With behind-the-scenes support from the U.S., General Minh was ousted on January 29 in a bloodless coup d’état led by General Nguyen Khanh, the most pro-American officer in the junta. There would be no more talk of peace negotiations or easing up on the NLF-linked villages. The Saigon government would henceforth strictly follow the American president’s lead. McNamara, returning from a visit to Saigon in early March 1964, reported that Khanh would do very well. He would allow U.S. advisers to participate at all levels of civilian and military agencies, and he would consult with Ambassador Lodge before making appointments to his cabinet. Gen. Khanh headed the military junta from January 1964 until February 1965.
A third development was the signing of an international peace treaty ending the civil war in Laos in July 1962. The agreement was welcomed across the world as a step toward reducing Cold War tensions. Along with de Gaulle, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan helped to convince Kennedy that a negotiated solution in Laos was the most realistic option and would not hurt U.S. interests in the region. After conferring with Kennedy in March 1961, Macmillan wrote to de Gaulle: “I think that the President really accepts the necessity for a political solution if we can get one.” It took thirteen months of negotiations, but in the end, an agreement was signed by fourteen nations, including the belligerent parties in Laos and the governments of South Vietnam, North Vietnam, the United States, Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and China. Laos became a “neutral and independent” nation led by a coalition government under prime minister Souvanna Phouma, with power shared with the communist-led Pathet Lao. As the U.S. had been supporting anticommunist guerrillas in Laos since the late 1950s, approval of the treaty marked a significant change of policy.
Weather conditions were clear, and seas were calm. At 1440, the destroyer detected three North Vietnamese patrol boats approaching her position from the west. Aware of North Vietnamese intent from the earlier SIGINT [signals intelligence] message, Captain Herrick ordered gun crews to open fire if the fast-approaching trio closed to within 10,000 yards of the destroyer, and at about 1505 three 5-inch shots were fired across the bow of the closest boat. In return, the lead vessel launched a torpedo and veered away. A second boat then launched two “fish” but was hit by gunfire from the destroyer. Re-engaging, the first PT boat launched a second torpedo and opened fire with her 14.5-mm guns, but Maddox shell fire heavily damaged the vessel.
Johnson’s deception was nearly undermined by his vice-presidential running mate, Hubert Humphrey. On August 4, Johnson complained angrily to his friend and campaign adviser, James Rowe, that Humphrey had been telling the truth about the Gulf of Tonkin incident to the media, jeopardizing the administration’s claim that the attack on the Maddox was unprovoked. Johnson’s outburst was recorded on the White House taping system:
The administration rushed the resolution to Congress the following day, August 5, before any investigation of Humphrey’s allegations could be investigated and substantiated. Introduced under the title, “Joint Resolution to promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia,” the resolution mixed a deceptive version of events in the Gulf of Tonkin with illusory claims of protecting the people of Southeast Asia, as prelude to authorizing “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.” This was an open-ended declaration of war, but few members of Congress realized it at the time.
See Jonah Raskin, For the Hell of It: The Life and Times of Abbie Hoffman (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996). Hoffman’s sensational tactics were later used by the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement, which helped change the conversation in America about wealth and inequality.
“Manifest destiny” was an informal doctrine that combined religious, political, and racial ideas into a righteous justification for American territorial expansion. The Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine of 1904 was the American equivalent of the French and British “civilizing missions,” applied to the Americas. The Truman Doctrine of 1947 established the basic ideological framework of the Cold War, intellectually dividing the world into communist totalitarians and freedom-loving peoples, which tragically failed to acknowledge British and French imperial domination in Asia and Africa.
George Kahin, unpublished paper, November 1988, p. 6, cited in Young, The Vietnam Wars, p. 264. George and Audrey Kain were in Hanoi at the behest of Senator J. William Fulbright who wanted to clarify the Vietnamese position on negotiations. Ellsworth quoted in David F. Schmitz, Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War: The End of the American Century (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), p. 118.
The Pentagon Papers, Vol. IV. C. 11. “The United States Re-Emphasizes Pacification – 1965 to Present, An Examination of a Major Trend in our Effort.” This summary report focused almost exclusively on organization and agency relationships to the exclusion of program results, noting only that Washington’s demands exceeded realistic possibilities.
The United Nations Charter (Article 2, Section 4) states, “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state….” See Fredrik Logevall, “Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam,” Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 1 (March 2004); and Fredrik Logevall, Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1999).
Critics of the war might offer a different set of goals: (1) beyond thanking veterans, to discuss whether the war itself was necessary or honorable; (2) in regard to the Armed Forces, to examine the debilitating effects of U.S. aerial assaults, ground operations, and counterinsurgency doctrine, especially on civilians; (3) on the home front, to recognize the contributions of those who opposed the war as patriotic and honorable; (4) with respect to science and technology, to examine the environmental and human devastation wrought by high-tech weaponry and poisons such as Agent Orange, and to reassess the slavish dependence on statistical benchmarks that obscured the inhumanity of the war; and (5) to recognize that America’s most important allies did not support the war and that the United Nations and other nations strongly advised against it. Such goals would likely produce sobering lessons that would strengthen efforts to prevent future wars.
For too long, we have lived with the “Vietnam Syndrome.” Much of that syndrome has been created by the North Vietnamese aggressors who now threaten the peaceful people of Thailand. Over and over they told us for nearly 10 years that we were the aggressors bent on imperialistic conquests…. It is time we recognized that ours was, in truth, a noble cause. A small country newly free from colonial rule sought our help in establishing self-rule and the means of self-defense against a totalitarian neighbor bent on conquest. We dishonor the memory of 50,000 young Americans who died in that cause when we give way to feelings of guilt as if we were doing something shameful, and we have been shabby in our treatment of those who returned…. There is a lesson for all of us in Vietnam. If we are forced to fight, we must have the means and the determination to prevail or we will not have what it takes to secure the peace. And while we are at it, let us tell those who fought in that war that we will never again ask young men to fight and possibly die in a war our government is afraid to let them win.