The Tonkin Gulf Resolution was a joint resolution passed by the U.S. Congress on August 7th 1964; this act authorized American military action in Southeast Asia. The resolution is highly significant to the Vietnam War because it gave recently sworn in U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson complete authorization to use military force in Southeast Asia. Up to this point there was no official declaration of war by United States Congress, however, with this resolution passed conventional military acts were lawfully allowed to take place under U.S. command
The original conflict, known as the Tonkin Gulf Incident, was a naval battle that took place on August 2nd – 4th 1964. The engagement was fought between North Vietnamese Torpedo Squadron 135 and the two American destroyers USS Maddox and USS Turner Joy. The USS Maddox was assigned to an intelligence mission just off the Philippines. On August 2nd the Maddox broadcasted a message that they were under attack by three Vietnamese torpedo ships, the Turner Joy came to their aid and together they fended off the attack. After the attack all three Vietnamese ships sustained significant damages. Two days later the Maddox and Turner both reported being under attack again, together they drove off the torpedo ships.
However the North Vietnamese involved in the first battle claimed to not have been present on the day of the second attack. A further investigation by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee revealed that the Maddox had engaged the torpedo boats first on August second instead of vice versa. They also concluded that there may have been no Vietnamese threat on August fourth; they were simply retrieving the damaged torpedo boats. The final report stated “It is not simply that there is a different story as to what happened; it is that no attack happened that night. [...] In truth, Hanoi's navy was engaged in nothing that night but the salvage of two of the boats damaged on August 2.” Later on President Lyndon B. Johnson privately commented “For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there.”