Was Congress correct in approving the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution?  

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed by Congress in 1964 to give President Lyndon Johnson the ability to conduct a war in Southeast Asia without making a formal declaration of war. After this resolution was passed, Johnson rapidly escalated American involvement in Vietnam. The resolution was in reaction to the Gulf of Tonkin incident, in which the U.S. destroyer the U.S.S. Maddox was attacked on August 2, 1964, by North Vietnamese torpedo boats while in the Gulf of Tonkin. The Maddox and another American destroyer also claimed to be have been attacked by the North Vietnamese on August 4. A later National Security report determined that while the Maddox had been involved in a skirmish on August 2 that there was no engagement between the Maddox and North Vietnamese boats on August 4. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara claimed that the Maddox had been on a routine mission, but a later Senate Foreign Relations Committee report found that the Maddox had been on a reconnaissance mission to collect information about the North Vietnamese. 

By the late 1960s, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was widely considered a mistake, as it had granted Johnson broad latitude to conduct a war that became deadly and disastrous, and there were calls for its repeal. It was eventually repealed under the Nixon administration in January of 1971. Later, the War Powers Resolution of 1973, passed over Nixon's veto, required the President to seek a formal declaration of war from Congress to send U.S. troops into a military conflict.