Study Guide

Tonkin Gulf Resolution Main Idea

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  • Main Idea

    Gunnin' for War

    Pin the blame on the bad guys and march off to war as patriotically as possible.

    This short and sweet resolution by Congress claims that communist North Vietnam attacked U.S. ships, and uses that aggression as a clear reason for retaliation. The President of the United States (that'd be Lyndon B. Johnson) was given the full support of Congress in terms of funding and resources to, uh, deal with the situation and keep Southeast Asia safe.

    Bottom line: the Tonkin Gulf Resolution is a declaration of war in the form of a presidential permission slip.

    Questions About Main Idea

    1. Why did the United States care about protecting the freedom of Vietnam in the 1960s?
    2. What evidence or rationale does the Resolution give for essentially going to war?
    3. Are there dangers in giving the president unlimited authority and resources to wage war? What are they?
    4. What were some of the reasons for and against going to war in Vietnam, from the perspective of the government and from the perspective of the people?

    Chew on This

    The United States officially entered the Vietnam War because its military ships were attacked, it desired freedom for the people of Vietnam, and it believed it was acting in the interests of world peace.

    The United States used a questionable attack against its military ships as an excuse to combat the spread of communism in Southeast Asia.

  • Brief Summary

    The Set-Up

    "The Vietnamese have fired on our ships? That's it, we're going to war."

    Not a direct quote, but that was the feeling in Congress after the Gulf of Tonkin Incident where there were reports of Vietnam attacking multiple U.S. ships. Congress whips up the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in a speedy nine hours, and—boom—America is off to war.

    The Text

    Short and sweet, the Tonkin Gulf Resolution is only a single page. (Gotta hand it to Congress, as some of their legislation can have page numbers in the thousands.) But that's kind of the point here—this document is pretty close to a declaration of war, and it was meant to be put into action right away.

    The text does three main things:

    1. It blames North Vietnam for attacking American ships at sea.
    2. It points a finger at North Vietnam for threatening to spread communism to other Southeast Asia nations.
    3. It says that the President of the United States may take "all necessary measures" (5) to stop North Vietnam's aggression.

    Patriotic, forceful, and no nonsense. U-S-A! U-S-A!


    If you mess with our ships, prepare to face the full force of America's military might.

  • Questions

    1. Congress briefly references the naval attack at the beginning of this Resolution, but quickly switches focus to the peace and freedom of other Southeast Asia countries. Why wouldn't Congress dwell more on the fact that they were attacked (similar to say, Pearl Harbor)?
    2. Did the rest of the world believe that the U.S. was truly being the nice guy and wanting to help in Vietnam? Or did they think America was up to something else?
    3. How much was the American public made aware of concerning the Gulf of Tonkin attack and resulting Resolution?
    4. What are some potential results, good or bad, that might come from giving the president unlimited resources to combat an enemy?
    5. Is the Tonkin Gulf Resolution a declaration of war? What's the difference, if any, and what's so important about whether or not it's a declaration of war?

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