Study Guide

Tonkin Gulf Resolution Quotes

By U.S. Congress

  • Warfare

    […] naval units of the Communist regime in Vietnam, in violation of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and of international law, have deliberately and repeatedly attacked United States naval vessels lawfully present in international waters, and have thereby created a serious threat to international peace […] (2)

    This is kind of like Congress saying, "just to be perfectly clear we're talking about war here." By discussing the military attacks against American ships, the U.S. has a defendable reason for going to war. Typically, when a nation is purposefully attacked by another nation that's grounds for war, and other nations would probably agree. (Think Pearl Harbor.) Therefore, Congress sets the scene for war by focusing on the whole "we were attacked" statement.

    […] the Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression. (5)

    This is the first of two statements clearly implying war. Notice that "going to war" or "declaring war" are nowhere to be seen, which is probably on purpose. In this case, "repel any armed attack" suggests using military force (duh), yet the word choice makes it seem more defensive and less aggressive. However, the "all necessary measures" part clearly suggests using a lot of military force.

    […] the United States is, therefore, prepared, as the President determines, to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, to assist any member of protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom. (6)

    The second statement about waging war, this quote specifically references armed force. Most people would probably agree that using armed force at this level means war, but again, the word "war" isn't found anywhere. Notice again the crafty choice of words, as the Congress spins this as a defensive operation, assisting nations who are in harm's way. Being defensive always looks better than being offensive.

  • Fear

    Whereas naval units of the Communist regime in Vietnam […] have deliberately and repeatedly attacked United States naval vessels […] (2)

    Some pretty clear finger-pointing here. Congress could have simply put "North Vietnam has attacked our ships" and it would still anger Americans, yet they throw in "communist regime." Why? To play on Americans' fear.

    Communism was a dirty word during the Cold War, and America was under the spell of a very strong sense of "us and them." (Hint: "them" was any communist nation.) Notice the use of "regime" as well, suggesting a powerful, evil dictatorship.

    Whereas these attackers are part of a deliberate and systematic campaign of aggression that the Communist regime in North Vietnam has been waging against its neighbors […] (3)

    Again, throwing in "communist regime" as well as "campaign of aggression" really drives home the point that North Vietnam is the clear enemy. Tonkin Gulf Resolution wasn't necessarily meant for the American public to hear, like a speech might, but Congress still needed to be convincing. They can't write a legal document saying "okay, we're off to war!" without any sort of justification. In this case, the justification is clear—America is battling communism, because it's the enemy.

    Whereas the United States is assisting the peoples of southeast Asia to protest their freedom […] (4)

    Here Congress taps into a sense of values and democracy. By implying that North Vietnam was taking away people's freedom, Congress was sure to get Americans on their side. America is a nation born from the right to protest and be free of tyranny, so it's a safe move to use language like this in a war resolution. Most importantly, this quote suggests that America is the good guy, coming to help smaller countries that only want to be free (whether that's true or not).

  • Revenge

    […] naval units of the Communist regime in Vietnam, in violation of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and of international law, have deliberately and repeatedly attacked United States naval vessels lawfully present in international waters, and have thereby created a serious threat to international peace […] (2)

    Congress puts Vietnam's attack front and center here. By pointing out that aggression, they are justifying military action in response. Notice the finger-pointing: the document is calling Vietnam out for violating international law, and attacking ships that were legally stationed. By using phrases like "threat to international peace" the U.S. is making Vietnam look like the bad guys of the world, which adds to the justification for action against them.

    Whereas these attackers are part of a deliberate and systematic campaign of aggression that the Communist regime in North Vietnam has been waging against its neighbors […] (3)

    The idea of revenge extends beyond just U.S. ships. By stating that North Vietnam is attacking other countries in the region (which may or may not have been true), the U.S. is giving itself justification (in the eyes of the world) for intervening. As in, since America is a big, strong country they can go in and defend all the small, weak countries who are being attacked. The key is that the U.S. and these other countries were (allegedly) attacked first, which makes a military response much easier to accept.

    […] the Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression. (5)

    Now this is some careful wording by Congress. They say that America is going to use armed force to fight back against attacks that targeted the U.S. They mean that the floodgates are now open for the U.S. to wage war in Vietnam for whatever ends America might desire. In this case, the hidden agenda (or not so hidden) is to combat the spread of communism. The idea of attacking out of revenge, or protecting others, is simply a convenient excuse in order to not look like the bad guys.

  • Freedom & Tyranny

    Whereas these attackers are part of a deliberate and systematic campaign of aggression that the Communist regime in North Vietnam has been waging against its neighbors and the nations joined with them in the collective defense of their freedom […] (3)

    Consistent with the entire Cold War, Congress is trying to put America and freedom together on one side of the battlefield, and communism and tyranny on the other. Notice the word choice here, where Congress calls on America to defend freedom. Such phrasing makes it very clear where the two nations stand, and the goal here is to make America (and America's actions) the good guys. Most people would agree that freedom is better than tyranny, so the more Congress can appeal to a sense of freedom, the more acceptable their actions will seem.

    Whereas the United States is assisting the peoples of southeast Asia to protest their freedom and […] desires only that these people should be left in peace to work out their destinies in their own way […] (4)

    Now here's some patriotic freedom talk for you. Subtly referencing America's own history of becoming a nation through the fight for rights, Congress is clearly putting the U.S. on the right side of history here. By talking about leaving these nations "in peace to work out their destinies," Congress is making it look as though U.S. involvement is simply to help other nations gain the same freedoms that Americans enjoy. Of course, they're also implying that without U.S. help those nations will be stuck in tyranny.

    […] the United States is, therefore, prepared […] to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom. (6)

    If it wasn't already crystal clear, America is on the side of freedom. But that's the point—by repeating over and over how this is a fight for freedom, against tyranny, Congress is winning over the American people and the international community.

    By making involvement in Vietnam purely about helping other countries defend their freedom, Congress doesn't have to go into detail about how the true goals may involve other issues that might not be as popular to voice out loud (blocking communism, setting up a defense against communist China, etc.).

  • Imperialism

    To promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia […] (1)

    The Tonkin Gulf Resolution begins with this line, which means it's pretty important. Congress is stating right away that the goal here is peace and security. Smart way to start, because they don't want anyone to wonder what America's intentions are. By bringing up these noble aims early (and often), the U.S. looks like the helpful protector, rather than some sort of imperialist land-grabber.

    Whereas the United States is assisting the peoples of southeast Asia to protest their freedom and has no territorial, military or political ambitions in that area, but desires only that these people should be left in peace to work out their destinies in their own way […] (4)

    Here's the obvious reference to imperialism. Members of Congress aren't dummies, they know that the world might be skeptical of America's intentions in Vietnam. By making it very clear what the U.S. is not going after, they are helping their case against imperialism. Congress straight up says what everyone is thinking— "No, we're not after land or political gain."

    Now, whether or not that's actually true doesn't matter, because by stating it so plainly and clearly Congress is putting forth noble intentions. (Just to be clear, the U.S. did not take over any territory. How could we, with that whole losing-the-war thing…)

    The United States regards as vital to its national interest and to world peace the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia. (6)

    Does this sound like the first quote above? It should. If you want someone to believe something, repeat it. (It's science.) By repeating that America's intentions are peace and security, Congress is making it very clear that the U.S. is not after any imperialistic gains. This is kind of like a safety net—if things go bad in Vietnam (what do you know, turns out they did…), America has some defense if they are ever accused of getting involved for the gain of territory.

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