So when the order was given for the renewed patrol by the two destroyers, ah...it was specified that their course should be at a considerable distance throughout from the coast, and would not bring them closer than, I think, 60 or maybe 75 miles, ah, to the, ah, islands that might even conceivably be attacked if there were any further 34A operations. And that was the picture that President Johnson and his advisors had, ah, on the 4
th, when the Maddox
reported that it had intercepted ah instruction to attack and then that it had been attacked...
Ah, and at the same time we were getting the, Washington
was getting, and, and, Honolulu
was getting, ah, intercepted, ah, messages, ah alerting a...North Vietnamese PT or patrol, some, some, some, some kind of naval force for an attack, and then carrying it right through reporting the attack had taken place, and all of that. And that was the, in my own judgment at any rate, the most conclusive evidence, ah, the Maddox
did report it had been attacked...ah...
As it turned out, ah, they didn’t have bullet dents, such as they had on the first attack. The physical evidence wasn’t absolutely, ah, nailed down as it was on the first attack, although there were many eye witness claims, and all of that, which were, at the time at least, persuasive. But the most conclusive evidence was the interception of these orders to get ready to attack, and then the report afterwards of what had been accomplished, which were coming into Washington
during the day on the 4th
along with the eye witness reports. So, ah, the picture that Washington had on the afternoon of the 4th
and the afternoon and evening of the 4th
seemed absolutely crystal clear.
Ah, and when President Johnson referred to it as “unprovoked aggression,” he was reflecting the utterly honest judgment of Secretary McNamara, of Admiral Sharp up in Honolulu
, of everybody concerned. Ah, he had insisted, “Go back over this. I want to make absolutely sure of this.” There had been intense consultation...ah, between the two, and this was the honest and strongly held clear view of the people who made the decision—the President who’d made the decision—and of all who advised him to do it.
Now, there is a, a twist to this, which I unearthed only when I was doing later research...ah, in order partly to satisfy my own mind and partly in case I ever was to write about it. Ah, that in fact, there had been a second, ah, 34A, ah, PT boat operation by the South Vietnamese on the night of August 3rd. Ah, and so, in hindsight, maybe there was a, a second link...ah, and it is, ah, a fact that, ah, as far as I can determine, Washington did not know of that second 34A attack for several days after it had taken place. At any rate, it was not known...ah, at the time of the decision, the time of the major announcements.
And even when it did become known...ah, the administration...at all levels...ah, believed that there was no valid connection, because the physical distance was so very great. Ah, the Maddox
, we had the course plotted of the Maddox
and the Turner Joy
—it had been so far away that we didn’t see how there could’ve been any valid connection of any sort, ah, and so it was dismissed even when became known that there had been the second attack.
So the administration was not holding back anything that it regarded as, as material to the conclusion. Ah, and the fact that there were the 34, ah, A, operations had been discussed with leaders on the hill, Senator Fulbright referred to it in the debate on the Tonkin Gulf resolution, ah...so that, ah, in my judgment, there simply was no, ah...deception of any sort involved in Tonkin Gulf. The matter was presented exactly as it appeared, ah, to the President and his advisors.