“Do you know we are being led to slaughters by placid admirals…” Jim Morrison, “An American Prayer”
Doors fans and even casual rock fans are aware that Jim Morrison’s father was at the Gulf of Tonkin at the start of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. For most it’s an answer to a trivia question on The Doors, and rock and roll history. Most aren’t aware of the extent of Morrison Sr.’s involvement at the Gulf of Tonkin. George Stephen Morrison was not only in command of the Bon Homme Richard at the Gulf of Tonkin, but he was in charge of the whole task force that was involved in the incident that gave the United States its justification for entering the Vietnam War.
The events that happened in August 1964 are kind of complicated but show that Captain Morrison was directly involved in the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and may or may not have participated in disinformation given to President Lyndon B. Johnson who used the information to get Congress to pass the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution bringing the United States into the Vietnam War without a declaration of war.
On August 2, 1964 the task force commanded by Captain Morrison was patrolling off the coast of Vietnam when North Vietnamese patrol boats fired upon the USS Maddox (part of the task force), which the Maddox evaded. In trying to escape the Maddox sank one of the patrol boats while air support from the USS Ticonderoga sank at least one of the other fleeing North Vietnamese patrol boats. From there the actions of the task force and their motives become a lot murkier. Captain Morrison put the task force under high alert and under direct orders from President Johnson ordered the Maddox and the USS Turner Joy to sail close to the North Vietnamese coast to “show the flag.” The seas were rough and the destroyers started receiving radar, sonar and radio hits that they interpreted as being another attack by the North Vietnamese. For the next four hours the ships fired on radar hits and maneuvered under the assumption they were under attack and they sank more North Vietnamese patrol boats even though there was no physical evidence to support the claim. Reports between Morrison, his commanders, the Pentagon, and the White House were distorted perhaps intentionally or perhaps by the fog of war. That night President Johnson addressed the nation using the distorted information and the country supported entry into Vietnam and the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed. While Johnson was addressing the nation, Morrison was reporting to Naval headquarters in Hawaii that the targets the destroyers were firing upon were probably false returns. This information was relayed to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, but he failed to disclose this information to Johnson. Johnson later realized the lack of validity of the information he received surrounding the incident as he later commented that “For all I know our Navy was shooting whales out there.”
It is doubtful that Jim knew of his father’s involvement in the incident. By 1964 Jim had already transferred to UCLA and had little communication with his parents. The last confirmed communication that Jim had with his father was after he had started The Doors and he wrote to his father in England (the late summer or fall of 1965). At the time Jim had been long estranged from his family and especially his father. And of course there were the security issues surrounding the incident and it would be doubtful he discussed this with his family. In an ironic twist, Captain Morrison was elevated to the rank of Admiral July 3, 1971 the same day Jim died in Paris.
As an aside, a lot of musicians in Los Angeles at the time came from military families and there are conspiracy theories that they were all CIA agents working to lull the youth of America into a life of hedonism and complacency while the government started wars, infiltrated political groups, and spied on citizens.
Sources: We Are the Mighty “Jim Morrison’s Dad Had A Hand in Starting the Vietnam War”. If you would like to read which other rock stars had connections to the military via their families please see the above top secret website or a video on Youtube.
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