Retracing the confused and inconsistent pattern of planning for escalation of the Vietnam War, Edwin Moïse carefully reconstructs the events of the night of August 4, 1964, when the U.S. Navy destroyers Maddox
and Turner Joy
reported that they were under attack by North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. The next day, President Lyndon Johnson ordered the first U.S. air strikes against North Vietnam, and on August 7, Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which gave the president authority to take 'all necessary steps' to combat further North Vietnamese aggression.
Many people, including some men who were on the destroyers that night, believe that what appeared on radar screens as torpedo boats were actually false images generated by weather conditions, flocks of birds, or American planes overhead. Using recently declassified records and interviews with participants, Moïse conclusively demonstrates that there was no North Vietnamese attack. But the original report was not a lie concocted to provide an excuse for escalation; it was a genuine mistake.