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What Was the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution?

Passed in 1964, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution enabled US President Lyndon B Johnson to use military force in Southeast Asia without formally declaring war.

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The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was a joint resolution passed by the United States Congress in 1964 that gave 36th President of the United States, Lyndon B Johnson, the authority to deploy military forces in Southeast Asia without formally declaring war. The resolution was introduced in response to the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, during which two US naval ships were allegedly attacked by North Vietnamese torpedoes in August 1964.  Although opposed by two US senators, the resolution passed and was significant because it marked the start of the US's involvement in the Vietnam War. Additionally, the United States' interest in the Vietnam War was strongly linked to an attempt to stop the spread of communism.

Background to the Resolution

In 1954, French colonialists were defeated in Indochina, and the country was divided into North Vietnam and South Vietnam. North Vietnam became a communist state, while South Vietnam operated as a free-market capitalist economy. The United States was anti-communist and had long been involved in a Cold War with the USSR. At that time, the US was not involved in the civil war between North and South Vietnam but had an interest in preventing the spread of communism. As is appeared that North Vietnam would take control of South Vietnam, the US became increasingly interested in increasing its military presence in the region. 

The Gulf of Tonkin Incident

The resolution was introduced after two US naval ships positioned in the Gulf of Tonkin, USS Maddox and Turner Joy, were allegedly attacked with torpedoes by North Vietnamese patrol boats, although not hit, on August 2, 1964, and August 4, 1964, respectively. Prior to the incident, the US was not officially involved in the Vietnam War but supported South Vietnam as an anti-communism ally. Critics claim that the US had been longing to join in the Vietnam War in an attempt to end communism, and the Gulf of Tonkin Incident created an opportunity to enter the war. After the passing of the resolution, the US entered the Vietnam War without the need to declare war.  

Fabrication Claims

Some historians suggest that the Gulf of Tonkin Incident never actually occurred, but rather was fabricated. In fact, classified documents released in 2005 proposed that it was made-up. However, there is no definitive evidence supporting this allegation. By the end of the war, the United States had lost approximately 60,000 military personnel, while South Vietnam lost more than 250,000 troops, plus hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths.

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