In August 1964, the United States entered the Vietnam War after reports of an unprovoked attack in the Gulf of Tonkin. But the reports were false — and the president knew it.
In August 1964, the USS Maddox destroyer was stationed in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of North Vietnam.
On August 2, it was attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. And then, two days later, on August 4, the Johnson administration claimed that it had been attacked again. After the second attack, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution almost unanimously allowing the federal government to “take all necessary measures” to protect U.S. forces in Vietnam.
It was as close to a declaration of war that the Johnson administration would ever get. But it was based on a lie.
After decades of public skepticism and government secrecy, the truth finally came out: In the early 2000s, nearly 200 documents were declassified and released by the National Security Agency (NSA).
They showed that there was no attack on August 4. U.S. officials had distorted the truth about the Gulf of Tonkin incident for their own gains — and perhaps for Johnson’s own political prospects.