knowledge of the operations, but no hand in planning or managing them.” [Ellsberg, 2003 Sources: Daniel Ellsberg]

Entity Tags: Daniel Ellsberg

Timeline Tags: US-Vietnam (1947-2001)

The USS Maddox is gathering intelligence off the coast of North Vietnam. [Pilger, 1986, pp. 148; Herring, 1986, pp. 119; Media Beat, 7/27/1994] When a group of North Vietnamese torpedo boats come within range of the vessel there is a brief, but tense, exchange of fire. The USS Maddox fires on the boats, which respond with torpedoes. The torpedo boats are quickly driven away when aircraft from the USS Ticonderoga come to the assistance of the Maddox. The US government and the press will report that the torpedo boats had launched an “unprovoked attack” against the Maddox while it was on a “routine patrol.” [Herring, 1986, pp. 119; Media Beat, 7/27/1994] When reports of the incident are received in Washington, the Maddox is ordered to continue is operations close to North Vietnamese shores. Another destroyer, the C. Turner Joy, is sent to support it. [Herring, 1986, pp. 120]

Timeline Tags: US-Vietnam (1947-2001)

Two days after an engagement with North Vietnamese torpedo boats (see August 2, 1964), Captain John J. Herrick of the USS Maddox sees two “mysterious dots” on his radar screen. He determines they are torpedo boats and sends an emergency cable to headquarters in Honolulu reporting that the ship is under attack. Honolulu quickly passes the report on to Washington. [Pilger, 1986, pp. 195] President Johnson meets with his advisers and decides that the US must respond. “We cannot sit still as a nation and let them attack us on the high seas and get away with it,” Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara says. [Herring, 1986, pp. 121] A few hours later, a cable arrives from Captain Herrick, which reads: “Freak weather effects on radar and over eager sonar men . . . No actual visual sightings by Maddox. Suggest complete evaluation before any further action taken.” A little later, Herrick cables that though it was “a confusing picture,” he did believe that there had been an attack. [In 1985, Herrick will reveal that this judgment had been based on “intercepted North Vietnamese communications” which he had not seen.] Half an hour later, the White House receives a third cable from Herrick, in which the captain says he is now uncertain what had happened. But this last report is ignored and President Johnson announces in a televised address, “Renewed hostile actions against United States ships on the high seas have today required me to order the military forces of the United States to take action in reply.” Meanwhile, US forces in Vietnam launch “retaliatory” air strikes against five North Vietnamese patrol boats and the oil facilities at Vinh. [Pilger, 1986, pp. 196; Herring, 1986, pp. 121; Ellsberg, 2003] The American media praises the president’s speech and actions. The New York Times states the following day that Johnson had gone to “the American people… with the somber facts.” And the Los Angeles Times urges its readers to “face the fact that the Communists, by their attack on American vessels in international waters, have themselves escalated the hostilities.” But time will reveal that there had been no attacks. US Navy squadron commander James Stockdale, who had been in the air at the time of the alleged attacks, will later recall: “I had the best seat in the house to watch that event and our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets—there were no PT boats there… There was nothing there but black water and American fire power.” [Media Beat, 7/27/1994]

Entity Tags: James Stockdale, John J. Herrick, Robert McNamara

Timeline Tags: US-Vietnam (1947-2001)

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Relations Committee hold closed hearings on the Gulf of Tonkin torpedo attacks (see August 2, 1964) (see August 4, 1964). Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon, who had received a tip from an unnamed Pentagon insider (not Daniel Ellsberg), asks US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara if the torpedo attacks might have been a response to operation OPLAN 34A which had conducted attacks on the North Vietnamese island of Hon Me on July 31 (see July 31, 1964). The Senator raises the possibility that the North Vietnamese may have thought the ship was supporting OPLAN 34A’s attacks. Morse suggests that McNamara should inquire as to the exact location of the Maddox on those days and what its true mission was. McNamara responds: “First, our Navy played absolutely no part in, was not associated with, was not aware of, any South Vietnamese actions, if there were any…. The Maddox was operating in international waters, was carrying out a routine patrol of the type we carry out all over the world at all times. I did not have knowledge at the time of the attack on the island. There is no connection between this patrol and any action of South Vietnam.” [New York Times, 6/13/1971; Herring, 1986, pp. 122; Ellsberg, 2003]

Entity Tags: Wayne Morse, Robert McNamara, US Congress

Timeline Tags: US-Vietnam (1947-2001)

In response to alleged “unprovoked” attacks by North Vietnamese torpedo boats against the USS Maddox on August 2 (see August 2, 1964) and August 4 (see August 4, 1964), Congress passes the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing President Johnson to take “all necessary measures to repel any armed attacks against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.” [US Congress, 8/7/1964; Herring, 1986, pp. 122-123] It sails though the House unanimously and in the Senate it meets only the slightest resistance with two dissenting votes. [Herring, 1986, pp. 122-123] When Daniel Ellsberg leaks the Pentagon Papers seven years later, it is revealed that the resolution had been drafted 2 months earlier, well before the alleged incident. [Pilger, 1986, pp. 196]

Entity Tags: Daniel Ellsberg, US Congress

Timeline Tags: US-Vietnam (1947-2001)

One day after the alleged “unprovoked” attacks on the USS Maddox by North Vietnamese torpedo boats (see August 2, 1964), the vessel’s captain, John J. Herrick, reports to Washington: “Evaluation of info from various sources indicates DRV considers [my] patrol directly involved with 34-A ops (see July 31, 1964) DRV considers US ships present as enemies because of these ops and have already indicated their readiness to treat us in that category.” [Ellsberg, 2003]

Entity Tags: John J. Herrick

Timeline Tags: US-Vietnam (1947-2001)

Several hundred influential conservatives launch what they call “Peace Through Strength Week,” at a week-long conference in Washington, DC, held by the American Security Council (ASC—see 1978). The primary mission is to convince a majority of senators to vote against the SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) arms-reduction treaty, which President Carter had signed five months before. Although the treaty sets equal limits on the number of nuclear missile launchers the US and the Soviet Union may possess, the conventioneers believe that, in the words of author J. Peter Scoblic, “it merely enshrine[s] American weakness in the face of a growing Soviet nuclear threat.” The convention is timed to coincide with Governor Ronald Reagan’s (R-CA) announcement that he is running for president, and borrows his signature phrase to describe his position on arms control.
'The SALT Syndrome' - The focal point of the ASC’s message is a half-hour film entitled “The SALT Syndrome.” Scoblic will describe it: “Set to a soundtrack fit for a horror movie, it featured image after image of missiles launching, submarines creeping, and nuclear weapons exploding, punctuated by commentary from retired generals and intelligence officials. The ‘syndrome’ was the American tendency to ‘unilaterally disarm,’ which had gripped Washington policy makers after the United States decided to follow [former Defense Secretary Robert] ‘McNamara’s theory of “no defense,” which is called “Mutual Assured Destruction.”’ The movie was a concise, vivid statement of conservative nuclear thought: MAD was a choice.” The movie tells its viewers that US citizens “play an important role in US strategy—that of nuclear hostage.” The film goes on to avow that the Soviets have produced far more missiles, long-range bombers, nuclear submarines, and various missile defenses than the US is willing to concede, giving the Soviets the capability of coercing the US into doing pretty much whatever they demand. “The movie,” Scoblic will write, “was a remarkable, and remarkably effective, piece of propaganda. It combined fact, exaggeration, and outright nonsense—one interviewee claimed the Soviet Union was on the verge of deploying particle beams that would shoot down all incoming missiles—to argue that the United States had left itself nearly helpless against a Soviet behemoth bent on world domination.” The film will play on American television stations some 2,000 times, and will reach, ASC chairman John Fisher will estimate, at least 137 million Americans.
Millions of Dollars Raised to Fight SALT II - The film successfully solicits millions of dollars in contributions from concerned and frightened Americans, much of which will go to advertising efforts to combat SALT II. The ASC will outspend pro-treaty forces by a ratio of 15 to 1. [American Security Council, 3/30/1980; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 72-73]

Entity Tags: John Fisher, Ronald Reagan, American Security Council, Robert McNamara, J. Peter Scoblic

Timeline Tags: US International Relations, Domestic Propaganda

The first lines of the declassified Northwoods document.
The first lines of the declassified Northwoods document. [Source: Public domain] (click image to enlarge)James Bamford’s book, Body of Secrets, reveals a secret US government plan named Operation Northwoods. All details of the plan come from declassified military documents. [Associated Press, 4/24/2001; Baltimore Sun, 4/24/2001; Washington Post, 4/26/2001; ABC News, 5/1/2001] The heads of the US military, all five Joint Chiefs of Staff, proposed in a 1962 memo to stage attacks against Americans and blame Cuba to create a pretext for invasion. Says one document, “We could develop a Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington.… We could blow up a US ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba. Casualty lists in US newspapers would cause a helpful wave of indignation.” In March 1962, Lyman L. Lemnitzer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presented the Operation Northwoods plan to President John Kennedy and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. The plan was rejected. Lemnitzer then sought to destroy all evidence of the plan. [Baltimore Sun, 4/24/2001; ABC News, 5/1/2001] Lemnitzer was replaced a few months later, but the Joint Chiefs continued to plan “pretext” operations at least through 1963. [ABC News, 5/1/2001] One suggestion in the plan was to create a remote-controlled drone duplicate of a real civilian aircraft. The real aircraft would be loaded with “selected passengers, all boarded under carefully prepared aliases,” and then take off with the drone duplicate simultaneously taking off near by. The aircraft with passengers would secretly land at a US military base while the drone continues along the other plane’s flight path. The drone would then be destroyed over Cuba in a way that places the blame on Cuban fighter aircraft. [Harper's, 7/1/2001] Bamford says, “Here we are, 40 years afterward, and it’s only now coming out. You just wonder what is going to be exposed 40 years from now.” [Insight, 7/30/2001] Some 9/11 skeptics will claim that the 9/11 attacks could have been orchestrated by elements of the US government, and see Northwoods as an example of how top US officials could hatch such a plot. [Oakland Tribune, 3/27/2004]

Entity Tags: John F. Kennedy, James Bamford, Lyman L. Lemnitzer, Robert McNamara

Timeline Tags: Alleged Use of False Flag Attacks, Complete 911 Timeline

Newsweek reveals the existence of the January 9, 2002 draft memo written by Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Robert Delahunty (see January 9, 2002). [Newsweek, 5/21/2004]

Entity Tags: Robert J. Delahunty, John C. Yoo

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

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