August 6, 1964 – A McNamara News Conference – View From The Pentagon
Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara held a news conference on August 6, 1964 to update news media on the rapidly-escalating situation in Vietnam.
After the initial incident, and U.S. retaliation, there were no reports of additional attacks or reprisals going on in the Gulf of Tonkin, aside from the War of words that had developed, with Radio Beijing, Radio Hanoi and Radio Moscow issuing varying degrees of rebuke on U.S. claims of North Vietnamese attacks on U.S. warships.
Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara held a news conference to relay that information as well as take questions from the media over the incident itself and the developments that were ongoing. Amid claims and counter-claims a buildup of presence in Southeast Asia was the solution and the inevitability of a shooting war was becoming clearly apparent with each confusing hour that passed.
At the time, the message was; the Communist desire to gain control of Southeast Asia – that the entire region was vulnerable, each country “falling over like Dominoes”, and that it was up to the U.S. to come to the aid of these countries. A general feeling of indignation that “we had been attacked” brought about support for a war resolution of some sort – the sooner, the better.
However, in retrospect – and by McNamara’s own admission and by release of declassified documents pertaining to the incident by various National Security agencies – the incident never happened. And that the “attack” was mistaken radar shadows, prompting the Maddox to claim they were under attack and to open fire.
But on August 6, 1964, we were told, in no uncertain terms, that America was under attack in Vietnam and that American lives were at risk.
Had we known then, what we know now, it may have prevented the loss of some 60,000 American lives, countless Vietnamese and the on-going suicide rate among veterans of the Vietnam War to this day.
But that’s hindsight – at the time it was different. And to get an idea of how different it was at the time, here is that News Conference with Defense Secretary Robert McNamara as he held it on August 6, 1964/