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The Pentagon Papers ­ Revisited
Jim Kirwan
In 1971, in an effort to clear the air about what had really been involved with the American involvement in the Vietnam War, Daniel Ellsberg released the then TOP SECRET 'Pentagon Papers' to the American public, with full knowledge that his actions would be considered "treason in a time of war."
He did this largely because he believed that the American public had been lied to through four US presidents, who had based their policies upon keeping the US congress completely in the dark. His actions, Ellsberg believed would "keep America safe from this kind of government treachery for at least the next twenty years." As it turned out this historical lesson only lasted a short while, because soon after The Pentagon Papers had been read by millions-the United States was at it again: In 1973 two years before the Viet Nam War ended we overthrew the elected government of Salvador Allende, in Chile. By 1975, perhaps in large part due to the release of the Pentagon Papers, the Vietnam War was ended.
"Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers to the Times. On June 13, 1971, the paper began to publish the first installment of the 7,000 page document. For 15 days, the Times was prevented from publishing its articles on the orders of the Nixon administration. However, the Supreme Court ordered publication to resume freely. Although the Times did not reveal the source of the leak, Ellsberg knew that the FBI would soon determine that he was the source of the leak. Ellsberg went underground, living secretly among like-minded people. He was not caught by the FBI, even though they were under enormous pressure from the Nixon Administration to find him.
The release of those papers was politically embarrassing, not only to the incumbent Nixon Administration, but also to the previous Johnson and Kennedy administrations. Nixon's attorney general John Mitchell almost immediately issued a telegram to the Times, ordering it to halt publication. The paper refused, then the government brought suit against them. Although the Times eventually won the case before the Supreme Court, an appellate court ordered that the paper temporarily halt further publication. That was the first attempt in American history by the federal government to restrain the publication of a newspaper. Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers to other newspapers in rapid succession, making it clear to the government that they would have to obtain injunctions against every newspaper in the country to stop the story.
President Nixon made discrediting Ellsberg a high priority. Nixon's Oval Office tape from June 14, 1971, reveals H.R. Haldeman describing the situation to Nixon:
"To the ordinary guy, all this is a bunch of gobbledygook. But out of the gobbledygook comes a very clear thing: You can't trust the government; you can't believe what they say; and you can't rely on their judgment. And the implicit infallibility of presidents, which has been an accepted thing in America, is badly hurt by this, because it shows that people do things the president wants to do even though it's wrong, and the president can be wrong."
On June 28, 1971, Ellsberg publicly surrendered at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston. He was taken into custody believing he would spend the rest of his life in prison; he was charged with theft, conspiracy, and espionage.
In one of Nixon's actions against Ellsberg, G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt broke into Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office in September 1971, hoping to find information they could use to discredit him. The revelation of the break-in became part of the Watergate scandal. On May 3, 1972, the White House secretly flew a dozen Cuban CIA "assets" (commandos), to Washington, D.C., with orders to assault or assassinate Ellsberg. They backed out because the crowd was too large.
Because of the gross governmental misconduct, all charges against Ellsberg were eventually dropped, a president eventually resigned, and a large segment of the American populace became disenfranchised and alienated from their government at all levels." (1)
The substance contained in the chronology behind and the coercions that continued through these fifteen years of 'America's longest war' should have set a precedent for the behavior of the president and the congress, as well as the people, when it came to matters of war in the future of this country. However, as no one in the government was ever charged with a crime of any kind, in this affair-nothing was apparently "learned." About the only thing that was changed forever was any "need for a historical record" of our involvement in any foreign policy decisions in the future-which is how we came to get involved in Iraq beginning in 1991, which has actually been continued down to and including the George W. Bush attack that reactivated that war ­ which has continued until this day.
So what was learned by the release of The Pentagon Papers? In 1983 Grenada served to divert Reagan's embarrassment in Beirut Lebanon, where 241 US Marines were blown up in their barracks by Israel, to throw suspicion upon the Syrians to the benefit Israeli policies at that time.
In 1989, Bush senior attacked Panama to arrest his partner in the International Drug trade, Manuel Noriega. Four thousand people were killed and 20,000 homes were destroyed in four days of blood and firestorms that were hidden from the world's press. Haiti was next with four years of military incursions that began in 1991 and ended in 1994 with the expulsion of its leader in 1994. That action was overlooked by most in the US because of Bush Senior's war upon Iraq in 1991. So it would appear that whatever lessons that might have been learned in 1971, did not survive for long, at
least not within the corrupt offices of the US President's that picked up where Nixon left off.
A major film was made; "The Pentagon Papers," that spells out this whole sordid affair in vivid detail, and it is still currently available. Here is a quote from the Paramount Pictures film, in Daniel Ellsworth's own words about why he felt so strongly about the need to reveal what the Pentagon Papers so clearly described in 7,000 CLASSIFIED words.
"It wasn't what I expected at all, over 7,000 pages in 47 volumes. What I had in front of me was nothing less than 'a chronology of our damnation.' There were two histories of the war, one for the president and one for the rest of us. The people were lied to about Vietnam, through four
consecutive presidential administrations. It wasn't one man, it was the office itself .Truman ignored letter after letter from Ho Chi Min asking for help. He then financed the French with tactical support to fight the guerrillas-congress knew nothing. Eisenhower agreed to split Vietnam into two and helped to install a corrupt regime in the South, rigged the elections, and then sent in the first US advisors to support it. Congress was in the dark.
Kennedy made plans for our large-scale involvement as early as 1961. He authorized the overthrow of President Diem's regime and sat by while President Diem was assassinated in the streets of Saigon. And then came Johnson who used the attack in the Gulf of Tonkin, which according to these documents never even took place, as an excuse to get us into war without a formal declaration from Congress. McNaughton secretly knew. He knew and I was the one who had been wrong!
The experience of reading those pages altered my anatomy with each word; my faith, my trust, and my allegiance burned away; and I was part of WHY!" (Daniel Ellsberg from the film, The Pentagon Papers)
The situation today mirrors what happened in Vietnam, when that war was drawing to a close amid huge increases in the number of US troops on the ground. Today in Iraq and Afghanistan and increasingly in Pakistan our illegal wars are again spilling over into other countries-just as was done with Laos and Cambodia, when the main theater of operations was Vietnam. The Vietnam quagmire lasted for fifteen years, but the War on Iraq is going into its' nineteenth year, and has taken over 73,000 lives in US military personnel (2) ­ except that there are apparently no more Daniel Ellsworth's inside that Heart of Darkness that is still the Pentagon, who might be able to cast a spotlight on what's really going on now inside the Pentagon. . .
1) Pentagon Papers
2) US Dept. of Veterans: 73,846 US troops dead, 1,620,906 disabled
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