In Robert McNamara’s memoir, In Retrospect, McNamara provides intimate details on the events surrounding both the Kennedy, and Johnson administration. Moreover, he reflects on the some of the most controversial issues surrounding the cold war era, specifically, the “the Tonkin Golf Incident”, and the resolution it gave way to. McNamara examines what he believes to be the key questions surrounding these events that have sparked debate for decades. Did attacks occur on two US naval warships in the Gulf of Tonkin? Were these attacks provoked by the Johnson administration, in order to justify a declaration of war? Was the subsequent U.S. retaliation justified? McNamara attempts to answers these questions, based on his recollection of the events leading up to and after the Gulf of Tonkin resolution was passed. However, upon close examination of the facts and cross-referencing from other sources, it appears much of McNamara’s account proves largely inaccurate, and lacks important detail. Essentially, McNamara’s memoir can be seen as an attempt to admonish himself of the controversy. He removes himself from many of the important events, and gives the illusion that he was a mere observer of the unfortunate incidents that would lead to a declaration of war by President Johnson. Primarily his account is lacking in it’s accuracy of the intelligence gathered after the two Naval war ships Turner Joy and Maddox were attacked on August 2nd and 4th of 1964. Moreover, he fails to present an accurate picture of the case for the Tonkin Resolution that took place two days after the attack on August 6th.
McNamara does recognize the importance of the alleged attacks surrounding the Gulf of Tonkin, as they would be the main motivation behind President Johnson resolution. The subsequent resolution would increase US military personnel in Vietnam, from 16,000 to 550,000 men. Thus, he appears to present in depth detail as to the probability these attacks actually occurred. He states In Retrospect, “The evidence of the first attack is indisputable. The second attack seems probable but not certain.”1 While this may not seem like a statement that a man attempting to clear his name would make, the evidence he uses to justify his thoughts would prove inaccurate. Many historians today do acknowledge that the August 2nd attack did occur, with McNamara obtaining an enemy shell fragment from the ship as proof. However, numerous studies and research as recent as 2005, have proven that the second attack on August 4th did not take place.
In the events leading up to the second alleged attack, McNamara discusses CIA covert guerilla operations that took place in conjunction with South Vietnamese forces, know as the 34A operations. In addition, the US navy was conducting “a system of global electronic reconnaissance”, that collected radio and radar signals, “emanating from the shore-based stations on the periphery of Communist countries such as the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, and, North Vietnam.”2 These operations were known as DESOTO missions. McNamara states that “Although some individuals knew of both 34A operations and DESOTO patrols, few senior officials planned or followed in detail the operational schedules of both.”3 This statement concerning the overall cooperation between the two operations does prove accurate in other accounts. However, McNamara’s statement that “Desoto patrols differed substantially in purpose and procedure from 34A operations”4 can actually be seen as incorrect. A top secret document declassified in 2005, in one instance gave orders to a DESOTO patrol to "Locate and identify all coastal radar transmitters, note all navigation aids along the DVR's [Democratic Republic of Vietnam's] coastline, and monitor the Vietnamese junk fleet for a possible connection to DRV/Viet Cong maritime supply and infiltration routes."5 This mission was essentially planned to gather information that would be useful to 34A raid operations in...
Bibliography: Hanyok, Robert J. “Skunks, Bogies, Silent Hounds, and Flying Fish: The Gulf of Tonkin Mystery, 2-4 August 1964,” Cryptologic Quarterly, (2005): 10
-Presented key facts about intelligence and encrypted messages from August 2nd and 4th
McNamara, Robert S. In Retrospect, New York: Times Books, (1995), 128
-My primary source account, as told by Robert McNamara
Nathan, James A. “Robert McNamara 's Vietnam deception." USA Today Magazine 124, no. 2604 (September 1995): 32. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed April 8, 2013).
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