It was a deception that would lead to millions of civilian deaths, and the deaths of nearly 60,000 US soldiers. In August 1964 President Lyndon B Johnson solemnly declared that, after two apparent North Vietnamese attacks on US navy destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin, military action would take place.
Four years later, Senator Albert Gore – father of Bill Clinton’s future vice-president – warned in a closed Foreign Relations Committee session that, “If this country has been misled … the consequences are very great.” His suspicions were correct. The second Gulf of Tonkin attack might never have happened – and perhaps neither did. Communications to make it look like the attack occurred had been falsified. But US policy was already set on a dramatic escalation of the Vietnam war: and here was the perfect pretext.