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Profile: James Stockdale
Positions that James Stockdale has held:
- US Navy squadron commander
James Stockdale was a participant or observer in the following events:
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]
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