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Accurate translations are imperative, especially when the translated content is used as a reason to go to war. In a recently declassified report from the US government entitled Spartans in Darkness: American SIGINT and the Indochina War, 1945-1975 (PDF) it becomes clear that the accuracy of the translated content that led to US involvement in the Tonkin Gulf attack, which drew the US into the Vietnam War, was, at best, confusing and at worst, tampered with to make the case for going to war.

Chapter 5, Skunks, Bogies, Silent Hounds, and the Flying Fish: The Gulf of Tonkin Mystery, 2-4 August 1964 (PDF) of the 500+ page document contains some of the most interesting recounts of the translation issues and explores what might have happened. The report found that parts of the US military had “jumped to conclusions that an attack against the US was being planned” and that intercepted messages were translated differently by various factors in the armed forces.

Additionally, the report also uncovers some interesting information on the sophistication of the North Vietnamese army, who, according to “Spartans in Darkness” were able to commandeer US airwaves, pretend to be Americans, and order attacks on US soldiers. There’s no indication how many US soldiers died from friendly fire caused by North Vietnamese communication system hackers.