What was the Gulf of Tonkin incident?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Gulf of Tonkin Incident was actually two incidents that happened in early August of 1964.  In the first of those incidents, North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked the US Navy destroyer Maddox.  Maddox sank two of the boats and drove the other off with help of air support.  In the second incident, Maddox and the destroyer Turner Joy believed that they came under another attack from torpedo boats.  This second incident happened at night and in bad weather.  There were no visual sightings of attacking boats, just radar images.  For these reasons, it is not completely clear if the second attack actually happened.

The Gulf of Tonkin Incident is very important in the history of the Vietnam War because it was the motivation for President Johnson to seek, and for Congress to pass, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.  This resolution gave Johnson the power to take whatever actions he deemed necessary to defend South Vietnam.  This represented a major escalation of US involvement in the Vietnam War.