Study Guide

Tonkin Gulf Resolution Timeline

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September 2, 1945

Declaration of Independence, Vietnam-Style

Just like America before, Vietnam had its own Declaration of Independence. Except, you know, Vietnam and America wouldn't end up getting along very well, so that's kinda awkward.

The Vietnamese Declaration was written by the guy in charge of North Vietnam—Ho Chi Minh—and it actually included some pretty similar stuff as the American version, like "all men are created equal" and that individuals are entitled to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." (Source)

July 1950

U.S. Says Bonjour to France, Au Revoir to Vietnam

Vietnam began a revolution against France, and who does the U.S. join? The small, upstart, independence-yearning country that reminds America of its younger self?

Nope, the U.S. joins France.

And loses against Vietnam.

Fortunately for the U.S., no American soldiers were involved, just American dollars. You know, this wasting of money and loss of a fight are eerily similar to what was about to happen in the full-on Vietnam War…

May 7, 1954

Throwdown at Dien Bien Phu

You could compare the battle of Dien Bien Phu to America's victory at Yorktown back in the 1700s, which effectively ended the American Revolution against Britain. Two hundred years later at Dien Bien Phu, the French were defeated in Vietnam's revolution, eventually pushing France out of the country and setting up Vietnam to be independent.

July 21, 1954

Division at the 17th Parallel

After achieving independence, the situation in Vietnam wasn't exactly clear. Ho Chi Minh wanted a communist country; America, France, and other Western powers said no way (that whole "domino theory" thing).

A conference in Geneva, Switzerland was arranged to decide the situation in Vietnam, and in the end the country was split into North (communist) and South (democratic). The dividing line? The 17th parallel (that's the latitude line for everyone who dozed off in geography class).

November 2, 1963

Assassination of Diem

Ngo Diem was the leader of democratic South Vietnam, but he wasn't doing a great job at leading. There was corruption, confusion in the government, and a whole lot of religious problems. The Christianity vs. Buddhism issue was so extreme that some monks protested the government by lighting themselves on fire in the streets (warning: graphic content if you click here for a photo).

Ngo Diem was assassinated in an uprising against the government, and things went from bad to worse for Vietnam.

August 2 and 4, 1964

Gulf of Tonkin Incident

These are the infamous attacks that led directly to the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which brought America into the Vietnam War.

Here's how it went down:

Two American warships were off the coast of North Vietnam, keeping an eye on the communist nation. The USS Maddox was reportedly shot at by the Vietnamese on August 2nd, and the Turner Joy on August 4th. The ships were in international waters, and their presence was legal. Neither ship was sunk, nor were there any casualties.

There is a ton of confusion about what actually happened on those two fateful days, and later reports suggest the possibility that no one was ever fired upon. (Source)

August 7, 1964

Tonkin Gulf Resolution

Congress heard about American ships being shot at by the Vietnamese, and said, essentially, "Aw heck no, not against the U.S. of A. you don't."

They immediately wrote up a plan to go to war, called the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. This short and sweet document blames North Vietnam for the attack, claims the country is a communist threat to other Southeast Asia nations, and gives the U.S. president full command to launch military action against the aggressors.

Boom, Vietnam War in full swing, just like that.

March 2, 1965

Operation Rolling Thunder

A nominee for "coolest event name in a history book" (not that the competition is that stiff—we're looking at you, Seven Years War), Rolling Thunder was America's bombing campaign of North Vietnam.

The goal was to terrorize the enemy with day after day of horrifying bombing. Or as it turned out, year after year. Yeah, we'd be terrified.

March 8, 1965

Boots on the Ground

The first American soldiers officially landed at Vietnam after the bombs cleared the way. We say "officially" because U.S. military advisors had been present in Vietnam for over a decade by that point, but they could now be called soldiers.

Why was that such a big deal? Well, if you're bombing a country to smithereens and bringing in troops, it's a full-on invasion, no more deceit or confusion about what America was doing there. We were in Vietnam to crush and destroy.

August 15, 1973

U.S. Involvement Ends

Fast forward eight years, and the war ends in disaster for the U.S. We're talking failed attacks, a cunning hit-and-run enemy (the Viet Cong), horrendous acts against civilians and soldiers on both sides, televised coverage of the war, and strong protests at home.

America needed to withdraw.

President Nixon ordered a ceasefire, and negotiated a deal with North Vietnam. U.S. soldiers were pulled out, and immediately afterward South Vietnam fell to the North, uniting the country under communism. There you have it; the only war America has lost.

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