53 years ago: August 7, 1964, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

August 7, 2017

August 7 is the 53rd anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the resolution which authorized President Lyndon B. Johnson to move troops into South Vietnam to defend U.S. interests.

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed by Congress on August 7, 1964, as presented to President Lyndon Johnson, and signed by him on August 10. This is the document that authorized U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Image from the National Archives, Our Documents display.

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed by Congress on August 7, 1964, as presented to President Lyndon Johnson, and signed by him on August 10. This is the document that authorized U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Image from the National Archives, Our Documents display.

The resolution passed Congress after what appeared to be attacks on two U.S. Navy ships in the Gulf of Tonkin.  At the time, and now, evidence is weak that such attacks took place.

Most historians today think the evidence for the attacks is inconclusive; many argue it is unlikely North Vietnamese gunboats would have opened fire on a vastly superior U.S. Navy warship. Debate is complicated because the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution effectively substituted for a declaration of war, in a war the U.S. arguably lost, which divided Americans as rarely before, and which cost more than 58,000 soldiers and civilians their lives.

How will we view the Tonkin Gulf resolution in 50 years, with the history of two much longer wars in the Middle East factored in? What do you think?

Quick summary from the National Archives:

On August 4, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson announced that two days earlier, U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin had been attacked by the North Vietnamese. Johnson dispatched U.S. planes against the attackers and asked Congress to pass a resolution to support his actions. The joint resolution “to promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia” passed on August 7, with only two Senators (Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening) dissenting, and became the subject of great political controversy in the course of the undeclared war that followed.

The Tonkin Gulf Resolution stated that “Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repeal any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent any further aggression.” As a result, President Johnson, and later President Nixon, relied on the resolution as the legal basis for their military policies in Vietnam.

As public resistance to the war heightened, the resolution was repealed by Congress in January 1971.

Santayana’s ghost looks on in wonder.

Map of divided Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. History Place map via Mr. Roache's Place

Map of divided Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. History Place map via Mr. Roache’s Place

Considering its powerful effect on American history, the document is very, very brief.  Here’s the text [links added]:

Eighty-eighth Congress of the United States of America
AT THE SECOND SESSION

Begun and held at the City of Washington on Tuesday, the seventh day of January, one thousand nine hundred and sixty-four

Joint Resolution
To promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia.

Whereas naval units of the Communist regime in Vietnam, in violation of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and of international law, have deliberately and repeatedly attacked United Stated naval vessels lawfully present in international waters, and have thereby created a serious threat to international peace; and

Whereas these attackers are part of deliberate and systematic campaign of aggression that the Communist regime in North Vietnam has been waging against its neighbors and the nations joined with them in the collective defense of their freedom; and

Whereas the United States is assisting the peoples of southeast Asia to protest their freedom and has no territorial, military or political ambitions in that area, but desires only that these people should be left in peace to work out their destinies in their own way: Now, therefore be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.

Map showing ship movements reported during the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, on August 4, 1964; reports that North Vietnamese gunboats attacked and engaged two patrolling U.S. Navy ships pushed Congress to authorize President Johnson to take extensive defensive actions.

Map showing ship movements reported during the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, on August 4, 1964; reports that North Vietnamese gunboats attacked and engaged two patrolling U.S. Navy ships pushed Congress to authorize President Johnson to take extensive defensive actions. (image from Wikipedia map 8/2017)

Section 2. The United States regards as vital to its national interest and to world peace the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia. Consonant with the Constitution of the United States and the Charter of the United Nations and in accordance with its obligations under the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty, the United States is, therefore, prepared, as the President determines, to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom.

Section 3. This resolution shall expire when the President shall determine that the peace and security of the area is reasonably assured by international conditions created by action of the United Nations or otherwise, except that it may be terminated earlier by concurrent resolution of the Congress.

[endorsements]

And on that authority, “Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression,” the U.S. spent the next 11 years in all-out warfare in Vietnam, with up to 500,000 military troops in the conflict, and losing the lives of more than 58,000 men and women. Can we ever know what really happened, or what motivated President Johnson to ask for the resolution, or what motivated Congress to pass it?

U.S. engagement in Vietnam continued well after the repeal of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in 1971.  In 1973 a peace treaty was signed between the U.S., North Vietnam and South Vietnam.  The provisions of the treaty did not hold; a final North Vietnamese military push in April 1975 crumpled the South Vietnamese government and army.  The few remaining U.S. forces made an emergency withdrawal as Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops entered Saigon.  Vietnam was reunited by force, under a communist government.

Attacks on the USS Maddox and USS Turner Joy — if they occurred — took place early on August 4.  President Johnson might be excused for having done nothing on the issue at the time.  That was the same day that the bodies of three civil rights workers were discovered by the FBI, murdered by a pro-segregation mob with clear ties to the local Ku Klux Klan.  Either event, the Gulf of Tonkin, or the Mississippi civil rights murders, could be a major event in any presidency, testing to the utmost the leadership and peace-making abilities of a president.  Johnson dealt with both events at the same time.

Three American civil rights’ workers, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner, were lynched on the night of June 21–22, 1964 by members of the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County‘s Sheriff Office and the Philadelphia Police Department located in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The three had been working on the “Freedom Summer” campaign, attempting to register African Americans to vote.

On a commission from the Dallas Symphony, composer Stephen Stucky composed a piece during the Lyndon Johnson Centennial in 2008; Kathryn and I heard the world premiere of August 4, 1964, on September 18, 2008.  Stucky’s piece (with libretto by Gene Scheer) is the only place I know where anyone has seriously considered the nexus between these two, opposite-side-of-the-world tragedies, and how they set the stage for the rest of the 1960s decade.   The piece has been recorded by the Dallas Symphony.  I highly recommend it.

Here’s a video from the Dallas Symphony on the piece:

What have we learned from this bit of history? What should we have learned from it?

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Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

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Old teacher returns to the classroom, April 1970

August 16, 2013

In 1970, Lyndon Johnson met with students (at the University of Texas)

In 1970, Lyndon Johnson met with students (at the University of Texas Southwest Texas State University, in San Marcos), in a science lecture hall. Did the TV class have to relocate?

Johnson’s first job out of college was teaching Hispanic students, an experience that brought him to see the wisdom of civil rights laws and great education.  Who was in TV 2301.01 — and did they realize they’d have met with a president if they’d stayed in their classroom?

The photo was taken on April 27, 1970.  It comes from the collection of the LBJ Presidential Library, in Austin, Texas, via Wikimedia.  The Lyndon Johnson School for Public Affairs was established in 1970, but this photo may have been too early in the year for a class there.

Anyone have more details?  (See update below.)

Update: This photo may have been taken at LBJ’s alma mater, now the Texas State University at San Marcos, judging by this other photo I found at Humanties Texas.

Lyndon Johnson in the classroom during an April 1970 visit to his alma mater. Photo courtesy Texas State University-San Marcos.

Caption from Humanities Texas: Lyndon Johnson in the classroom during an April 1970 visit to his alma mater. Photo courtesy Texas State University-San Marcos.

 

Update, September 10, 2014:  Thanks @c_banks.

B3725-18A
Date: 04/27/1970
Credit: LBJ Library photo by Frank Wolfe
Event: President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with college students
Description: President Lyndon B. Johnson addresses students
Location: South West Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas
Collection: LBJ Library
Rights: Public Domain: This image is in the public domain and may be used free of charge without permissions or fees.

Remember when business leaders supported civil rights?

August 16, 2013

Remember civil discussion?

June 4, 1963:  Business leaders listening to Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, with President John F. Kennedy, in the White House.  Photo from the Kennedy Library, public domain

June 4, 1963: Business leaders listening to Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, with President John F. Kennedy, in the White House. Photo from the Kennedy Library, public domain

Could one get such a meeting on an issue today?  Probably — and wouldn’t it be nice to see more of them?

President John F. Kennedy invited top business leaders of the nation to the White House on June 4, 1963, to talk about civil rights.  This photo captures the early moments of the late afternoon meeting in the East Room of the White House, with Vice President Lyndon Johnson addressing the group, and President Kennedy waiting to speak.

According to the Kennedy Library, these are people in in the photo:

Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson (at podium, with back to camera) speaks to a group of business executives with establishments in southern cities, at a civil rights meeting conducted by President John F. Kennedy (seated at far right), Vice President Johnson, and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (not pictured). Those pictured include: Milton L. Elsberg, President of Drug Fair Inc.; Carling L. Dinkler, Jr., President of Dinkler Hotel Corporation; Lucien E. Oliver, Vice President of Sears, Roebuck & Company; Louis C. Lustenberger, President of W. T. Grant Company; William B. Thalhimer, Jr., President of Thalhimer Brothers, Inc.; G. Stockton Strawbridge, President of Strawbridge & Clothier; Bruce A. Gimbel, President of Gimbel Brothers, Inc.; and E. D. Martin, President of Martin Theatres of Georgia, Inc. East Room, White House, Washington, D.C.

Few of those companies exist today; those that do are in much changed form.  Just fifty years ago.

The Kennedy Presidential Library in Massachusetts makes this photo available with hundreds of others at its on-line site.


49 years ago: August 7, 1964, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

August 7, 2013

August 7 is the 43rd anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the resolution which authorized President Lyndon B. Johnson to move troops into South Vietnam to defend U.S. interests.

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed by Congress on August 7, 1964, as presented to President Lyndon Johnson, and signed by him on August 10. This is the document that authorized U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Image from the National Archives, Our Documents display.

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed by Congress on August 7, 1964, as presented to President Lyndon Johnson, and signed by him on August 10. This is the document that authorized U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Image from the National Archives, Our Documents display.

The resolution passed Congress after what appeared to be attacks on two U.S. Navy ships in the Gulf of Tonkin.  At the time, and now, evidence is weak that such attacks took place.

Quick summary from the National Archives:

On August 4, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson announced that two days earlier, U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin had been attacked by the North Vietnamese. Johnson dispatched U.S. planes against the attackers and asked Congress to pass a resolution to support his actions. The joint resolution “to promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia” passed on August 7, with only two Senators (Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening) dissenting, and became the subject of great political controversy in the course of the undeclared war that followed.

The Tonkin Gulf Resolution stated that “Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repeal any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent any further aggression.” As a result, President Johnson, and later President Nixon, relied on the resolution as the legal basis for their military policies in Vietnam.

As public resistance to the war heightened, the resolution was repealed by Congress in January 1971.

Santayana’s ghost looks on in wonder.

Map of divided Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. History Place map via Mr. Roache's Place

Map of divided Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. History Place map via Mr. Roache’s Place

Considering its powerful effect on American history, the document is very, very brief.  Here’s the text [links added]:

Eighty-eighth Congress of the United States of America
AT THE SECOND SESSION

Begun and held at the City of Washington on Tuesday, the seventh day of January, one thousand nine hundred and sixty-four

Joint Resolution
To promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia.

Whereas naval units of the Communist regime in Vietnam, in violation of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and of international law, have deliberately and repeatedly attacked United Stated naval vessels lawfully present in international waters, and have thereby created a serious threat to international peace; and

Whereas these attackers are part of deliberate and systematic campaign of aggression that the Communist regime in North Vietnam has been waging against its neighbors and the nations joined with them in the collective defense of their freedom; and

Whereas the United States is assisting the peoples of southeast Asia to protest their freedom and has no territorial, military or political ambitions in that area, but desires only that these people should be left in peace to work out their destinies in their own way: Now, therefore be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.

Map showing ship movements reported during the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, on August 4, 1964; reports that North Vietnamese gunboats attacked and engaged two patrolling U.S. Navy ships pushed Congress to authorize President Johnson to take extensive defensive actions.

Map showing ship movements reported during the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, on August 4, 1964; reports that North Vietnamese gunboats attacked and engaged two patrolling U.S. Navy ships pushed Congress to authorize President Johnson to take extensive defensive actions. (image from Echo Two Seven Tooter, replaced with Wikipedia map 8/2017)

Section 2. The United States regards as vital to its national interest and to world peace the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia. Consonant with the Constitution of the United States and the Charter of the United Nations and in accordance with its obligations under the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty, the United States is, therefore, prepared, as the President determines, to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom.

Section 3. This resolution shall expire when the President shall determine that the peace and security of the area is reasonably assured by international conditions created by action of the United Nations or otherwise, except that it may be terminated earlier by concurrent resolution of the Congress.

[endorsements]

And on that authority, “Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression,” the U.S. spent the next 11 years in all-out warfare in Vietnam, with up to 500,000 military troops in the conflict, and losing the lives of more than 58,000 men and women.

U.S. engagement in Vietnam continued well after the repeal of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in 1971.  In 1973 a peace treaty was signed between the U.S., North Vietnam and South Vietnam.  The provisions of the treaty did not hold; a final North Vietnamese military push in April 1975 crumpled the South Vietnamese government and army.  The few remaining U.S. forces made an emergency withdrawal as Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops entered Saigon.  Vietnam was reunited by force, under a communist government.

Attacks on the USS Maddox and USS Turner Joy — if they occurred — took place early on August 4.  President Johnson might be excused for having done nothing on the issue at the time.  That was the same day that the bodies of three civil rights workers were discovered by the FBI, murdered by a pro-segregation mob with clear ties to the local Ku Klux Klan.  Either event, the Gulf of Tonkin, or the Mississippi civil rights murders, could be a major event in any presidency, testing to the utmost the leadership and peace-making abilities of a president.  Johnson dealt with both events at the same time.

Three American civil rights’ workers, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner, were lynched on the night of June 21–22, 1964 by members of the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County‘s Sheriff Office and the Philadelphia Police Department located in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The three had been working on the “Freedom Summer” campaign, attempting to register African Americans to vote.

On a commission from the Dallas Symphony, composer Stephen Stucky composed a piece during the Lyndon Johnson Centennial in 2008; Kathryn and I heard the world premiere of August 4, 1964, on September 18, 2008.  Stucky’s piece (with libretto by Gene Scheer) is the only place I know where anyone has seriously considered the nexus between these two, opposite-side-of-the-world tragedies, and how they set the stage for the rest of the 1960s decade.   The piece has been recorded by the Dallas Symphony.  I highly recommend it.

Here’s a video from the Dallas Symphony on the piece:

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Presidents and umbrellas

May 19, 2013

A few photos from history:

President Dwight D. Eisenhower:

President Dwight D. Eisenhower with Indian President Rajendra Prasad, in India

Two Countries, One Umbrella – President Dwight D. Eisenhower with Indian President Rajendra Prasad, in India, December 11, 1959 (anyone have the year?)

President John F. Kennedy

Aide holds umbrella for First Lady Jacqueline and President John F. Kennedy, inaugural night, 1961.

Aide holds umbrella for First Lady Jacqueline and President John F. Kennedy, inaugural night, 1961.

President Lyndon B. Johnson

Johnson in Honololulu 1966, with umbrella

President Lyndon B. Johnson arrives for church services in Honolulu, February 6, 1966, during Vietnam negotiations. To Johnson’s immediate right, Rep. Spark Matsunaga; on Johnson’s left, a Secret Service agent. National Archives photo

President Richard M. Nixon

Nixon campaigning in the rain in Hawaii, 1960

Caption from The AtlanticWire: In 1960, Richard Nixon pledged to campaign in all 50 states. He was not even rewarded for this foolishness with nice weather in Hawaii.

My memory is that no other presidential candidate has campaigned in Hawaii since then.  Has any other candidate campaigned in Alaska?

NASA Administrator Dr. Thomas Paine holding umbrella for Nixon

Collection: NASA Great Images in Nasa Collection Title: Nixon and Paine at Apollo 12 Launch Full Description: Dr. Thomas Paine, NASA Administrator, shields First Lady, Mrs. Richard M. Nixon, from rain while the President and daughter Tricia, foreground, watch Apollo 12 prelaunch activities at the Kennedy Space Center viewing area. Following the successful liftoff, the President congratulated the launch crew from within the control center. Date: 11/14/1969 NASA photo, on Flickr

The image of Nixon in the rain was captured several times.

Nixon, staff and security, in the rain

From the AtlanticWire: Even amid his staff and security, Nixon looks like a lonely man helpless against the elements. (AP photo?)

President Gerald R. Ford

Gerald Ford in the rain

Wally McNamee photo, University of Texas Center for American History.  UPI caption for their photos:  As Betty Ford holds the umbrella, a military aide rushes forward to assist President Ford as he trips and falls on the lower steps of the plane ramp following his arrival in Salzburg, Austria on June 1, 1975. (UPI Photo/Files)

President Ronald Reagan:

President Reagan in the rain

Undated photo of First Lady Nancy and President Ronald Reagan being sheltered on an airport in an unnamed place. Image from BigotBasher.

Reagan at the White House, in the rain:

White House staff shelter President Reagan's waving.  Freakout Nation image

White House staff shelter President Reagan’s waving. Freakout Nation image

President George H. W. Bush:

G H W Bush in the rain July 1989, AtlanticWire

Barbara Bush held the umbrella for President George H. W. Bush in July 1989 (in Italy?). From The AtlanticWire.

G H W Bush in the rain, late 1989

President George H. W. Bush found himself in the rain again, in late 1989. AtlanticWire image

President Barack Obama:

Obama at Lincoln National Cemetery, Memorial Day 2010

President Barack Obama took the stage amidst a downpour at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Illinois, on Memorial Day. He announced that the event was being canceled because of the severe weather, and he told the crowd to seek shelter, May 31, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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Lyndon Johnson as visionary: Great Society, speech at University of Michigan

January 25, 2013

President Lyndon B. Johnson during commencemen...

President Lyndon B. Johnson during commencement exercises at the University of Michigan on May 22, 1964 (Photo via Wikipedia, or LBJ Museum and Library in Austin, Texas)

May 22, 1964 — Lyndon Johnson laid out his vision of a much better America. At the University of Michigan Johnson discussed what a great nation in the 20th and 21st centuries should be, the Great Society speech.

This is the Lyndon Johnson speech Republicans wish had never been given, and which they hope to ignore as much as possible, laying out dreams for a better American they hope to frustrate.

More information from the LBJ Library in Austin:

Audio from President Johnson’s speech at the University of Michigan May 22, 1964, also called “the Great Society speech.” Audio is WHCA_83_2, photo is c387-8-wh64. Both are in the public domain. For more images of this speech, please see http://youtu.be/WqP037Pe5i0, which is B Roll of the same speech.

Full text of this speech at the University of Michigan is available at The American Presidency Project, at the site of the University of California – Santa Barbara (UCSB).

January 4, 1965 — Lyndon Johnson laid out the legislative plan for the Great Society.  Back then, even after crushing defeats in the 1964 elections, Republicans shared Johnson’s and the Democrats’ dreams for a better America.

Full text of this 1965 State of the Union speech can be found at The American Presidency Project at the UCSB.

From calls for international peace to a call for great expansion of federal support of education, to calls for aid for the sick and aged, is there a single area where the GOP agrees today?

How can we get the GOP to dream again?

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