Gulf of Tonkin Incident
The Gulf of Tonkin incident, also known as the USS Maddox incident, occurred August 2, 1964. The Maddox was patrolling off the shores of North Vietnam when it was supposedly attacked by three North Vietnamese patrol boats. The Maddox was in the Gulf attempting to gather intelligence on North Vietnamese activity for a covert operation titled DESOTO.
Two days later, another attack was supposedly reported, but that turned out to be ghost images in the radar, not a further North Vietnamese attack.
The incident left four North Vietnamese dead, and six wounded. There were no American casualities. However, the incident would have wider implications for the American efforts in Vietnam.
President Lyndon B. Johnson would declare attacks in retaliation for the incident, while assuring the Soviets that he did not intend to open a broader war in Vietnam.
President Johnson interrupted national television to make an announcement regarding the incident to the American public. He made it clear that there were no plans to go to war as a result of this incident, and he urged the American people to remain calm.
This flew somewhat in the face of Johnson's other actions at the time. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution emerged from the situation. This Resolution gave the President the authority to utilize limited military action without the approval of Congress. The exact wording was "whatever was necessary" to protect US allies in Southeast Asia. The Resolution opened the door for escalation to the war.
The United States government felt that it had to respond to the aggression of the North Vietnamese. Unfortunately it could not do so without escalating the issue and possibly involving the Chinese and Soviet governments in an international incident.
But how did the media portray the incident?
The media at this point in the conflict seems to be much more geared toward reporting what happened than spinning it in any direction. If any in the media were sensing the United States had aims to get involved in a ground war in Vietnam, they were keeping it to themselves. The incident was mostly covered in tiny articles far from the front pages. It is entirely possible that people did not see the Gulf of Tonkin incident as a tipping point of any significance.