Pentagon Papers: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Pentagon Papers, officially titled United States–Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense, were a top-secret United States Department of Defense history of the United States' political-military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. Commissioned by United States Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara in 1967, the study was completed in 1968. The papers were first brought to the attention of the public on the front page of the New York Times in 1971.[1]



The study was classified as top secret and was not intended for publication. Contributor Daniel Ellsberg, however, turned over most of the Pentagon Papers to New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan, with Ellsberg's friend Anthony Russo assisting in their copying. The Times began publishing excerpts in a series of articles on June 13, 1971.[2] Street protests, political controversy and lawsuits followed.

To ensure the possibility of public debate about the content of the papers, on June 29, US Senator Mike Gravel (then Democrat, Alaska) entered 4,100 pages of the Papers to the record of his Subcommittee on Public Buildings and Grounds. These portions of the Papers were subsequently published by Beacon Press, the publishing arm of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.[3]

Article I, Section 6 of the United States Constitution provides that "for any Speech or Debate in either House, [a Senator or Representative] shall not be questioned in any other Place", thus the Senator could not be prosecuted for anything said on the Senate floor, and, by extension, for anything entered to the Congressional Record, allowing the Papers to be publicly read without threat of a treason trial and conviction.

Later, Ellsberg said the documents "demonstrated unconstitutional behavior by a succession of presidents, the violation of their oath and the violation of the oath of every one of their subordinates".[4] He added that he leaked the papers to end what he perceived to be "a wrongful war".[4]


The most damaging revelation in the papers was that the U.S. had deliberately expanded its war with carpet bombing of Cambodia and Laos, coastal raids on North Vietnam, and Marine Corps attacks — which had all gone previously unreported in the US.[5] The revelations widened the credibility gap between the US government and the people, hurting President Richard Nixon's war effort.

The papers also revealed that four administrations, from Truman to Johnson, had misled the public regarding their intentions. For example, Johnson had decided to expand the war while promising "we seek no wider war" during his 1964 presidential campaign. In another example, a memo from the Johnson Defense Department listed the reasons for American persistence:

"70 %-To avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat...

20 %-To keep [South Vietnam] (and the adjacent) territory from Chinese hands.

10 %-To permit the people of [South Vietnam] to enjoy a better, freer way of life.

ALSO-To emerge from the crisis without unacceptable taint from methods used.

NOT-To 'help a friend' " [6]

Another controversy was that President Johnson sent combat troops to Vietnam by July 17, 1965, before pretending to consult his advisors on July 21–July 27, per the cable stating that "Deputy Secretary of Defense Cyrus Vance informs McNamara that President had approved 34 Battalion Plan and will try to push through reserve call-up."[7] In 1988, when that cable was declassified, it revealed "there was a continuing uncertainty as to [Johnson's] final decision, which would have to await Secretary McNamara's recommendation and the views of Congressional leaders, particularly the views of Senator [Richard] Russell."[8]

Some aspects of the war that would later prove controversial, including the John F. Kennedy administration's involvement in Vietnam and his major role in sanctioning the overthrow of Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem, were not revealed in the papers.[9]

Legal case

Prior to publication, the New York Times sought legal advice. The paper's regular outside counsel, Lord Day & Lord, advised against publication, but house counsel James Goodale prevailed with his argument that the press had a First Amendment right to publish information significant to the people's understanding of their government's policy.

After the publication, Nixon argued Ellsberg and Russo were guilty of felony treason under the Espionage Act of 1917, because they had no authority to publish classified documents.[10] After failing to persuade the Times to voluntarily cease publication, Attorney General John N. Mitchell and Nixon obtained a federal court injunction forcing the Times to cease publication. Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger said:

"Newspapers, as our editorial said this morning, were really a part of history that should have been made available, considerably longer ago. I just didn't feel there was any breach of national security, in the sense that we were giving secrets to the enemy."[11]

The newspaper appealed the injunction, and the case New York Times Co. v. United States (403 U.S. 713) quickly rose through the U.S. legal system to the Supreme Court.[12]

On June 18, 1971, the Washington Post began publishing its own series of articles based upon the Pentagon Papers; Ellsberg gave portions to editor Ben Bradlee. That day, Assistant U.S. Attorney General William Rehnquist asked the paper to cease publication. After it refused, Rehnquist unsuccessfully sought an injunction at a U.S. district court. The government appealed that decision and on June 26, the Supreme Court agreed to hear it jointly with the New York Times case.[12]

On June 30, 1971, the Supreme Court decided, 6–3, the injunctions were unconstitutional prior restraint and the government failed to meet the heavy burden of proof required for prior restraint injunction. The nine justices wrote nine opinions disagreeing on significant, substantive matters. The ruling is generally considered a victory for an extensive reading of the First Amendment.

Thomas Tedford and Dale Herbeck summarise the reaction of editors and journalists at the time:

As the press rooms of the Times and the Post began to hum to the lifting of the censorship order, the journalists of America pondered with grave concern the fact that for fifteen days the 'free press' of the nation had been prevented from publishing an important document and for their troubles had been given an inconclusive and uninspiring 'burden-of-proof' decision by a sharply divided Supreme Court. There was relief, but no great rejoicing, in the editorial offices of America's publishers and broadcasters.
Tedford and Herbeck, pp. 225–226.[13]

Ellsberg surrendered to authorities in Boston and admitted that he had given the papers to the press. He was later indicted on charges of stealing and holding secret documents by a grand jury in Los Angeles.[14] Interestingly, Ellsberg had hidden the original documents with noted First Amendment attorney Martin Garbus. No criminal charges were ever brought against the attorney for this action.

I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision

Ellsberg on why he released the Pentagon Papers to the press.[15]

In March 1972, political scientist Samuel L. Popkin, then assistant professor of Government, was jailed for a week, for his refusal to answer questions before a grand jury investigating the Pentagon Papers case, during a hearing before the Boston Federal District Court.[16] The Faculty Council later passed a resolution condemning the government's interrogation of scholars on the grounds that "an unlimited right of grand juries to ask any question and to expose a witness to citations for contempt could easily threaten scholarly research."[16]


The papers showed that President Lyndon Johnson had planned to bomb North Vietnam well before the 1964 Election. Johnson had been outspoken against doing so during the election and claimed that his opponent Barry Goldwater was the one that wanted to bomb North Vietnam.[17]

After the release of the Pentagon Papers, Goldwater said:

"During the campaign, President Johnson kept reiterating that he would never send American boys to fight in Vietnam. As I say, he knew at the time that American boys were going to be sent. In fact, I knew about ten days before the Republican Convention. You see I was being called trigger-happy, warmonger, bomb happy, and all the time Johnson was saying, he would never send American boys, I knew damn well he would."[18]


The Pentagon Papers (2003) is a historical film directed by Rod Holcomb about the Pentagon Papers and Daniel Ellsberg's involvement in their publication. The movie represents Ellsberg's life starting with his work for RAND Corp and ending with the day on which the judge declared his espionage trial a mistrial.

See also


  • The Pentagon Papers: The Defense Department History of United States Decisionmaking on Vietnam. Boston: Beacon Press. 5 vols. "Senator Gravel Edition"; includes documents not included in government version. ISBN 0-8070-0526-6 & ISBN 0-8070-0522-3.
  • Neil Sheehan. The Pentagon Papers. New York: Bantam Books (1971). ISBN 0-552-64917-1.
  • Daniel Ellsberg. Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers. New York: Viking (2002). ISBN 0-670-03030-9.
  • George C. Herring (ed.) The Pentagon Papers: Abridged Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill (1993). ISBN 0-07-028380-X.
  • George C. Herring (ed.) Secret Diplomacy of the Vietnam War: The Negotiating Volumes of the Pentagon Papers (1983).


  1. ^ "The Pentagon Papers: 1971 Year in Review,"
  3. ^ "The Pentagon Papers, Senator Mike Gravel edition, Beacon Press".  
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^ Frum, David (2000). How We Got Here: The '70s. New York, New York: Basic Books. p. 43. ISBN 0465041957.  
  6. ^ Book: "Nixonland" by Rick Perlstein, 2008
  7. ^ Mtholyoke.
  8. ^ John Burke and Fred Greenstein, How Presidents Test Reality: Decisions on Vietnam, 1954 and 1965 (1989) p. 215 n. 30.
  9. ^ Frum, David (2000). How We Got Here: The '70s. New York, New York: Basic Books. pp. 40–41. ISBN 0465041957.  
  10. ^ "The Pentagon Papers Case". Retrieved 2005-12-05.  
  11. ^ "The Pentagon Papers: 1971 Year in Review,
  12. ^ a b "New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971)". Retrieved 2005-12-05.  
  13. ^ "Tedford & Herbeck, Freedom of Speech in the United States, 5 ed.". Retrieved 2005-12-05.  
  14. ^ "The Pentagon Papers: 1971 Year in Review,"
  15. ^ "The Pentagon Papers: 1971 Year in Review,"
  16. ^ a b Richard J. Meislin, Popkin Faces Jail Sentence In Contempt of Court Case, The Harvard Crimson, March 22, 1972.
  17. ^ "The Pentagon Papers: 1971 Year in Review,"
  18. ^ "The Pentagon Papers: 1971 Year in Review,"

External links

Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

←Indexes: United States, Vietnam
United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense
The Pentagon
Widely known as the "Pentagon Papers", this 1967 study commissioned by Robert McNamara revealed that the United States government had been misrepresenting the facts of the Vietnam War's chances of success. Department of Defence employee Daniel Ellsberg leaked most of the papers to the New York Times who published an excerpt, were banned by the Nixon administration, and resumed publishing excerpts two weeks later after the Supreme Court ruled the presidency did not have the right to forbid its publication by the media. The entire report has never been released or available, and is housed in the confidential section of the LBJ Presidential LibraryExcerpted from Pentagon Papers on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

see New York Times v. United States




US Policy and the Bao Dai regime

Leverage: France had more than the United States

Perceptions of the Communist threat to Southeast Asia and to basic US interests

The Inter-Agency debate of US intervention in Indochina



PD-icon.svg This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).

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