79. Editorial Note

On February 20, 1968, Secretary of Defense McNamara testified in closed session before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the Tonkin Gulf attack of August 2, 1964, and the supposed attack 2 days later on August 4. The hearings, continuing through February 26, served to cast aspersions on the credibility of the Johnson administration. McNamara, without the Committee’s approval, released a statement on his testimony on February 21; see The New York Times, February 21, 1968. The Committee never published a final report on the hearings and accompanying investigation, although McNamara’s testimony was made public on February 24. See U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Hearings: The Gulf of Tonkin, The 1964 Incident, 90th Congress, 2d Session, 20 February 1968.

The President and McNamara had earlier, on February 19, discussed on the telephone the August 1964 Tonkin Gulf affair and the upcoming Senate deliberations. In response to the President’s query about the basis of the criticism by Senator Gore of the administration’s role in the episode, McNamara said: “He’s just intemperate and I think his real objective is to disassociate himself from any responsibility for anything that’s followed, which of course is Fulbright’s as well. They want to prove that they were misled, and had they known at the time the facts of the Tonkin Gulf situation they never would have supported the resolution and hence would not in any way be responsible for the escalation in military operations out there that has occurred since then. And if he can’t hang it on one thing and you destroy the case on that he pops up two or three places elsewhere with different arguments.” (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and McNamara, February 21, 1968, 8:29 a.m. and 8:52 a.m., Tape F68.03, PNO 4 and PNO 5; transcript prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume)