On August 5th, 1964 three fast moving patrol boats of the North Vietnamese Navy’s 135th Torpedo Squadron sped across the black waters of the Gulf of Tonkin towards the United States Navy’s USS Maddox which was conducting an intelligence gathering operation off the coast of communist controlled shores in South East Asia. Taking evasive maneuvers, the USS Maddox expended thousands of rounds of ammunition as a counter-attack, firing on enemy radar signatures in the night. This was the spark the ignited a full blown conflagration in Vietnam, leading to the US military deploying half a million troops into the country, 58,000 coming home in body bags and many more never coming home at all, still listed as Missing In Action.
The problem with the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the inciting action that led to the Vietnam war, is that it simply never happened. A top secret study penned under the auspices of the National Security Agency was recently declassified stating, “It is not simply that there is a different story as to what happened; it is that no attack happened that night” (Hanyok 177). With the passage of time, new information had gradually come to light revealing that the USS Maddox was firing at phantom radar signatures, or as Navy pilot James Stockdale who was circling over head that night said, “our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets…there were no PT boats there…there was nothing there but black water and American fire power” (Stockdale 17).
In Goulish’s, “39 microlectures in Proximity of Performance: Criticism” the author endeavors to provide several helpful tools for thinking critically, one of them being the metaphor of a glass window being a slow moving liquid rather than a solid. Goulish writes how it was found that the windows in old cathedrals allowed more light to pass through at the top than the bottom. Upon further study, it was found that the glass was slowing running towards the bottom, carried by gravity. “As creative and critical thinkers, we may find it rewarding to attempt works of criticism, which, over time…follow[ing] the example of glass.” (44) Goulish tells the reader that the glass exercise helps us not only understand how time changes perceptions but also how to understand understanding itself. This is a curious claim, but worth looking at through a historical context for relevancy if nothing else.
When a window is first made, less light shines through the thick glass, much as the truth surrounding the Gulf of Tonkin incident was obscured from public, and even government, scrutiny. It was only with the passage of time that gravity thinned the glass and allowed light to be shown on how events actually unfolded.