“The Pentagon Papers” (1971) is a secret, 7,000-page history of the Vietnam War ordered by US Defence Secretary Robert McNamara in 1967. Although much of it was marked “secret” or “top secret”, Daniel Ellsberg, who helped write it, gave a copy to the New York Times in 1971. President Nixon stopped the Times from printing it in the name of “national security”, but was overruled by the Supreme Court, 6 to 3, in the name of “freedom of the press.”
Daniel Ellsberg, like Edward Snowden in our time, was charged under the Espionage Act. But that was not enough for Nixon. He wanted to discredit Ellsberg. Thus was born what became his Enemies List and the Plumbers (for stopping leaks). The Plumbers, headed by E. Howard Hunt (former CIA) and G. Gordon Liddy (former FBI), would be caught by the police a year later in the Watergate break-in, which in turn would bring down Nixon two years after that.
Months before the Watergate break-in, the Plumbers broke into the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist. When that came to light during Ellsberg’s trial, the judge dismissed the charges against him.
“The Pentagon Papers” documents the years 1945 to 1967, from President Truman, who helped the French in the First Indo-China War, to President Johnson, who fought the Second. It shows presidents saying one thing in public and doing another in private. In public they were all about freedom and democracy, peace treaties and just wars, but in private they were all about tin, rubber, oil, rice, military bases and, above all, US power. To that end they undermined democracy in Vietnam and the US (by means of fake news). Regardless of public image or party label, the presidents acted amazingly alike, all of them Machiavellian. It does not cover the Nixon years, but from what we know of him, he was not much different.
“Strikes at population targets (per se) are likely not only to create a counterproductive wave of revulsion abroad and at home, but greatly to increase the risk of enlarging the war with China and the Soviet Union. Destruction of locks and dams, however – if handled right – might (perhaps after the next Pause) offer promise. It should be studied. Such destruction does not kill or drown people. By shallow-flooding the rice, it leads after time to widespread starvation (more than a million?) unless food is provided – which we could offer to do ‘at the conference table’.”
Surprised: anti-war Jonathan Schell in the New Yorker wrote:
“Almost none of us, it turns out, were cynical enough or ungenerous enough in judging the policymakers, and almost all of us were living in a dream world furbished by official lies and by our own innocent, or complacent, desire to trust our government.”
Not surprised: Noam Chomsky, speaking of himself and historian Gabriel Kolko:
“With regard to long-term United States objectives, the Pentagon Papers again add useful documentation, generally corroborating, I believe, analyses based on the public record that have been presented elsewhere.”
– Abagond, 2017.
Sources: mainly “A People’s History of American Empire” (2008) by Howard Zinn; “The Chomsky Reader” (1987) edited by James Peck; “Observing the Nixon Years” (1989) by Jonathan Schell; “The Time of Illusion” (1975) by Jonathan Schell.
- Vietnam War
- New York Times
- Apple Pie America
- Obama is like a different person
- fake news