SECURITY COUNCIL HEARS U.S. CHARGE OF NORTH VIETNAMESE ATTACKS: Statement by Adlai E. Stevenson, U.S. Representative in the Security Council, August 5, 1964

I have asked for this urgent meeting to bring to the attention of the Security Council acts of deliberate aggression by the Hanoi regime against naval units of the United States.

Naval vessels of my Government, on routine operations in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin, have been subjected to deliberate and repeated armed attacks. We therefore have found it necessary to take defensive measures.

The major facts about these incidents were announced last night by the President of the United States and communicated to other governments at the same time I was instructed to request this meeting. I shall recount these facts for you, Mr. President, in chronological order so that all the members may have all the information available to my Government.

At 8:08 a.m. Greenwich meridian time, August 2,1964, the United States destroyer Maddox was on routine patrol in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin, proceeding in a southeasterly direction away from the coast about 30 miles at sea from the mainland of North VietNam. The Maddox was approached by three high-speed North Vietnamese torpedo boats in attack formation. When it was evident that these torpedo boats intended to take offensive action, the Maddox, in accordance with naval practice, fired three warning shots across the bows of the approaching vessels. At approximately the same time, the aircraft carrier Ticonderoga, which was also in international waters and had been alerted to the impending attack, sent out four aircraft to provide cover for the Maddox, the pilots being under orders not to fire unless they or the Maddox were fired upon first.

Two of the attacking craft fired torpedoes, which the Maddox evaded by changing course, All three attacking vessels directed machinegun fire at the Maddox. One of the attacking vessels approached for close attack and was struck by fire from the Maddox. After the attack was broken off, the Maddox continued on a southerly course in international waters.

Now, Mr. President, clearly this was a deliberate armed attack against a naval unit of the United States Government on patrol in the high seas-almost 30 miles off the mainland. Nevertheless, my Government did its utmost to minimize the explosive potential of this flagrant attack in the hopes that this might be an isolated or uncalculated action. There was local defensive fire. The United States was not drawn into hasty response.


On August 3 the United States took steps to convey to the Hanoi regime a note calling attention to this aggression, stating that United States ships would continue to operate freely on the high seas in accordance with the rights guaranteed by international law, and warning the authorities in Hanoi of the "grave consequences which would inevitably result from any further unprovoked offensive military action against United States forces." This notification was in accordance with the provisions of the Geneva accords.

Our hopes that this was an isolated incident did not last long. At 2:35 p.m. Greenwich meridian time, August 4, when it was nighttime in the Gulf of Tonkin, the destroyers Maddox and C. Turner Joy were again subjected to an armed attack by an undetermined number of motor torpedo boats of the North Vietnamese navy. This time the American vessels were 65 miles from shore, twice as far out on the high seas as on the occasion of the previous attack. This time numerous torpedoes were fired. That attack lasted for over 2 hours.

There no longer could be any shadow of doubt that this was a planned, deliberate military aggression against vessels lawfully present in international waters. One could only conclude that this was the work of authorities dedicated to the use of force to achieve their objectives, regardless of the consequences.

My Government therefore determined to take positive but limited and relevant measures to secure its naval units against further aggression. Last night aerial strikes were thus carried out against North Vietnamese torpedo boats and their support facilities. This action was limited in scale, its only targets being the weapons and facilities against which we had been forced to defend ourselves. Our fervent hope is that the point has now been made that acts of armed aggression are not to be tolerated in the Gulf of Tonkin any more than they are to be tolerated anywhere else.

I want to emphasize that the action we have taken is a limited and measured response, fitted precisely to the attack that produced it and that the deployments of additional U.S. forces to Southeast Asia are designed solely to deter further aggression. This is a single action designed to make unmistakably clear that the United States cannot be diverted by military attack from its obligations to help its friends establish and protect their independence. Our naval units are continuing their routine patrolling on the high seas with orders to protect themselves with all appropriate means against any further aggression. AS President Johnson said last night, "We still seek no wider war."

Mr. President, let me repeat that the United States vessels were in international waters when they were attacked.

Let me repeat that freedom of the seas is guaranteed under long-accepted international law applying to all nations alike.

Let me repeat that these vessels took no belligerent actions of any kind until they were subject to armed attack.

And let me say once more that the action they took in self-defense is the right of all nations and is fully within the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.

The acts of aggression by the North Vietnamese in the Gulf of Tonkin make no sense whatsoever standing alone. They defy rational explanation except as part of a larger pattern with a larger purpose. As isolated events, the kidnapping of village officials in the Republic of South Viet-Nam makes no sense either. Neither does the burning of a schoolhouse or the sabotage of an irrigation project or the murder of a medical worker or the random bomb thrown into a crowd of innocent people sitting in a cafe.

All these wanton acts of violence and destruction fit into the larger pattern of what has been going on in Southeast Asia for the past decade and a half. So does the arming of terrorist gangs in South Viet-Nam by the regimes in Hanoi and Peiping. So does the infiltration of armed personnel to make war against the legitimate government of that nation. So does the fighting in Laos--and all the acts of subversion--and all the propaganda--and the sabotage of the inter-national machinery established to keep the peace by the Geneva agreements---and the deliberate, systematic, and flagrant violations of those agreements by two regimes which signed them and which by all tenets of decency, law, and civilized practice are bound by their provisions.

The attempt to sink United States destroyers in international waters is much more spectacular than the attempt to murder the mayor of a village in his bed at night. But they are both part of the pattern, and the pattern is designed to subjugate the people of Southeast Asia to an empire ruled by means of force of arms, of rule by terror, of expansion by violence.

Mr. President, it is only in this larger view that we can discuss intelligently the matter that we have brought to this Council.

In his statement last night, President Johnson concluded by emphasizing that the mission of the United States is peace. Under the explicit instructions of President Johnson, I want to repeat that assurance in the Security Council this afternoon: Our mission is peace.

 We hoped that the peace settlement in 1954 would lead to peace in Viet- Nam. We hoped that that settlement, and the supplementary Geneva accords of 1962, would lead to peace in Laos. Communist governments have tried aggression before--and have failed. Each time the lesson has had to be learned anew.

 We are dealing here with a regime that has not yet learned the lesson that aggression does not pay, cannot be sustained, and will always be thrown back by people who believe, as we do, that people want freedom and independence, not subjection and the role of satellite in a modern empire.

 In Southeast Asia we want nothing more, and nothing less, than the assured and guaranteed independence of the peoples of the area. We are in Southeast Asia to help our friends preserve their own opportunity to be free of imported terror, alien assassination, managed by the North Viet-Nam Communists based in Hanoi and backed by the Chinese Communists from Peiping.

 Two months ago, when we were discussing in this Council the problems created on the Cambodia-South Viet-Nam frontier by the Communist Viet Cong, I defined our peace aims in Southeast Asia. I repeat them today:

There is a very easy way to restore order in Southeast Asia. There is a very simple, safe way to bring about the end of United States military aid to the Republic of Viet-Nam.

Let all foreign troops withdraw from Laos. Let all states in that area make and abide by the simple decision to leave their neighbors alone. Stop the secret subversion of other people's independence. Stop the clandestine and illegal transit of national frontiers. Stop the export of revolution and the doctrine of violence. Stop the violations of the political agreements reached at Geneva for the future of Southeast Asia.

The people of Laos want to be left alone.

The people of Viet-Nam want to be left alone.

The people of Cambodia want to be left alone.

When their neighbors decide to leave them alone--as they must-- there will be no fighting in Southeast Asia and no need for American advisers to leave their homes to help these people resist aggression. Any time that decision can be put in enforcible terms, my Government will be only too happy to put down the burden that we have been sharing with those determined to preserve their independence. Until such assurances are forthcoming, we shall stand for the independence of free peoples in Southeast Asia as we have elsewhere.

That is what I said to this Council in May. That is what I repeat to this Council in August.

When the political settlements freely negotiated at the conference tables in Geneva are enforced, the independence of Southeast Asia will be guaranteed. When the peace agreements reached long ago are made effective, peace will return to Southeast Asia and military power can be withdrawn.

Source: U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, 90th Congress, 1st Session, Background Information Relating to Southeast Asia and Vietnam (3d Revised Edition) (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, July 1967), pp. 122-25.

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