The news from the Persian Gulf about the interchange between Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and the US Navy stirred some memories.
If you’re of a certain age, you’ll recall the Tonkin Gulf incident of 1964. US Navy patrols were subjected, we were told, to open aggression on the high seas; ie, North Vietnam’s Navy fired on one destroyer and later supposedly targeted them with torpedoes that missed.
LBJ, heading into an election and challenged by Goldwater for not being tough enough with Communists, struck back, and also received a resolution in Congress giving him a free hand in Vietnam. This became the legal basis of the Vietnam War.
Later it was learned that the torpedoes never happened. And that we weren’t on the high seas, but in waters the North Vietnamese claimed. And that we were there providing intelligence support to the South Vietnamese Navy that was conducting sabotage.
But that only came out later. At the time it seemed to fit a familiar narrative: The US, minding its own business, is suddenly and without provocation attacked by a hostile nation. Why? Because they’re violent. Irrational. Savage. They’re Asian (remember Pearl Harbor?) They’re Communists (remember Korea?)
We seem to always be on the receiving end of these behaviors. It’s deep in our DNA as a nation: Remember all those years, peacefully settling the frontier, and all those crazy Indians who came swooping down tomahawking farmers and their families?
Of course, from the Indian perspective, these settlers were the avant guard of a threatening empire. Unlike the Spanish–who sent in the military to subdue the Indians and then followed with settlers–and unlike the French–who found a way to cooperate with the Indians–the English and then the US sent out settlers. When tensions over land, or game, or whatever finally exploded, we then went out and exterminated them.
On several occasions the US has managed to arrange events to fit this narrative, thus making the people more amenable to whatever war ensued. There was WWI, where American merchants continued to trade with the British and French, leading to submarine warfare from the Germans.
Prior to the War with Mexico, Polk–who had promised to get California and resolve the Texas issue one way or another–sent troops to the “border” (again, on land Mexico claimed as its territory). Mexico, fearing an invasion, sent its own troops. And there, stumbling around, afraid, anxious, hot-headed, the predictable happened: young men with guns sometimes fire them. An American was killed. Polk was outraged at this unprovoked aggression. He had his war.
Now we have three carrier groups–each about 15 vessels–buzzing around in the Persian Gulf. Opportunities for incidents abound. Should be fun.