The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was Unconstitutional 

           In 1964, the United States entered into the longest war it had been in up till that point, the Vietnam War. The President of that time, Lyndon Johnson had campaigned with the pretense that he was a pacifist, but later adopted the viewpoint that the war was inevitable for the United States to enter due to an incident in the Gulf of Tonkin. Due to the lack of proof or belief around the subject – the United States’ navy of that time did not even believe the second attack – the Gulf of Tonkin incident was a mere justification for the passing of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. When Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution they gave President Johnson full military power, which propelled the United States into a long, violent war against the North Vietnamese, which included 1.3 million casualties based upon an event that never actually happened. The Gulf of Tonkin Incident was used as a justification for a resolution passed by the United States’ Congress in order to enter into war against North Vietnam, yet the entire pretense for entering the war did not happen, which makes the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution utterly unconstitutional.

      During his presidency, Harry Truman had declared that the United States was obliged to aid “any nation threatened with communism” (Prados). This perspective was huge in the United States in the years leading up to the Vietnamese War. With Vietnam split into North and South – North Vietnam was communist and South Vietnam was capitalist but hoping for a democratic governmental system and reunion with the North – many citizens of the United States believed their it was America’s duty to ease the conflict and crush communism before it spread to Southeast Asia.  President Lyndon Johnson came to agree with the United States’ citizens, but he lacked good incentive to enter the war; after all, North Vietnam had done nothing to the United States directly. The United States’ foreign policy at that time was based hugely upon the “Domino Theory” (Gulf of) documented by George Kennon, stating that communism needed to be contained wherever it was it put a halt to its chances of spreading. The government needed some sort of justification for the war they hoped to launch against communism.

              The Vietnam War was the second time United States’ troops had fought for the Vietnamese. The first was in defeating the French who had sought control over Vietnam from 1946 to 1954. The French first began to occupy Vietnam in the 17th century with Jesuit Father Alexandre de Rhodes leading the way to convert Vietnam to Catholicism. Until the United States intervened France had control over the Emperors of Vietnam, Kings of Cambodia, and Kings of Luang Prabang. The Vietnamese people in French colonies revolted against the French after World War II. In 1954, President Roosevelt used military force to make France not to attempt to regain its territories in French Indochina, and the United States left Vietnam unsuspecting that they would have to return a mere three years later. Vietnam split in 1954 and North Vietnam wanted to get back together as one communist nation in 1956. The South Vietnamese President, Ngo Dinh Diem, refused.

              The United States was told that North Vietnamese ships had repeatedly sent missiles towards both the United State’s Maddox and Turner Joy, however, even today no legitimate proof exists that the second attack actually occurred. Increasing significantly in 1957, North Vietnam sent constant streams of soldiers against South Vietnam in an attempt to convert South Vietnam to communism. The United States observed these attacks from across the ocean in horror. For previous wars the United States tended towards actual justification for the wars it entered. The incident in the Gulf of Tonkin was the event that sparked the United States entering the Vietnam War, yet because there is no substantial evidence behind the whole incident or any affirmative eyewitness’ accounts it is perfectly logical to conclude it did not occur.

              It had been proven that American fleets fired missiles in the middle of the night on August 4th, 1964, but it has not been proven at what. After his presidency, Lyndon Johnson reflected, “For all I know, we could have been shooting whales out there” (Gulf of). James Stockdale, a navy flyer and eye-witness to the Gulf of Tonkin Incident has been quoted saying, “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 out there…There was nothing but black water and American fire power” (Cohen). The small possibility that there is legitimacy behind the Gulf of Tonkin incident is not a sufficient basis to start a war upon.

           When President Lyndon Johnson brought the issue in Tonkin Gulf up to Congress they were asked to vote on whether or not the United States should enter a war with North Vietnam. Based upon two attacks on United State’s ships in the last week it was not a huge surprise that Congress voted unanimously, 416-0, “to promote the maintenance of international peace and security in Southeast Asia” (The Tonkin). Lyndon Johnson used the Gulf of Tonkin to justify a war contrary to his original promises as a presidential candidate; he changed his mind and did not have a good enough reason. He published these words for the American people:

“The issue is the future of southeast Asia as a whole. A threat to any nation in that region is a threat to all, and a threat to us. Our purpose is peace. We have no military, political, or territorial ambitions in the area. This is not a jungle war, but a struggle for freedom on every front of human activity.  Our military and economic assistance to South Vietnam and Laos in particular has the purpose of helping this countries to repel aggression and strengthen their independence” (The Tonkin).

With the passing of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution Lyndon Johnson was given full military power. The President of the United States’ is Commander-in-Chief over the military; however, Congress alone has the right to declare war. In order to enter into the Vietnam War President Lyndon Johnson needed the approval of Congress, and in order for Congress to approve he needed a genuine reason. It was only too easy for him to blame the North Vietnamese for attacking the Turner Joy. Journalists’ back then had “a great deal of information available which contradicted the official account [of Tonkin Gulf events]; it simply wasn’t used” (30 Year). Instead of putting a stop to it, many people did not act or ask questions when they should have.

              The Vietnam War escalated to high levels of violence in 1968. North Vietnam and the Viet Cong increased their attacks on South Vietnam. North Vietnam sent constant supplies of guerilla soldiers into Southern Vietnamese territories trying to boost the idea of communism. They hoped to persuade the South Vietnamese people to revolt against their own government for the lack of progress being made in the war. By 1969, 543,000 troops were fighting on the side of South Vietnam. Five new countries, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand, had joined the United States and South Vietnam. The Soviet Union and China, who both were communist at the time, sent North Vietnam aide in the form of plentiful war materials but did not lend troops. The United States was regularly using B-52 bombs, napalm, assassination, and defoliants against the North Vietnamese. At this point it was unclear to the rest of the world which side was winning.

              Back in the United States the war had fallen tremendously out of favor. Two groups formed; the Hawks and the Doves. The Hawks quickly became a minority group; they supported the war on communism and believed the United States to be completely in the right for its involvement in Southeast Asia. The doves believed the opposite; they thought the United States’ Security was not at risk from communism going on halfway across the world and thus the war was unnecessary. In 1965, Time Magazine published an article titled “Viet Nam: The Right War at the Right Time” defending President Johnsons decision to use B-52 bombers against North Vietnam. The article said, “To surrender the Pacific to China now makes no more sense than surrendering it to Imperial Japan would have in 1941” (Why Was). The United States was still shaken from World War II, and this statement was huge in the way it put things in perspective by comparing the Vietnamese to the Japanese.

                However, not all journalism at this time was pro-war. In 1971, the Pentagon Papers, officially titled United States-Vietnam Relations, were published and war disapproval met an all-time high. A 1996 article in the New York Times described the Pentagon Papers by saying they “demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance” (Pentagon Papers). The average age of a soldier in Vietnam was 19, and most soldiers did not know what they were fighting for. This did not boost public support either, as many viewed the casualties as ruthless unethical slaughter. Many Americans demanded to know where the sentiments had gone that existed when Lyndon Johnson said, “We don’t want our American boys to do the fighting for the Asian boys. We don’t want to get involved in a nation with 700 million people and get tied down in land war with Asia,” (Gulf of) during his election. Lyndon Johnson’s beliefs took a 360-degree turn from his election to his presidency.

               On April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese fighters reached the South Vietnamese capitol – then called Saigon – forcing South Vietnam to surrender. The Vietnam War was officially over, and the United States had fought on the losing side. 1.3 million people lost their lives during the course of 18 years of war. Returning soldiers were shunned and disrespected instead of honored and glorified by a nation of people who felt the war was unnecessary. None of this would have happened if it were not for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Years later, during the Gulf War, columnist Sydney Schanberg warned journalists to remember “our unquestioning chorus of agreeability when Lyndon Johnson bamboozled us with his fabrication of the Gulf of Tonkin incident” (Prados). This is significant because it displays the 21st century view on the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution being a complete hoax.

              It is unconstitutional for a President of the United States to use a lie or fabrication to convince Congress to declare war. This was the case during the Vietnam War with the Gulf of Tonkin Incident and Resolution. Eyewitnesses and experts alike agree the second Gulf of Tonkin Incident in which the North Vietnamese shot at the United State’s Turner Joy never took place. The Gulf of Tonkin Incident was a mere attempt at validation for a resolution passed by the United States Congress in order to enter into war against North Vietnam, yet the entire charade was fictitious, which makes the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution entirely unconstitutional.


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