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Vietnam War Dictionary

Tonkin Gulf Resolution

Following the attacks by North Vietnamese torpedo boats on the U.S.S. Destroyers Maddox and Turner Joy in the Tonkin Gulf, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson asked Congress for a resolution to enable him to use “all necessary measures" to prevent further aggression. The joint resolution, which was passed by the House and Senate on 7th August 1964, was later cited as the necessary authority for military action without the need for a formal declaration of war.

Timeline:

2 June 1964
At a conference in Honolulu major U.S. policymakers discuss obtaining a Congressional Resolution on Vietnam

31 July 1964
SOG / SES Vietnamese gunboats carry out a covert OPLAN 34A attack on two North Vietnamese coastal bases.

2 August 1964
The destroyer USS Maddox is attacked by three North Vietnamese torpedo boats whilst on a De Soto (electronic intelligence gathering) patrol in the Tonkin Gulf. The Maddox returns fire and requests air support from the carrier Ticonderoga. The carrier jets strafe the PT boats, damaging two and crippling the other.

4 August 1964
In a repetition of the August 2nd incident, both the Maddox and her companion ship C. Turner Joy are reportedly attacked by North Vietnamese PT boats. Neither ship suffers any damage and there is uncertainty about the actuality of this second attack.

CIA Director John McCone tells the National Security Council that the North Vietnamese were reacting defensively to the OPLAN 34A attacks. He says "They are responding out of pride and on the basis of defense considerations. The attack is a signal to us that the North Vietnamese have the will and determination to continue the war. They are raising the ante."

5 August 1964
After strenuous attempts to confirm the attacks, the U.S. launches retaliatory air strikes (Operation Pierce Arrow) against four North Vietnamese PT boat bases and the Vinh oil depot

6 August 1964
Defense Secretary Robert McNamara appears before a joint session of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees to testify on the August 2nd and 4th attacks in the Tonkin Gulf. He states that the Maddox was on a routine patrol and that the North Vietnamese attacks were unprovoked and deliberate.

7 August 1964
U.S. Congress unanimously passes the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, enabling the President to take "all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression." The resolution (H.J. RES 1445) also passes the Senate, with only two dissenting votes.