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Cold War Files: All Units: Multimedia: LBJ and McNamara on the Gulf of Tonkin Incident

LBJ and McNamara on the Gulf of Tonkin Incident

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As news of an attack by a North Vietnamese PT boat on the Maddox reached Washington, administration officials publicly characterized the incident as unprovoked aggression. Privately, however, President Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara conceded that U.S. covert operations in the Gulf of Tonkin had probably provoked the North Vietnamese attack.

Facing pressure on the right for a large scale military response and from the left for disengagement, and not wanting to be forced down either path, Johnson used information to influence the political debate. To the most vocal critics on the right calling for a forceful retaliation, Johnson and his senior advisers quietly sent word that U.S. covert operations in the region had probably provoked the North Vietnamese attacks. In public, however, the administration vehemently denied such claims and went to considerable lengths to discredit them, maintaining the official line that the attacks were unprovoked.

Source Information

http://www.whitehousetapes.org. Original tape WH6808.03, #4633.

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