On this day in 1964, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution is authorized by President Lyndon Johnson to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression” by the communist government of North Vietnam. It was passed unanimously by the U.S. Congress, 416-0, and Senate, 88-2, after an alleged attack on two USN destroyers stationed off the coast of Vietnam. This resolution effectively launched America’s full-scale involvement in the Vietnam War.
By 1964, Vietnam was embroiled in a years-long civil war, pitting Ho Chi Minh’s communist regime against the U.S.-backed “democratic” government of South Vietnam under a military junta. It was both the effectuation and refutation of the domino theory, amounting to an eventual fait accompli.
Although classified documents released in 2005 and 2006 suggest that the attack in the Gulf of Tonkin that led to U.S. involvement in Vietnam may have been fabricated, at least to some extent, there is little hard evidence that President Johnson or then-Defense Secretary Robert McNamara intentionally misled Congress or the American people. Expressing his own doubts, in 1965 President Johnson commented privately: “For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there.” However, running against hard-right anti-communist Barry Goldwater in the ’64 general election, Johnson himself listed to the right to shore up moderates and conservatives.
Still, the war was unpopular with many in the U.S., and anti-war protests emerged soon after the launch of more robust operations spurred on by the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Facing backlash for his decision to escalate U.S. military engagement in Vietnam, President Johnson opted not to seek reelection in 1968.
Ten years and some 58,000 American lives later, a mere fraction of the nearly 4 million total dead for the war, the conflagration was over, and today, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is a prosperous nation of 94 million citizens. In 1986, the Communist Party of Vietnam initiated a series of economic and political reforms that began Vietnam’s path toward integration into the world economy. By 2000, it had established diplomatic relations with all nations. Since 2000, Vietnam’s economic growth rate has been among the highest in the world, and, in 2011, it had the highest Global Growth Generators Index among 11 major economies.