On August 2, 1964 the American destroyer Maddox was engaged by North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. President Lyndon Johnson warned Hanoi of “the grave consequences which would inevitably result from any further unprovoked offensive military action against U.S. forces” [U.S. Senate, ‘The Gulf of Tonkin, the 1964 incidents,” hearing before the Committee on Foreign Relations, 90th Congress, 2nd session, February 20, 1968, page 10 (as recorded in “Inner Circles” by Alexander Haig, p. 117)]. The events of August 2, 1964 are facts beyond question.
On August 4, 1964 the U.S.S. Maddox and the U.S.S. Turner Joy were on duty in the Gulf of Tonkin. On that day the Maddox’s sonar picked up what appeared to be enemy torpedoes. The Turner Joy’s sonar registered no such torpedo contact.
This incident sparked a reaction. Later in that same day, an air response occurred, ordered by Johnson. Later in the same month, both the House and the Senate voted to pass the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, giving the President greater authority to use military power to defend South Vietnam against Communist aggression.
But was the Maddox really fired upon on August 4, 1964? A Captain Herrick reported hours before the response that there was a reason to doubt he initial report. He said, “Review of action makes many recorded contacts and torpedoes fired appear doubtful. Freak weather effects an overeager sonar-man may have accounted for many reports. No actual visual sightings by Maddox suggest complete evaluation before any further action.” [Senate, page 57 (as recorded in “Inner Circle,” p.123)]. This message wasn’t passed on from the Pacific fleet headquarters to the Pentagon in time to halt the response.
Alexander Haig, Jr. (who would later be White House Chief of Staff under Nixon, and later Supreme Commander in Europe, and still later Secretary of State under Reagan) at this time was a deputy Special Assistant under the Secretary of Defense McNamara, and his deputy Cyrus Vance. He wrote of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, “…the North Vietnamese almost certainly did not attach the Maddox and the Turner Joy, or any other United States naval vessel, on the day in question. This fact was known without reasonable doubt to the Johnson administration within weeks after the incident…An internal investigation of the incident by the Pentagon… established that the noises identified by the Maddox’s sonar-man as enemy torpedoes were, in fact, the sounds of the Destroyer’s own wake…” (Inner Circles by Alexander M. Haig, Jr., p. 122). He also writes, ” The impulse to fight the war with American troops had been present…the Gulf of Tonkin incident merely provided the pretext…” (ibid)
My aim is not to argue whether or not the U.S. should have fought the war in Vietnam. This is an entirely different issue. Such has been debated for decades.
My aim is to use these details to make a spiritual application. Some times we rush to judgment believing the worst. We should not rashly to rush to judgment. Consider the following passages – 1 Timothy 5:22, “do not lay hands on anyone hastily” ; 1 Thessalonians 5:21, “Test all things”; Proverbs 18:13, “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.” Do not believe an evil report before carefully considering the evidence. Make sure that you have the true facts. Doesn’t the golden rule demand such (Matthew 7:12)? Far too many brethren accept unsubstantiated rumors, gossip, and hearsay.