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Four years earlier, on Aug. 4, 1964, Johnson announced, in response to an unprovoked North Vietnamese attack on U.S. Navy destroyers earlier that day, he was ordering air strikes against North Vietnamese torpedo boats and bases.
Capt. John Herrick, in command of the two destroyers, sent messages that “freak weather effects on radar and overeager sonar operators may have accounted for the reports” of the attack. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara read these messages but failed to inform Johnson. It was later established this “attack” never happened.
On Aug. 7, 1964, the U.S. Congress, without being informed of Herrick’s recent messages, overwhelmingly passed what became known as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, giving the president permission to conduct military operations in Southeast Asia without a declaration of war. This resolution was the basis for all of our military activities there. It was based on an incident that never happened.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of that attack that never happened — the beginning of a war based on a lie. Fifty years later, there’s much we can learn from our government’s breach of the people’s trust.
The U.S. was in Vietnam as it attempted to halt the spread of communism following the communist North Vietnamese government’s ouster of France, which attempted to colonize Vietnam.
After France’s defeat, the U.S. stepped up efforts to support an anti-communist government in South Vietnam — which never had the allegiance of the majority of people in the south — and engaged in covert military actions against the country’s northern, communist government. The North Vietnamese saw the U.S. Gulf of Tonkin activities as part of those covert actions.
As a result of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, U.S. forces in Vietnam went from about 16,000 advisers in 1964 to increasingly large numbers, reaching 525,000 personnel by 1968. Some 58,209 U.S. military personnel died in the war, and 153,303 were wounded. An unknown number — probably well over a million — Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian citizens died in the war.
Between 1964 and 1975, the U.S. dropped a greater tonnage of bombs on Vietnam, Laos and, ultimately, Cambodia, than it had dropped in all of World War II.
Under Operation Ranch Hand, the U.S. sprayed 20 million gallons of defoliants, mostly Agent Orange, on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, to reveal targets and destroy crops.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has an Agent Orange program to assist U.S. veterans and their families suffering from the terrible effects of Agent Orange exposure. Despite recent criticism, the VA works hard to care of veterans. I’m grateful for the excellent care the VA has given me.
The Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian people could not go home to be cared for. They were home. Hundreds of thousands have died, been sickened or had children born with birth defects because of these chemicals. Dioxin, a component of Agent Orange, lasts a very long time in the soil. Dioxin continues to sicken people and cause birth defects in Vietnam.
The U.S. military and U.S. society were severely damaged as a result of this tragic war.
So, what can we learn from this disastrous episode?
— Question government. Expect news organizations to question and investigate government claims. Inform yourself. Let your elected representatives know how you feel about issues.
— Countries are not ours to “lose.” They aren’t monopoly cards. Fear of “losing” Vietnam drove Johnson to wage a massive, unnecessary war based on falsehoods.
— Resist war as a first choice in solving problems; it should always be the absolute last choice. In my ROTC classroom in college, there were two posters. One read “Power for Peace.” The second read, “Peace is our Profession”. I believed them. They should have been true.
When our government sends our military personnel to war based on falsehoods, it is not supporting them; it is betraying them.
Rick Whelan is a real estate broker, former teacher and former Air Force officer who lives in Hope.
By Max Fisher
“What other way then is there to deal with an enemy of this nature other than obliterate them completely?” Gordon asks. And later, arguing that Hamas will never accept peace and that Israel is justified in doing anything necessary to impose it, “If political leaders and military experts determine that the only way to achieve its goal of sustaining quiet is through genocide is it then permissible to achieve those responsible goals?”
We’ve preserved the full text of the now-deleted blog post below; you can read it for yourself. This is not because Gordon himself is a particularly influential writer, much less a political leader of any kind, but because this post represents an extreme iteration of a much broader problem, in which the conflict and the discourse around it exacerbates and empowers extremism on both sides of the conversation. There is real social science behind this phenomenon, which pushes the politics of the conflict away from peace and toward more hard-line positions, as well as raising voices that de-humanize the “other side” in a way that makes it easier to perpetuate the fighting.
Again, this post is obviously an extreme position, which is why the Times of Israel deleted it, but it is most unusual not for his argument for the plain-stated clumsiness of it. Both the Israeli far-right and Palestinian militant groups will at times advocate for the absolute elimination of the other side from the land; they just know how to do it in a way that won’t raise so many eyebrows.
Judging by the numbers of casualties on both sides in this almost one-month old war one would be led to the conclusion that Israel has resorted to disproportionate means in fighting a far less- capable enemy. That is as far as what meets the eye. But, it’s now obvious that the US and the UN are completely out of touch with the nature of this foe and are therefore not qualified to dictate or enforce the rules of this war – because when it comes to terror there is much more than meets the eye.
I wasn’t aware of this, but it seems that the nature of warfare has undergone a major shift over the years. Where wars were usually waged to defeat the opposing side, today it seems – and judging by the number of foul calls it would indicate – that today’s wars are fought to a draw. I mean, whoever heard of a timeout in war? An NBA Basketball game allows six timeouts for each team during the course of a game, but last I checked this is a war! We are at war with an enemy whose charter calls for the annihilation of our people. Nothing, then, can be considered disproportionate when we are fighting for our very right to live.
The sad reality is that Israel gets it, but its hands are being tied by world leaders who over the past six years have insisted they are such good friends with the Jewish state, that they know more regarding its interests than even they do. But there’s going to have to come a time where Israel feels threatened enough where it has no other choice but to defy international warnings – because this is life or death.
Most of the reports coming from Gazan officials and leaders since the start of this operation have been either largely exaggerated or patently false. The truth is, it’s not their fault, falsehood and deceit is part of the very fabric of who they are and that will never change. Still however, despite their propensity to lie, when your enemy tells you that they are bent on your destruction you believe them. Similarly, when Khaled Meshal declares that no physical damage to Gaza will dampen their morale or weaken their resolve – they have to be believed. Our sage Gedalia the son of Achikam was given intelligence that Yishmael Ben Nesanyah was plotting to kill him. However, in his piety or rather naiveté Gedalia dismissed the report as a random act of gossip and paid no attention to it. To this day, the day following Rosh Hashana is commemorated as a fast day in the memory of Gedalia who was killed in cold blood on the second day of Rosh Hashana during the meal. They say the definition of insanity is repeating the same mistakes over and over. History is there to teach us lessons and the lesson here is that when your enemy swears to destroy you – you take him seriously.
Hamas has stated forthrightly that it idealizes death as much as Israel celebrates life. What other way then is there to deal with an enemy of this nature other than obliterate them completely?
News anchors such as those from CNN, BBC and Al-Jazeera have not missed an opportunity to point out the majority of innocent civilians who have lost their lives as a result of this war. But anyone who lives with rocket launchers installed or terror tunnels burrowed in or around the vicinity of their home cannot be considered an innocent civilian. If you’ll counter, that Hamas has been seen abusing civilians who have attempted to leave their homes in response to Israeli warnings to leave – well then, your beginning to come to terms with the nature of this enemy which should automatically cause the rules of standard warfare to be suspended.
Everyone agrees that Israel has the right to defend itself as well as the right to exercise that right. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has declared it, Obama and Kerry have clearly stated that no one could be expected to sit idle as thousands of rockets rain down on the heads of its citizens, placing them in clear and present danger. It seems then that the only point of contention is regarding the measure of punishment meted out in this situation.
I will conclude with a question for all the humanitarians out there. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clearly stated at the outset of this incursion that his objective is to restore a sustainable quiet for the citizens of Israel. We have already established that it is the responsibility of every government to ensure the safety and security of its people. If political leaders and military experts determine that the only way to achieve its goal of sustaining quiet is through genocide is it then permissible to achieve those responsible goals?