The Tonkin Gulf resolution was made in 1964 by President Johnson in response to what Johnson term as an attack from the North Vietnamese in an international water body. In response to the attack, Johnson sought to acquire power from Congress to repel any further attack from Vietnam. In his address to the Congress, Johnson accused North Vietnamese naval ship of firing into the US’s ship which was off the coast of Vietnam in an international water body in the Gulf of Tonkin. Consequently, he asked for extra powers from Congress to respond to the attack which was granted unanimously by Congress. As a result, the resolution was passed and Johnson acquired powers to take any kind of action against any attack on the US naval ships. According to Johnson, the resolution was to promote international peace and justice and to protect the existence of the US naval ships in the international water body from attacks by the Vietnam Communists1.
Though this resolution was made to promote international peace, its constitutionality was highly in doubt. Was the resolution arrived at according to the requirements of the US constitution? Many scholars have argued that the resolution was not done constitutionally and that it was done with a sinister motive since it has been argued out that North Vietnamese had not attacked any naval ships belonging to the US and that the resolution had already been drafted six months before the alleged attack. This research paper will examine the constitutionality of the 1964 Toxin Gulf Resolution and what would have happened to incase the resolution would not have been repelled. In discussing the resolution, it would be essential to discuss the events leading to the resolution.
Events leading to the resolution
In July 1964, the US launched an investigation into the North Vietnamese defense forces hence deployed their naval ship in the Gulf of Tonkin. In addition to these investigations, they were supporting the southern Vietnamese to fight the northern Vietnamese. On 1st August, the northern Vietnamese mistakenly fired into the Maddox naval ship of the US presuming it was a southern Vietnamese ship. The Maddox managed to destroy one of the attacking boats and returned safely to the waters of the southern. On 4th August the same year, the Maddox and another warship known as Turner Joy launched a patrol in the water body2. In the process of patrolling, the ships sense a radar signal which they believed came from the Torpedo boats and as a result, started firing into the radar target. However, it was not an attack as they had initially presumed. According to General Vo Nguyen Giap who was the commander in charge of the Northern Vietnamese army, there was no attack from the Vietnamese on August 4. Therefore, this was just an illusion by the US naval forces that were looking for a way to attack the northern Vietnamese3.
The Constitutionality of the Resolution
According to the US constitution, Congress is bestowed with the power to declare war while the President has been bestowed with the powers to finance the war. The 1964 Toxin resolution gave the President extraordinary powers to deploy troops at any moment the president felt the country was under threat from outside forces. To a large extent, the resolution overturned the constitution requirement from Congress to declare war since President Johnson used the powers bestowed to him by the resolution to enter and finance the Vietnamese war without the declaration of war by Congress. This was unconstitutional since the constitutional requirement of the country state that the President can only wage war against a given country after the declaration of war by Congress4.
The Repel of the Resolution
Over time, US participation in the Vietnamese war had been left without a lot of scrutiny from both the public and Congress. By the year 1967, the participation of the US in the Vietnam War became costly and thus led bureaucrats to question the legal existence of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. Consequently, the call for repeal of the resolution began5. In an investigation carried out on Maddox by the Senate Committee on foreign affairs, the investigation revealed that Maddox was an investigation ship that intended to dig out information from the North Vietnamese forces. In addition, the report indicated that there was not real second attack as claimed by the US naval army from the Northern Vietnamese.
This was done by checking the messages received and communicated during the alleged second attack in the US naval base located in the Philippines. Therefore, according to the report, there was a need for US participation in the war since there was no actual threat of the Vietnamese army on US naval ships. The committee, therefore, suggested a repeal of the resolution which was in the first instance rejected. However, after further consideration, Nixon’s administration decided to reconsider their view on the repeal. Consequently, in 1971, President Nixon signed a bill that intended to rescind the resolution and therefore limit the powers of the President to wage war against any country without the approval of Congress.
The Consequences that might have occurred had the Resolution not been Revoked
The United States of America has put it upon them to prioritize international peacebuilding. The State has included in its constitution and many treaties which allow it to even resort to military action to achieve this course. Such is the basis that the US founded its military action against Vietnam. The Vietnamese and other Southeastern Asian countries in most cases had deliberately violated the peace resolution and attacked naval and their country’s vessels, hence posing threat to international peace. The Gulf Tonkin Resolution proved to be too costly for Johnson Administration. President Johnson faced both international and internal opposition to his move of authorizing the attacks. Critics argued that the process offered the states a “blank check” and was better done away with. By 1967, the pressure was unbearable6. So when Nixon assumed office in 1969, he immediately warned of the dire consequences of the resolution for South-East Asia. Nixon reasoned that there was a possibility that the war would have gone beyond Vietnam into other borders. He, therefore, used his authority as the Commander in Chief of the military force and withdrew U.S forces from Vietnam…under a policy known as “Vietnamization” (Finney, 1968).
Had the resolution not been revoked, many nations would have taken sides in the war and sparked another worldwide revolution. There could have been serious bloodshed and aggression would have spread to completely new heights. To make matters worse, there was a grievous public opposition to the war that was creating tension within the US’s territorial borders. Many fathers and mothers criticized the government’s decision to send their sons to a war that had seemingly no benefit to their nation or its interests. In 1971, President Nixon succeeded in getting Congress to repeal the resolution. He decided to leave the United States out of the South Asian war and let the Asians solve their differences alone. Nixon got the full backing of the House of Representatives and the Senate to repeal armed attacks by US forces and circumvent any auxiliary aggression.
From this research, I will conclude by saying that it was necessary for the US government under the guardianship of President Johnson to pass the Tonkin resolution for the protection of the US forces. However, I do not support the overriding of the constitutional provision to declare by the President as was with the case with Johnson who extended the war on Vietnam with the declaration of war by Congress. This was unconstitutional and it undermined the US democracy. In my view, future involvements in war by the US should be approved fully by congress so that each organ of the government can fully exercise its power.
Austin, Anthony. The President’s war: the story of the Tonkin Gulf resolution and how the nation was trapped in Vietnam. Michigan: Lippincott. 1971.
Finney, John. Tonkin Inquiry by Fulbright to Call McNamara. The New York Times. 1968-01-31v. 1968.
Gulf of Tonkin Incident. History Mania. Web.
Moise, E E. Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press. 1996.
Peter Dale Scott. Korea (1950), the Tonkin Gulf Incident, and 9/11: Deep Events in Recent American History. The Asia Pacific Journal: Focus. Web.
Tonkin Gulf Resolution. Novelguide. Web.
- TONKIN GULF RESOLUTION. Novelguide. Web.
- Gulf of Tonkin Incident. History Mania. Web.
- Peter Dale Scott. Korea (1950), the Tonkin Gulf Incident, and 9/11: Deep Events in Recent American History. The Asia Pacific Journal: Focus. Web.
- Anthony Austin. The President’s war: the story of the Tonkin Gulf resolution and how the nation was trapped in Vietnam. Michigan: Lippincott. 1971.
- Edwin E. Moise. Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press. 1996.
- John Finney. Tonkin Inquiry by Fulbright to Call McNamara. The New York Times. 1968-01-31v.