Major Youtuber gets basic Vietnam War facts Wrong, Repeats Left-Wing Lies
- YouTube celebrity Benjamin Rich operates “Bald and Bankrupt” with 3.7 million subscribers, and in recent Vietnam video significantly misstates the facts around the infamous “Gulf of Tonkin Incident” that caused a major escalation in the Vietnam War.
Left-wing academics prefer to label the entire incident a “lie” when there is no reasonable dispute that a Communist torpedo boat fired on the USS Maddox in August 1964. What is in dispute is whether those torpedo boats came back two days later and fired again a second time.
The presentation of these historical facts makes the U.S. out to be the cynical aggressor in the story, creating a ‘false flag’ to start the war in the common narrative.
OUR RATING: Major Negligence. MSNBC-level basic journalistic negligence
So let’s get a few things out of the way: LBJ was a horrible person and nothing in here should be construed as a defense of that monster. Also: I really love Rich’s channel and it pains me to do this, but you sometimes even have to fact-check the ones you love.
Second, every YouTube e-celeb with a channel isn’t doing academic or news reporting, and shouldn’t be critiqued for minor factual problems or memory errors. The line between straight ‘entertainment’ and ‘infotainment’ is a blurry one, and most e-celebs shouldn’t be nitpicked.
But here we have a major YouTube celebrity, with a global reach involving millions, getting a key fact wrong about what started a major war involving the United States. The key fact missing from the presentation by Benjamin Rich on his channel is that there were two incidents in the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident. The first incident is not reasonably disputed. The second one is in dispute.
It’s tough to know whether Rich is simply ignorant, or whether he knows more than he’s saying and is wildly misrepresenting the actual available facts.
Many left-wing academics who cover the Vietnam conflict are purposefully very slippery when it comes to facts and details, and Rich could simply be repeating the lies his teachers told him. Here’s one example, academic Christian Appy from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who in his 2016 book entitled “American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and our National Identity”  repeated these ahistorical left-wing memes in a carefully selective way to spread misinformation rather than give readers clarity:
Page 46: “The [Gulf of Tonkin] resolution sailed through Congress in 1964 after a shadowy “incident” in the Gulf of Tonkin involving U.S. destroyers and a few tiny North Vietnamese patrol boats.”
Page 48: “Though the details of the secret war against North Vietnam would not emerge for decades, enough evidence had leaked out to warrant the suspicion that the United States was in fact the aggressor and had provoked the Gulf of Tonkin…”
“In the 1960s the USA was looking for a way to open their way into the Vietnamese conflict being fought between the North and the South. On Aug 4, 1964 they created one: the Gulf of Tonkin incident as it became known. It was a false flag where the captain of the USS Maddox sailing in North Vietnamese waters, claimed his ship had been attacked by Communist torpedo boats. It was a lie, there never was an attack. But it gave U.S. President Lyndon Johnson the justification he needed to invade. Soon young American men would be flying out to Southeast Asia to fight a war in a country that most of them probably couldn’t even locate on a map.”
A ‘false flag’ is defined by Merriam Webster as “a hostile or harmful action (such as an attack) that is designed to look like it was perpetrated by someone other than the person or group responsible for it.”  Said more simply: when one side fakes an attack.
Here are the 5 key things that Rich says that are either completely in error, or without available evidence:
1) The U.S. ‘created’ the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, this is not accurate.
2) The incident was a “false flag” meaning that it was a faked incident to create a war on false pretenses, this is not accurate.
3) The U.S.S. Maddox was sailing in North Vietnamese waters, whereas they were actually in disputed waters with multiple state claimants.
4) Rich says “there never was an attack” when there was, indeed, an attack on August 2nd.
5) Rich implies that any second attack was similarly a ‘false flag’ whereas the people involved may have honestly believed they were under attack. Rich is assuming cynical bad faith on the part of the U.S. individuals involved, when the available evidence still suggests it could have been a good faith mistake.
The Operations Room video is chronicling the incident on August 2, 1964, where North Vietnamese boats engaged a U.S. Destroyer, the U.S.S. Maddox , and a firefight ensued. They do not cover the August 4th second incident.
The question of whether the ships were in “Vietnamese waters” is also one that’s open to dispute. The U.S. position was that there was a legal boundary around the country of 5 nautical miles. The Vietnamese position was that they had a 12 mile boundary. The question of whose claims were accurate is open to dispute. Where in the ocean a country’s political boundaries begins and ends is not always clear cut. If there was a 5 mile limit, than the U.S. ships were always in international waters. If it’s 12 miles, then they were violating Vietnamese territory.
On August 2nd, the U.S. side would suffer damage to a plane and some damage to the destroyer. On the North Vietnamese side, four were killed and six were wounded.
Here is the picture captured of the three North Vietnamese torpedo boats coming to attack the U.S.S. Maddox at the first incident on August 2nd, 1964 :
Importantly, neither the U.S. nor the North Vietnamese have ever claimed that the attack on August 2nd, 1964 was fake or fictional.
But then two days later, on August 4th, the U.S.S. Maddox and the U.S.S. Turner Joy were in the area and thought that they were under attack again from the North Vietnamese. It has later been explained that those ships may have been misreading their sonar and radar readings due to the choppy weather, and U.S. intelligence may have been misunderstanding what they were intercepting of Vietnamese communications.
The surviving telephone transcripts from President Johnson suggest that they genuinely thought there was a second attack. 
It’s important to note here that the second ‘attack’ was always understood as radar contacts that the U.S. ships turned to avoid and evade.  The destroyers saw contacts during rough weather and heavy seas and worked to get away from them. That’s not the conduct of a navy seeking to start a war. The question open to dispute is whether there actually were radar contacts coming towards the U.S. ships on August 4th. This important context is often left out of the discussion.
There’s no dispute that the North Vietnamese attacked U.S. ships on August 2nd.
There is dispute that the North Vietnamese made a second attempt on August 4th.
Now it is a fair criticism that the Johnson administration generally wanted a reason to go to war. It’s a fair criticism to say that the Gulf of Tonkin played into their hands to the extent that it gave them what they wanted: a pretext to go to war. It’s a fair criticism to say that they should have been more skeptical of both the first attack and the alleged second attack. It’s a fair criticism to say that the second attack deserved a great deal more scrutiny.
But it’s dishonest to combine the two attacks into one. It’s dishonest to ignore that the first attack did, in deed, happen. It’s dishonest to label the entire thing a ‘false flag’ as though the Washington cynics were merely making a ruse to start a war.
These two incidents were used by President Johnson to secure the joint resolution known as the “Gulf of Tonkin Resolution” on August 10, 1964.  The resolution was the functional equivalent of a declaration of war and allowed Johnson to vastly escalate the war.
The U.S. management and prosecution of the Vietnam War has plenty of room for criticism and argument without having to invent facts and promote left-wing conspiracy theories about the beginnings of the war.
OUR RATING: Major Negligence. MSNBC-level basic journalistic negligence
1 ] https://www.jstor.org/stable/25162875
2 ] https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7ztnxf
3 ] https://www.jstor.org/stable/40394379
4 ] https://www.google.com/books/edition/American_Reckoning/z-vYCwAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0
5 ] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_lie
6 ] https://youtu.be/M-X1m4dGE9Y?t=820
7 ] https://www.youtube.com/@TheOperationsRoom
8 ] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_of_Tonkin_Resolution
9 ] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/false%20flag
10 ] https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB132/tapes.htm
11 ] https://www.history.navy.mil/content/history/nhhc/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/t/tonkin-gulf-crisis/tonkin-gulf-incidents-of-2-4-aug-1964/uss-maddox-report-of-tonkin-gulf-action-of-4-aug-1964.html
12 ] https://www.history.navy.mil/content/history/nhhc/our-collections/photography/numerical-list-of-images/nara-series/usn/usn-71000/usn-711524-uss-maddox–dd-731-.html
13 ] https://www.history.navy.mil/content/history/nhhc/browse-by-topic/ships/modern-ships/uss-maddox.html
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