LBJ only capitulated to the pressure from his advisers after McNamara and Bundy wrote a joint letter to him in late January 1965 making it clear that responsibility for U.S. "humiliation" in South Vietnam would rest squarely on his shoulders if he continued his policy of "passivity." Fearing, with good reason, that his own top national security advisers would turn on him and blame him for the loss of South Vietnam, LBJ eventually began the bombing of North Vietnam.
He was then sucked into the maelstrom of the Vietnam War, which he defended publicly and privately, leading to the logical but mistaken conclusion that he had been the main force behind the push for war all along.
The deeper lesson of the Tonkin Gulf episode is how a group of senior national security officials can seek determinedly through hardball -- and even illicit -- tactics to advance a war agenda, even knowing that the President of the United States is resisting it.
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