The Gulf of Tonkin Incident, was the largely fallacious "casus belli" used by President Lyndon Johnson, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Secretary of State Dean Rusk to begin unlimited military operations against North Vietnam and Vietcong forces in the southern regions of that divided nation.
Wikipedia, the helpful reference guide for the Internet , provides some background to the events that occurred this very week 48 years ago:
********************"The Gulf of Tonkin incident, or the USS Maddox incident, are the names given to two separate confrontations, one actual and one now recognized as intentionally fabricated, involving North Vietnam and the United States in the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. On August 2, 1964, the destroyer USS Maddox, while performing a signals intelligence patrol as part of DESOTO operations, engaged three North Vietnamese Navy torpedo boats of the 135th Torpedo Squadron. A sea battle resulted, in which the Maddox expended over two hundred eighty 3-inch and 5-inch shells, and in which four USN F-8 Crusader jet fighter bombers strafed the torpedo boats. One US aircraft was damaged, one 14.5 mm round hit the destroyer, three North Vietnamese torpedo boats were damaged, and four North Vietnamese sailors were killed and six were wounded; there were no U.S. casualties.
The second Tonkin Gulf incident was originally claimed by the U.S. National Security Agency to have occurred on August 4, 1964, as another sea battle, but instead may have involved "Tonkin Ghosts" (false radar images) and not actual NVN torpedo boat attacks."*********************http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_of_Tonkin_incident
We now know that President Johnson and his officials lied about the August fourth incident and lied again about the mission of the ships, and in stating that the position of the destroyers "Maddox" and "Turner Joy" were simply patrolling in international waters. (A dubious claim, in light of later revaluations. )
Some suspected this at the time but it wasn't until several years later in a 1970 documentary by the CBS News program "60 Minutes" that reality began to catch up to the chicanery in Washington. The release of the classified "Pentagon Papers" by former US Marine and intelligence analyst, Daniel Ellsberg, also played a major part in opening the eyes of Americans to the deceit.
Many officials after the fact--even Bobby McNamara himself admitted a few years before his death in the Errol Morris documentary "The Fog of War" (2007) that the second and most politically significant attack on August 4 th never occurred.
This was either a "false flag" operation or a mistake that LBJ seized on to thrust America into direct combat operations and ramp up a war that had been previously touted as a war between North and South Vietnam with the Americans in an "advisory" role. The term "advisory" must be considered loosely in light of the fact that there were 15,000 US forces in Vietnam when Lyndon Johnson assumed office at the time of John Kennedy's assassination. It is also clear that, unlike Kennedy, Johnson had zero ability to say "no" to the Pentagon until his own Presidency was at risk in 1968 and the US largely conscript forces has sustained high casualties. With no end in sight and General William Westmoreland braying for 150,000 more troops on top of the over half-million already there, AND that public opinion in his own Democratic Party turning away from him, Johnson chose not to run for re-election.
By the time Lyndon Johnson left office 550,000 American troops were engaged in the war and 20,000 had died. While never officially declared as a war by Congress, as per the Constitutional requirement spelled out directly in the document, a Gulf of Tonkin Resolution giving the President wide powers to wage war was approved on August 9th, 1964. It passed by a wide margin in the Senate. Only two Senators, Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska, voted against this measure.
Another 38,000 thousand Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese would die before this most destructive part of the Vietnam War would finally end almost eleven years after the "USS Maddox Incident".
(below) From the 2007 documentary, "War Made Easy", narrated by Sean Penn: here is a segment devoted to the Maddox incident. It also covers what would happen 39 years later in the run-up to the next major "war of choice" by the US Pentagon chiefs, a willing President, and a gullible major media, against Iraq in 2003. Think we'll get a retraction from the media on that one, ever?