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Gulf of Tonkin ResolutionGulf of Tonkin Resolution, measure passed by the Congress of the United States on August 7, 1964, which gave President Lyndon Johnson the power to initiate an air war against North Vietnam and subsequently to send ground forces to South Vietnam. The resolution was passed after the United States claimed that North Vietnam had attacked two American naval vessels, the USS Maddox and the USS Turner Joy, in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin, off the coast of North Vietnam. Not repealed until 1970, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution provided the basis for much of the United States military involvement in the Vietnam War.
Before the naval incident in the Gulf of Tonkin, the U.S. Navy was conducting spy missions in conjunction with South Vietnamese raids along North Vietnam’s coast. On August 2, 1964, the USS Maddox crossed the declared coastal limits of North Vietnamese territory and was attacked by patrol boats. On August 4 both the Maddox and the USS Turner Joy claimed to have detected incoming torpedoes with sonar, although this second attack was never confirmed. In response, Johnson ordered the first bombing raids against North Vietnamese military installations. On August 5 Johnson asked for congressional approval of the measures he had already taken.
Congress overwhelmingly approved the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution by votes of 416-0 in the House and 88-2 in the Senate. Democratic senators Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska, who cast the only two votes against the resolution, accused Johnson of lying about the incident. Congressional hearings held in 1968 revealed that Johnson and the U.S. Department of Defense had misstated the facts in order to gain support for expanding the U.S. role in Vietnam. The commander of the USS Maddox disclosed in these hearings that his craft had fired first against the North Vietnamese patrol boats.
The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution enabled the president to take all necessary measures to protect U.S. forces and “to prevent further aggression.” This last phrase essentially gave Johnson free rein to widen the war. Exposure of the facts behind the Tonkin Gulf incident, however, both dampened popular support for the war and contributed to Johnson’s decision not to run for reelection in 1968. In 1970 the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was finally repealed in response to national demonstrations protesting the U.S. expansion of military involvement in Southeast Asia to Cambodia. Even then, however, congressional funding for the Vietnam War continued until 1973.
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