A few days after announcing to the American public that North Vietnam had attacked the United States a second time in the Gulf of Tonkin, President Lyndon Baines Johnson remarked to the most vocal opponent of his administration’s policy in Vietnam, undersecretary of state George Ball, “Hell, those damn, stupid sailors were just shooting at flying fish.”1 This statement not only reflected Johnson’s doubt that the 4 August 1964 attacks occurred, but also showed his confidence at having the full support of all but two members of Congress for any further action he might take. This cavalier
treatment of the military’s intelligence failure, however, was a manifestation of his marked disassociation of foreign policy decision-making from military analysis. Flawed intelligence—amplified by a weak Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS)—enabled Johnson to wield the 4 August attacks to win Congress’ full support for future military measures and to ensure his own election victory in November 1964. Throughout his first year, the president only used military intelligence and counsel selectively to support his domestic agenda. He discounted the advice from his ambassador to the Republic of Vietnam (former JCS Chairman Maxwell Taylor) and the Joint Chiefs when it ran contrary toSecretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s strategy. The events leading to the Southeast Asia Joint Resolution (commonly called the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution) on 7 August illustrate well LBJ’s foreign policy decision-making methods absent military guidance, as well as their wide-reaching effects.
The rest of my paper is below.
While we are on the subject of Vietnam, if you haven't read Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes, you MUST. The best book ever written about Vietnam in my