Proof of LBJ’s Lies About Having “Inherited” Vietnam Escalation – And How “HINOs” (Historians in Name Only) Have Repeated Those Lies

Front Page of Pacific Stars and Stripes, October 4, 1963

The Stars and Stripes newspaper reported six weeks before his assassination, as he planned ahead for the 1964 election, that JFK had sent Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Maxwell Taylor to Vietnam on an “inspection” mission to provide a basis to accomplish his own pre-established objective: To bring 1,000 of the military advisors home by that Christmas, and to bring all the remaining men back after his reelection, by the end of 1965.

Colonel L. Fletcher Prouty, who served under the Joint Chiefs of Staff as “Chief of Special Operations” during the Kennedy Administration, wrote a lengthy memorandum to researcher Harold Weisberg in May, 1991 (the full document appears on page 2 of this essay) with the front page of the above article attached to it. He expressed “surprise” that this very important information, embodied in National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) #263 was ignored by practically all historians. In summary of this document, he explained that JFK had begun planning in May or June of 1963 to absolutely withdraw 1,000 men by the end of the year and all the rest by the end of 1965, regardless of the state of the war. He explained how the trip by Secretary McNamara and General Maxwell was merely “just for headlines” when they returned with a “report” that had been written by Bobby Kennedy and Marine General Victor Krulak.

The New York Times on October 3rd downplayed the same story (among other newspapers, and people, like Noam Chomsky, still repeat) , under the headline “Vietnam Victory by the End of ’65 Envisaged by U.S. — Officials Say War May Be Won if Political Crisis Does Not Hamstring Effort.” That single headline, like the story itself, twice stated that only a “victory” by South Vietnam would result in bringing troops home. Professor Chomsky — self-identified as the “smartest man alive” and brilliant beyond description — has still not read and comprehended this essential point, since he has repeatedly stated that he never studied the JFK assassination because “it made no difference in the direction of U.S. foreign policy.” According to the document that he has ignored for decades, the difference was that, instead of bringing 15,000 men home in 1965, in the decade that began that year, 10,000,000 men were sent into that absurdly meaningless morass. No difference?

As this document attests, it was never JFK’s intention to condition withdrawal on “winning” the war: he intended to pull all of the advisors out regardless of how the Vietnam Civil War (as it was then) played out; that point has been well established many years ago by a number of researchers.[1] That not-so-subtle difference in how these two versions of the same story was rendered was not nearly the last time this deceit was asserted. But the Times version — a false meme at the time — morphed into the accurate version when President Kennedy was assassinated and Lyndon B. Johnson took the reins of power, after which the question of pulling troops out would always be connected to “winning” it.

Within days of becoming president Lyndon Johnson started down the road of Americanizing the Vietnam War by reversing Kennedy’s plans to withdraw from it by 1965. Instead, Johnson began the escalation during that same period and continued, all during his reign in the White House, to steadily increase US military presence and commitments, even as he publicly lamented how he had “inherited” the mess.

LBJ Choreographs the Americanization of the Vietnam Civil War

Shortly after he became President, Lyndon Johnson tasked his National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy with drawing up a joint operation with South Vietnam to “bully” North Vietnam into attacking U.S. Navy warships as the means to provoke a clash that would ensure his long-desired plan to Americanize the Vietnam War.

That plan was set to begin, not coincidentally, exactly three months before the 1964 presidential election, as a way to guarantee a patriotic “rush” and thus ensure his victory. Yet the North Vietnamese leadership sensed a set-up and balked; there was no attack on either the USS Maddox or USS C. Turner Joy — both Navy destroyers sent at Johnson’s direction into the Gulf of Tonkin for the very purpose of provoking a confrontation.

The original incident on August 2, 1964, if it occurred at all, was little more than “a shot across the bow” set off by a local commander, not by anyone of rank in North Vietnam. Two days later, the reality was that the only military action involved imaginary boats engaging in a phantom three-hour “battle” that had more in common with modern-day video games than reality. The only shots taken—hundreds of high-explosive shells fired by American guns—were wasted as they fell into the sea.

Commander James Stockdale, after spending the night flying over the Maddox and Turner Joy, reported on his return: “No boats, no boat wakes, no ricochets off boats—nothing but black sea and American firepower.” He also stated that he and other pilots were shocked when they realized the next day that the tenor of the messages emanating from Washington
did not appear to acknowledge that there had been no attack. During all of the confusion (it isn’t clear whether it was the cause or the effect), the communications network virtually collapsed due to the number of FLASH messages being transmitted; this caused the overloaded system to slow to a crawl. Among the messages which should have stopped the panic, sent by the senior officer aboard to officials in the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House stated:[2]


The only thing that attacked the Maddox or Turner Joy was bad weather conditions; the confusion was caused by a frantic crew primed to expect an imminent attack; they did not realize that their commander in chief had a hair-trigger finger and was anxious to portray himself as a great, wise and patient leader who wanted the public to think that he was fighting mightily to avoid the very war that he was simultaneously, and secretly, trying desperately to provoke.

Oklahoma Congressman and House Majority Leader Carl Albert had overheard a telephone conversation (evidently, not coincidentally), as Johnson was trying to enlist supporters for the cause; Johnson had held Albert over after a breakfast presentation with other House leaders. The telephone call, between LBJ and DEFSEC McNamara, was about a report regarding the two destroyers supposedly under attack by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. Albert heard Johnson say, “’I’ll tell you what I want. I not only want those patrol boats that attacked the Maddox destroyed, I want everything at that harbor destroyed; I want the whole works destroyed. I want to give them a real dose.”[3]

Like many cowards, Johnson loved to “talk tough.” He often used the phrase “going for the jugular” to describe how vicious he could be when he thought his honor, or political position, was under attack. “‘They thought they could frighten the President of the United States,’ he said after Vietcong terrorist attacks had brought retaliatory US air strikes to the North, adding: ‘They just didn’t know this President.’”[4]

On 7 August 1964, Johnson’s skills with meticulously-timed choreography was on full display as he went to Congress armed with the draft resolution that he had McGeorge Bundy prepare in advance of these “attacks,” which authorized him to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.” It was intended to give him a “blank check” to conduct the war in complete autonomy, using the armed forces however he wished in Vietnam, free of congressional supervision.

Johnson’s success in his cunningly designed false flag operation resulted in the nearly-unanimous passage of a joint resolution by Congress.  The only votes against it came from Senators Wayne Morse (D-OR) and Ernest Gruening (D-AK). Gruening stated that his opposition was based upon “sending our American boys into combat in a war in which we have no business, which is not our war, into which we have been misguidedly drawn, which is steadily being escalated”. In retrospect, those simple and straightforward words were the most profoundly rare and brilliant ones spoken by anyone that day on Capitol Hill.

Johnson cunningly used the Vietnam issue as part of his presidential campaign, positioning himself as doing everything he could to contain America’s Communist enemies while steadfastly avoiding war, in contrast to the saber-rattling Senator Goldwater. While he wanted to portray himself as prudent and cautious compared to Goldwater, he also did not want to appear to be a “pushover” for some “tin-horn dictator of a fourth rate” country.

Simultaneously with the escalation, through the next three years – with the help of the “Deep State” establishment and their mainstream media (MSM) reporters – he would falsely complain about how his hands were tied, that the “quagmire” had been started by his predecessors. Adding more contradictory lies to the mix during the same time frame, Johnson repeatedly assured the American people that things were going well there, even while acknowledging that they would have to carry “perhaps for a long time the burden of a confusing and costly war in Vietnam.”

But in private, to the few with whom he chose to confide the truth – as he did to his CIA briefer Colonel John Downie, in his last session with Johnson in 1966, after Downie had repeatedly “urged him to get out of Vietnam – a frustrated LBJ pounded the table and exclaimed, ‘I cannot get out of Vietnam, John, my friends are making too much money.’”[5]

The Long-Delayed Truth of LBJ’s False Flag Op Finally Revealed

Almost immediately after the passage of the resolution, the iconoclastic independent journalist I. F. Stone, writing in “I.F. Stone’s Weekly” – using evidence drawn from a close reading and analysis of published accounts – became the first American journalist to challenge President Lyndon B. Johnson’s account of the Gulf of Tonkin incident.[6]  Unfortunately, Stone’s newsletter had a very limited circulation, so not very many people knew about it since the major newspapers and broadcast networks carefully avoided such critiques.

Shortly after that, essays questioning the rationality of the military build-up began, notably in such “underground” publications as Ramparts. In 1965, William F. Pepper wrote “Children of Vietnam,” for example, showing the tragic effects of the earliest American involvement in crossing the line – from JFK’s military “advisors” to LBJ’s combat troops.[7] In numerous other contemporaneous magazines – both underground and avant-garde, but rarely “MSM”types – the premises and rationale of the war, the absence of any discernible national interest in the expenditures of blood and treasury were closely examined and found wanting.

As early as the last half of the 1960s decade, authors such as Joseph Goulden (Truth is the First Casualty: The Gulf of Tonkin Affair and Reality) established that the Tonkin Gulf incident was a pretext developed in the White House to force Congress to adopt a resolution for Johnson to use to escalate the war without the need to get further congressional support after he won reelection. The young Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Peter Arnett adroitly described the situation: “The South Vietnamese Army is sick. Like the society which created it, it is riddled with factionism, nepotism, corruption, inefficiency, incompetence, and cowardice. . . It often lacks the will for combat and is increasingly prone to let Americans do the fighting.”[8]

In 1968, author and former Lieutenant Colonel William R. Corson added specific context to these points when he wrote that the 25th Division of the Vietnamese army (Army of the Republic of Vietnam — ARVN) participated in approximately 100,000 operations during 1966, yet engaged in enemy contact less than 100 times. Of all the conventional military terms such as combat patrol, raid, search-and-destroy and reconnaissance patrol, the one which best described their “combat” operations was “search and avoid.”[9]

Yet, despite the emergence of the truth during the decades of the 70s, 80s and 90s, it took another 40 years for the government to finally acknowledge that the second Tonkin incident, on August 4, 1964, was a lie about an attack that never happened.[10]

In the meantime, many “historians in name only (HINOs),” — too many to list, but two of whom typify that group, Robert Dallek and David Halberstam — who were too incurious to seek out the true facts of actual historic events, continued repeating the lie. Despite the many challenges to the official government pronouncements, continuing to automatically treat them as “fact” even when much of it was dubious at best and absurd at worst, did nothing to promote government credibility. The opposite result was inevitable as the MSM continued to raise no questions about the failing premise.  

To summarize, it can be said that:

  • JFK’s intent was to pull 1,000 military advisors out of Vietnam by Christmas, 1963 and all remaining military personnel by the end of 1965;
  • Furthermore, there was no contingency related to the status (i.e. whether they were “winning” or “losing” it) of what was then a “North vs. South” civil war;
  • LBJ’s intent from “Day 1” of his presidency (before JFK was buried) was to reverse JFK’s plans and to begin a steady escalation of the war shortly after his election, eleven months into the future;
  • Within the first weeks of his presidency, he instructed his staff and the Pentagon to begin making plans to begin escalating the war in 1965;
  • One of the first action items to be completed was the false flag operation that became known as the “Gulf of Tonkin” attack, which produced a nearly-unanimous congressional resolution that gave him “absolute power” to conduct that war as he desired;
  • The result was quickly an “Americanized” war that became micromanaged by the “Commander in Chief” who knew no more about war games than he knew about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
  • The question of whether a pull-out could made of military troops became inseparable from the larger question of “winning” it. Or “losing” it, as it inevitably, and eventually, happened.

Go to Page 2 for End Notes and more information on this topic: The memorandum from Fletcher Prouty to Harold Weisberg on May 21, 1991 containing more background information that was then becoming available to researchers (Note: Weisberg later corrected Prouty’s error about there being, in 1962, “no missiles” in Cuba, which he meant to be “no nuclear warheads on the missiles” — a point that has since been revised: it now seems they really were installed).

3 thoughts on “Proof of LBJ’s Lies About Having “Inherited” Vietnam Escalation – And How “HINOs” (Historians in Name Only) Have Repeated Those Lies

  1. Read Prouty’s book JFK ASSASSINATION. He has the most informative front-row seat starting in WWII till his retirement.

    About 1967 / 68 the generals and admirals in the Vietnam theater formed a plan to rescue all of the prisoners in the Hanoi Hilton. All branches were involved in the mission. They worked out all of the details. They sent the plans to LBJ. The answer NO. The men were left in prison.


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