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Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War Hardcover – December 9, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

An illuminating, almost minute-by-minute reconstruction of the events that took place in the Tonkin Gulf in August 1964, and an analysis of decisions in Washington that led to the massive American escalation of the Vietnam War in 1965. Moise (History/Clemson Univ.) offers a massively detailed study of the Aug. 2 and Aug. 4, 1964, incidents in the Tonkin Gulf off the coast of North Vietnam, after which Congress overwhelmingly passed a resolution giving the Johnson administration authority to wage war against Communism in North and South Vietnam. Moise is careful to point out that the incidents ``did not really `cause' the outbreak of large-scale war in Vietnam.'' As he shows, in August 1964 the war in South Vietnam was heating up rapidly, and the White House and Pentagon were already making plans for large- scale intervention. Still, the events surrounding the Tonkin Gulf incident--including covert American-supported actions against North Vietnam that had begun in February 1964--as well as the actual incidents themselves deserve close study. That is exactly what Moise provides in his book, in which he augments a thorough examination of primary sources with interviews with many key players, including former North Vietnamese naval officers. Moise's readable, if sometimes overly detailed, reconstruction of the events in the water leaves little doubt that the small battle on Aug. 2 was not an unprovoked North Vietnamese attack on ``an innocent [American] reconnaissance vessel,'' as the Johnson administration contended. Rather, North Vietnam attacked the destroyer Maddox, which was loaded with electronic eavesdropping equipment, in retaliation for months of American-supported attacks along the coast. Moise also convincingly shows that no North Vietnamese attacks on American ships took place on Aug. 4, although he concludes that American action was based on a misunderstanding, not on a provocation ``knowingly faked'' by the American government. The most inclusive look by far at the portentous Tonkin Gulf incident. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.


[A] refreshingly welcome addition to the Vietnam War literature, and certainly one for the shelves of serious students."Intelligence and National Security"

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: University of North Carolina Press; 1st edition (December 9, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807823007
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807823002
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #537,861 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Steven Babcock on February 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent book and anyone with an interest in the Viet Nam War should read it. The events of July and August 1964 are thoroughly examined and analyzed step by step. There are interviews with many of the people who were involved in the incident on both sides. It has a good technical discussion of the military equipment(ships and radar/sonar systems) that greatly contributes to an understanding of what happened on those "dark and stormy nights". This is definitely the best book about the Tonkin Gulf incident. The author is a History Professor at Clemson University and I had the priviledge of taking his Vietnam War and Modern Military History courses back in 1993. He told our class that he was writing a book about the Tonkin Gulf incident so it was great to finally read it after all these years.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By jimtranr on November 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover
As impressive as the wealth of detail seems to be, the book is incomplete in its account and defective in its analysis of what occurred in the Tonkin Gulf on 4 August 1964. I was at General Quarters in USS Turner Joy's Combat Information Center that night, and what approached and fired at least one torpedo and aimed a searchlight at us was no phantom. So the incident was real. The book's problem appears to be the choices and decisions the author made in the selection, evaluation, and utilization of both documentary and interview sources. Countervailing evidence is either dismissed, given short shrift, or not cited. The technical discussion of radar and sonar operation--particularly the latter in a high-speed evasive-maneuvering combat situation--is incomplete and unfortunately misleading as it applies to the events of that night. Where the book has value is in its recounting of the events and processes of decision-making at the policymaker level in the wake of the incident. But as an account of the incident itself it leaves much to be desired.

For a more detailed critique of Edwin Moise's book, see What's_Wrong_with_Tonkin_Gulf_Incident_History.pdf. Since that file's not stored within the system, I can't post a direct link. But you can reach it by googling that title.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Ralph White on April 26, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In August of 1984, in order to showcase his anti-communist credentials during the presidential campaign against Barry Goldwater, Lyndon Johnson started a war in Vietnam. He was abetted by his Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, and his Secretary of State, Dean Rusk who both lied, not once or twice, but habitually, to the Senate and to the American public. President Johnson and Secretaries Rusk and McNamara knew the facts and they willfully misrepresented them. This wasn't a case of a good faith error in interpretation. It was blatant dishonesty. When the truth became inescapable, they conspired in a cover-up. Author Edwin Moïse reports in damning detail everything that happened that fateful night out on the water and he draws the inescapable conclusion that there were no enemy boats anywhere near the two American destroyers. They were shooting at phantom images on radar, and they were mistaking their own propeller noise for torpedoes. Fighter planes sent in for support, and surveillance planes sent to gather evidence came back empty handed. Yet this "Gulf of Tonkin Incident" was used as the justification for the "Gulf of Tonkin Resolution," which became the document which enabled President Johnson to prosecute a war which ultimately claimed fifty-seven thousand American lives. This is perhaps the most painful chapter in the 234 years of American history, and the most embarrassing. Yet not until Edwin Moïse's book was published in 1997, was the full truth made available to the American public. It has not resulted in the outrage it should.
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8 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This excellent book demonstrates that the Gulf of Tonkin "incident" was not really an incident at all. It explains in detail the events that lead up to the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and the escaltion of the war that followed. My only complaint is that the author says that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was based on a "misunderstanding" and not "knowingly faked." Even if that is true, the fact remains that it was used as a convenient excuse to escelate war. In addition, the fact that there was no effort on the part of the government to determine the facts behind the Tonkin incident demonstrates that the government wanted war, and were just looking for the right excuse.
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3 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Bruce P. Barten on May 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Sometimes the details that matter aren't captured on videotape and broadcast around the world, like more recent events in the year 2001. What history doesn't have to show what was going on is a picture of how things were set up for this book. "Around noon on August 2, at the White House, President Johnson discussed the American response to the August 2 incident with Secretary Rusk, George Ball, Cyrus Vance, and Tom Hughes of the State Department; General Wheeler; Colonel Ralph Steakley of the Joint Staff; and Winston Cornelius of the CIA. At this meeting the president not only confirmed the decision that sent the Maddox back into the Gulf of Tonkin along with the Turner Joy, he authorized the continuation of OPLAN 34A raids (definitely the one scheduled for the night of August 3-4, and perhaps also those for the night of August 4-5; the procedure of waiting for the results of each raid to be evaluated, before approval of the next was initiated . . . would not have been practiced when there were to be raids on consecutive nights)." (pp. 103-4).
The amount of detail in this book could support a view that secret operations are those things which are not revealed in order to create the greatest spin in the direction of the psychological warfare advantage desired by whoever is keeping the secrets. To get a full appreciation of the kind of restraint which the American government displayed in this incident, the whole picture should be compared to how well the participants in World War II responded to the order given by the president in August, 1945 (a mere 19 years before the Tonkin incident) not to drop any more atomic bombs on people whose government exhibited any hostility toward military activities directed by the United States of America.
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