Vietnam Remembered, Inaccurately

, Malcolm A. Kline, 1 Comment

gulf of tonkin resolution

A left-wing high school teacher is actually complaining about a text book’s treatment of the Vietnam War, because it is written for the JROTC. “The authors cite then-President Johnson’s 1964 statements that North Vietnam attacked a U. S. destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin as the impetus for the broader war, ignoring overwhelming evidence from declassified documents that there was no such attack,” Sylvia McGauley writes in the Fall 2014 issue of the Rethinking Schools periodical.

McGauley teaches social studies at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon. As it happens, the official account of what happened at the Gulf in 1964 came up in a Washington Post shareholders meeting in 1989 that our founder, Reed Irvine, attended.

Irvine found himself in the odd position of, in effect, defending the administration of President Lyndon Johnson against attacks by then-Post editor Ben Bradlee. Additionally, Post publisher Katherine Graham, also in attendance, offered an odd defense of her editor.

Irvine wrote, “Bradlee said that was a fabrication by the Johnson administration to justify escalation of our intervention in Vietnam, made possible by passage of the Tonkin Gulf resolution. That resolution authorized President Johnson to take all measures necessary to repel attacks against U.S. armed forces and prevent further aggression. He used it to pour ground troops into Vietnam.”

“Joe Goulden [then with AIM] brought this up at The Post annual meeting, pointing out that Bradlee had, in effect, accused two Post directors, Robert S. McNamara and Nicholas deB. Katzenbach, of lying. McNamara, secretary of defense in the Johnson administration, had testified about the attacks on the U.S.S. Maddox and the U.S.S. Turner Joy before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on August 6, 1964. He again testified to the authenticity of the attacks in 1967 at a hearing where Katzenbach, the undersecretary of state, also testified. Both McNamara and Katzenbach were present at the Post annual meeting when this issue was raised, but neither made any comment. It was left to AIM to defend them against Bradlee’s charge that they had been part of a deliberate scheme to lie to Congress in order to get the Tonkin Gulf resolution passed.

“I pointed out that the August 2 attack on the Maddox is not in dispute. It occurred in broad daylight. A spent round from the North Vietnamese attack boat that lodged in the destroyer’s superstructure is on exhibit at the Naval Museum, and the North Vietnamese have admitted the attack. The attack on the Turner Joy on August 4 occurred at night when visibility was poor, and questions have been raised about the accuracy of the reports from the ship. However, the official Navy history of the Vietnam War published in 1986 concluded that the evidence substantiated the claim that the vessel was attacked. Mrs. Graham tried to say that Bradlee had ‘simply said that the truth is hard to arrive at’ and that government officials don’t always tell the truth. That, of course, wasn’t what Bradlee said at all.”