24A Vane Attempt

"Don't Need a Weatherman To Tell Which Way the Wind Blows" 

A Series of Innocuous Blogs for Vainglorious Edification.

Black Water
January 11, 2008

On August 4, 1964 the President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson went on American television to report what the New York Times proclaimed to be “the somber facts.”  The Pentagon had reported a “second attack” on the U.S. destroyer Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of North Vietnam.   The second attack was the apparent firing of torpedoes at the Maddox by North Vietnamese PT boats earlier that day.  With this fodder in hand President Johnson ordered “retaliatory” air strikes against North Vietnamese gunships and supporting facilities.  This was the primary catalyst behind the escalation in the conflict that would eventually claim 50,000 American soldiers’ lives - The Vietnam War.

Today, some forty four years later we know that the real story is very different.  There was, in reality, no “second attack” against the U.S. Navy.  The purported torpedoes according to cables sent by Task Force Commander John J. Herrick  were eventually determined to be the result of,  “freak weather effects,” “almost total darkness,” an “overeager sonar man” who was “hearing ship’s own propeller beat.”   Navy Squadron Commander James Stockdale (later POW and VP candidate) who was flying overhead that night recalled, “ I had the best seat in the house to watch that event… and our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets — there were no PT boats there.... There was nothing there but black water and American fire power." 

The American media reported these “facts” with dutiful adherence to their official sources.  The Los Angeles Times insisted that Americans, "face the fact that the Communists, by their attack on American vessels in international waters, have themselves escalated the hostilities."  Newspapers and television news departments reported the retaliatory strikes against North Vietnam as merely “tit for tat,” reactions.   How did the press get the facts so wrong?   Mostly by reporting unquestioned information provided by U.S. government officials.  In Daniel Hallen’s book “The Uncensored War,” he describes a press that had, “a great deal of information available that contradicted the official account; it simply wasn’t used.”   But the press then and now shows a disturbing reluctance to question official pronouncements about any national security issue. 

Due in part to the absence of independent journalism, three days later on August 7, 1964 The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was overwhelmingly passed by Congress with the exception of two Senators; Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska.  The Resolution authorized the President, "To take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression."  This was the closest the Congress would ever come to declaring a state of war with North Vietnam.  All of which should remind us that it is Americans’ solemn duty to look closely at “incidents” that would provide the catalyst for aggression against any people or nation.  We have seen all too clearly how agendas can make the “facts” fit in politically provocative ways.  And on the basis of those “facts” a handful of men set in motion the enormous machinery of war. 

Today, more than ever before, we must read our newspapers and listen to our electronic news with great helpings of doubt.   Knowing what we do about the beginnings of the Vietnam War, it is our duty to listen to the sound of saber rattling and ask ourselves, “Is there anything really out there?”   Has the press and our government and our representatives done due diligence reviewing purported aggression?  Do we have multiple sources of independently gathered evidence?   And have we carefully thought through just whose agenda might demand militant reaction?   It is not an easy task.    Today’s “news” has an ominous sameness regardless of the label that is stamped upon it.  It seems best to look into our hearts and ask, does this have any ring of truth to it?  Or is it simply another instance of, “Nothing there but black water, and American fire power?”