Key Players Lyndon B. Johnson 36 th President of the United States Robert S. McNamara Secretary of Defense
Monday, August 3 rd 10:30am McNamara and Johnson discuss the attack on the Maddox from the previous day. The two also discuss possible responses to the attack and how it should be handled militarily and politically.
Monday, August 3 rd , 1:21pm McNamara calls Johnson later that day to discuss military preparations for what may occur. Johnson voices his concerns about jumping the gun and starting a war too soon.
Tuesday, August 4 th , 10:53am The next morning, McNamara calls Johnson to inform him that the North Vietnamese have apparently sent ships and aircraft towards the U.S ships. This could mean the North Vietnamese plan to attack the Maddox again.
Tuesday, August 4 th , 11:00am McNamara calls Johnson to inform him that a second attack on the Maddox has “apparently” occurred in the Gulf of Tonkin. The tension is clear as the two realize that this will be a major turning point requiring a strong American response.
Tuesday, August 4 th 5:09pm Later that evening, McNamara calls Johnson to discuss the breaking of the story in the press.
Tuesday, August 4 th 9:15pm Later that night, McNamara and Johnson discuss the statement the President will make that night regarding a U.S response to the second torpedo attack. The two men discuss the military and political details of the speech. They discuss how to communicate with Barry Goldwater (LBJ’s Republican opponent in the upcoming election.) Of great importance is the timing of the speech as military operations will be carried out almost simultaneously over North Vietnamese soil. (mother reference)
August 7 th , 1964 Congress passes the Gulf of Tonkin resolution which grants Lyndon Johnson full authority to “protect the peace in Southeast Asia”. This was just as good as a declaration of war. Johnson would later say the resolution was “like grandma’s nightshirt…it covered everything .” Documentary Video
“ The Fog of War” (2003) In this 2003 documentary, a 91 year old McNamara admits that the second attack that he and LBJ discussed, and that later led to Congressional approval for the war resolution, never happened. “It didn’t happen!”
McNamara Quote (2003) McNamara : It was just confusion, and events afterwards showed that our judgment that we'd been attacked that day was wrong. It didn't happen. And the judgment that we'd been attacked on August 2nd was right. We had been, although that was disputed at the time. So we were right once and wrong once. Ultimately, President Johnson authorized bombing in response to what he thought had been the second attack; it hadn't occurred but that's irrelevant to the point I'm making here. He authorized the attack on the assumption it had occurred, and his belief that it was a conscious decision on the part of the North Vietnamese political and military leaders to escalate the conflict and an indication they would not stop short of winning. We were wrong, but we had in our minds a mindset that led to that action. And it carried such heavy costs. We see incorrectly or we see only half of the story at times. Morris : We see what we want to believe. McNamara : You're absolutely right. Belief and seeing, they're both often wrong