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Tonkin Gulf to WMD: Lies, Anniversaries and More Lies
By Joe Miller
"A lie is a lie. It is a misrepresentation of fact." – Senator J. William Fulbright referring to President Johnson's official statements concerning the Tonkin Gulf "incidents" in "Hearts and Minds" (1974)
This summer of anniversaries marks sixty years since D-Day, forty years since the deaths of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner, thirty-five years since Woodstock (the real one), and thirty years since the resignation of Tricky Dick. Gee! Time flies when you're havin' fun!
For those of us who served in the Vietnam War, perhaps it is even more important to remember that this August also marks the fortieth anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin "incidents." The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed almost unanimously by Congress, caused nearly three million of our brothers and sisters to be sent into a war that only ended with nearly 60,000 Americans dead, along with the usually-forgotten millions of dead Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians.
As a participant and one who knew the truth behind the lies of Tonkin, forty years on, the questions still arise in those quiet moments each year during the first five days of August: How many might have been saved if I spoke up or acted earlier? How many among the nearly sixty thousand names on that black granite wall might never have gone to Vietnam at all? How many millions of Indochinese might still live, if those of us who knew the truth behind the origins of the war spoke out earlier? How many of the physically – and psychologically – maimed would now be whole? Might we have made a real difference? There are no definitive answers to these questions, but that does not make them go away.
It is true that, by early 1968, with the Fulbright hearings into the Gulf of Tonkin "incidents," most of the truth behind the events was known. It was pretty late in the game, however, and popular support for the war was diminishing rapidly. Still, even then, our national honor was at stake. Our boys in the field had to be supported blindly (and replaced with fresh faces and whole bodies). The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution had been repealed by 1971, but the war would go on. The inertia of commitment to those who had already fallen took over, until the Vietnamese finally won in 1975.
With the approach of the fortieth anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin "incidents," we should remember the facts behind those lies —lies that drew many of us into an orgy of death, destruction, and dislocation for more than ten years. We must remember how easy it was to lie us into that war, while we are in the midst of a great controversy over the lies that took us to war in Iraq in March 2003. [See resources below.]
Now that the United States is engaged in another quagmire-like war in Iraq, this particular anniversary should be important to all of us, including the families of those who lost loved ones in Vietnam (and in the wars since then) and the millions of people at home and abroad who joined with veterans and active duty GIs to end the carnage, then and now. The obvious lies that took us into Iraq one year ago mirror the lies that took us into Vietnam. We must once again join together under the very banner we used then: "Support Our Troops! Bring Them Home Now!"
Joe Miller is a national coordinator of VVAW.
Some Resources on The Tonkin Gulf Incidents, 1964
Dale Andrade and Kenneth Conboy, "The Secret Side of the Tonkin Gulf Incident," Naval History 13:4 (July/August 1999)
Steve Edwards, "Stalking the Enemy's Coast", Proceedings 118:2 (February 1992), pp. 56–62
Joseph Goulden, Truth is the First Casualty: The Gulf of Tonkin Affair: Illusion and Reality. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1969
Captain Norman Klar, "How to Help Start a War," Naval History 16:4 (August 2002).
Miller, Joe, "A Forgotten Anniversary?" The Veteran 24 (1994)
Edwin Moise, Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1996
Jim and Sybil Stockdale, In Love and War. New York: Harper & Row, 1984
"Tonkin Gulf doubts laid to rest," The Detroit News, November 10, 1995
U.S. Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, 90th Congress, Second Session, The Gulf Of Tonkin, The 1964 Incidents, Part II, December 16, 1968, Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1968
Doug Valentine and Elton Manzione, "The Raid on Hon Me," The National Reporter 10:3 (Spring 1987)
Eugene G. Windchy, Tonkin Gulf. New York: Doubleday, 1971