Gulf of Tonkin
August 4, 1964
My fellow Americans: As President and Commander in Chief,
it is my duty to the American people to report that renewed
hostile actions against United States ships on the high
seas in the Gulf of Tonkin have today required me to order
the military forces of the United States to take action
The initial attack on the destroyer Maddox, on August
2, was repeated today by a number of hostile vessels attacking
two U.S. destroyers with torpedoes. The destroyers and
supporting aircraft acted at once on the orders I gave
after the initial act of aggression. We believe at least
two of the attacking boats were sunk. There were no U.S.
The performance of commanders and crews in this engagement
is in the highest tradition of the United States Navy.
But repeated acts of violence against the Armed Forces
of the United States must be met not only with alert defense,
but with positive reply. That reply is being given as I
speak to you tonight. Air action is now in execution against
gunboats and certain supporting facilities in North Vietnam
which have been used in these hostile operations.
In the larger sense this new act of aggression, aimed
directly at our own forces, again brings home to all of
us in the United States the importance of the struggle
for peace and security in southeast Asia. Aggression by
terror against the peaceful villagers of South Vietnam
has now been joined by open aggression on the high seas
against the United States of America.
The determination of all Americans to carry out our full
commitment to the people and to the government of South
Vietnam will be redoubled by this outrage. Yet our response,
for the present, will be limited and fitting. We Americans
know, although others appear to forget, the risks of spreading
conflict. We still seek no wider war.
I have instructed the Secretary of State to make this
position totally clear to friends and to adversaries and,
indeed, to all. I have instructed Ambassador Stevenson
to raise this matter immediately and urgently before the
Security Council of the United Nations. Finally, I have
today met with the leaders of both parties in the Congress
of the United States and I have informed them that I shall
immediately request the Congress to pass a resolution making
it clear that our Government is united in its determination
to take all necessary measures in support of freedom and
in defense of peace in southeast Asia.
I have been given encouraging assurance by these leaders
of both parties that such a resolution will be promptly
introduced, freely and expeditiously debated, and passed
with overwhelming support. And just a few minutes ago I
was able to reach Senator Goldwater and I am glad to say
that he has expressed his support of the statement that
I am making to you tonight.
It is a solemn responsibility to have to order even limited
military action by forces whose overall strength is as
vast and as awesome as those of the United States of America,
but it is my considered conviction, shared throughout your
Government, that firmness in the right is indispensable
today for peace; that firmness will always be measured.
Its mission is peace.