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Music

Did Jim Morrison’s father inadvertently start the Vietnam War?

@SamWKemp

The older I get, the more I think that the one thing that unites most countercultural icons is that they were all walking, talking paradoxes. Forgive me if I sound cynical, but it seems that every figurehead of the hippie age was talking out of their arse.

Consider George Harrison and John Lennon: men who were encouraging their followers to forsake worldly possessions while earning phenomenal sums and eyeing up million-dollar homes. Or what about Jack Kerouac, who pondered the meaning of freedom in the modern world while living with – and occasionally stealing money from – his house-bound mother. It’s a problem that’s equally if not more ubiquitous today. Think about the number of musicians, artists, writers, etcetera who like to slam ‘gentrification’ while continuing to pump their hard-earned cash into trendy bars selling craft beer and wood-smoked almonds. I mean, how the hell do you smoke an almond anyway? It’s practically made of wood as it is. Alas, I digress. I think if I was forced to name one of the most surprising examples of hippie hypocrisy it would have to be Jim Morrison: a notorious opponent of the Vietnam war, who was the son of a man who not only served in the conflict but played a hand in starting it.

Most fans of The Doors will know that Morrison’s father was a flag officer in the US Navy. Few are aware that he was also a member of the US Naval force at the time of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, a confrontation between the USS Madoxx and three Vietnam People’s Navy torpedo boats that gave the Jonhson Administration the justification they needed to declare war on Vietnam. Jim’s father, George Morrison, graduated with the US Naval Academy’s Class of 1941. His first posting was to Hawaii, where he joined the crew of the minelayer USS Pruitt just in time to witness the attack on Pearl Harbour. Following several deployments in an administrative capacity with the Navy, George decided to join flight school, earning his Wings of Gold in 1944, after which he embarked on combat missions in the Pacific in the final days of World War Two and, later, during the Korean War.

By summer 1964, Morrison found himself aboard the USS Bon Homme Richard, the flagship for Naval forces stationed off the coast of North Vietnam. On August 2nd, the ship was attacked by three torpedo boats while performing a signals intelligence patrol 28 miles from the coast. As the boats approached, the Maddox fired warning shots, which were returned by machine-gun fire. Four North Vietnamese sailors were killed, and six more were wounded. The Maddox, however, emerged unscathed save for a single bullet hole. Following the confrontation, Morrison and company were put on high alert. President Johnson subsequently ordered Maddox and the USS Turner Joy to sail close to the coast and show the flag in an act of intimidation. A few days later, during an evening of stormy weather, the ships picked up sonar and radio signals that they believed were signs of another attack from the North Vietnamese navy. Believing this was enough to warrant defensive action, the ships fired on enemy targets despite no physical signs of enemy activity and reports that both attacking torpedo boats had previously been sunk.

It’s believed that the details of the incident were intentionally distorted by Morrison and other commanding officers on board the ships under the orders of the Pentagon. That very night, President Johnson interrupted primetime TV for an emergency announcement. He informed the American public that two US Navy warships had been attacked off the coast of Vietnam and that he was asking for congress’ support in conducting military action in the area. Back in the choppy seas of North Vietnam, Morrison and his team contacted US Navy headquarters in Hawaii to tell them that the enemy targets they had fired on may not have actually existed in the first place and that they could have been false returns due to the stormy weather. HQ, in turn, contacted Defense Secretary Robert McNamara but never revealed this essential information. As a result, Congress approved the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave the president the power to embark on military action in Southeast Asia. And thus the Vietnam War began.

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