The Pentagon Papers revealed that the US government had not been honest, had used "incredible deception" and that decisions about the Vietnam War had been made without the consent of Congress. The Pentagon Papers which only covered the period up to 1967 and did not implicate the Nixon administration.
However Nixon and Henry Kissinger feared that the leaked documents could "destroy American credibility forever". The Pentagon Papers were published in the New York Times, the Washington Post and various other newspapers and caused outrage and uproar with the American Public and confirmed many suspicions about the "credibility gap" between what the government said and what they actually did. By the end of 1971 opinion polls showed that 66% of all Americans wanted the Vietnam War to end as quickly as possible.
Background History to the Pentagon Papers: The Vietnam War
Background History to the Pentagon Papers
The Pentagon Papers were therefore revealed at the time when the American public began raising questions about the US involvement in the Vietnam war.
Background History to the Pentagon Papers: Daniel Ellsberg
Facts about Pentagon Papers
What were the Pentagon Papers? A United States government 7,000-page, 47-volume report on the internal planning and policy decisions within the U.S. government regarding the Vietnam War.
The official title of the report was 'United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense' but would become famously known as the "Pentagon Papers".
Who commissioned the Pentagon Papers? The report was commissioned in 1967 by Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense during the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Why did Robert McNamara commission the report? McNamara was frustrated with the stalemate of the Vietnam war and wanted to leave a comprehensive analysis about U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War for succeeding administrations in order to prevent future policy errors.
Who compiled the Pentagon Papers? Work began on June 17, 1967 by the Vietnam Study Task Force, under the direction of Leslie H. Gelb. The top secret 'Pentagon Papers' were compiled by a team of 36 military officers, analysts, historians and civilian policy experts. One of the team was Military analyst, Daniel Ellsberg.
What did the Pentagon Papers consist of? The report consisted of 4,000 pages of actual documents taken from the 1945 - 1967 period of the Vietnam War and 3,000 pages of analysis. The classified study was so secret that is was completed without the knowledge of President Lyndon Johnson or his Secretary of State, Dean Rusk.
What did the Pentagon Papers reveal? The Pentagon Papers revealed that Presidents Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and their administrations had deliberately deceived the American people by escalating the Vietnam War, while publicly stating the opposite.
The Pentagon Papers revealed that the Harry S. Truman administration gave military aid to France in its war against the communist Viet Minh which led to the direct involvement of the United States in Vietnam
The Pentagon Papers revealed that the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration, immersed in the Cold War, decided to undermine the new communist regime of North Vietnam and prevent a communist takeover of South Vietnam.
The Pentagon Papers revealed that the John F. Kennedy administration changed the Vietnam policy of "limited-risk gamble" to a policy of “broad commitment”.
The Pentagon Papers revealed that as President Lyndon Johnson was promising not to expand the Vietnam War the US government was deliberately expanding its role in Vietnam by sending in U.S. combat troops, with raids of the coast of North Vietnam, attacks by U.S. Marine Corps and air strikes against Laos. Johnson had made up his mind to send U.S. combat troops to Vietnam
Robert McNamara left the Defense Department in February 1968 and his successor Clark M. Clifford received the finished study on January 15, 1969, five days before the inauguration of President Richard Nixon. The report was classified as "Top Secret – Sensitive" and only 15 copies were published with limited access.
The Pentagon Papers only covered the period in Vietnam up to 1967 and did not implicate the Nixon administration.
A member of the team who compiled the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg, knew it contained "evidence of a quarter century of aggression, broken treaties, deceptions, stolen elections, lies and murder" and desperately wanted the Vietnam War to end.
Ellsberg, assisted by another team member called Anthony Russo, began to photocopy large sections of the study with the intention of becoming a 'Whistleblower' and exposing the content.
Daniel Ellsberg approached several members of Congress including Senator Fulbright and Senator McGovern, in the hope that they would debate the report in Congress and enter the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record. All of the Senators declined.
In March 1971, taking advice from Senator McGovern, Daniel Ellsberg made the decision to approach Neil Sheehan, a New York Times reporter and show him the Pentagon Papers.
The first of a series of articles based upon the leaked Pentagon Papers was published by The New York Times on June, 13 1971.
President Nixon was not unduly worried about the first publication as the Pentagon Papers focused more on the errors of his predecessors, rather than on him. Nixon was also promoting the policy of Vietnamization aimed at withdrawing U.S. troops from Vietnam. However, Henry Kissinger, National Security Advisor, was extremely concerned and convinced Nixon that the articles could "destroy American credibility forever".
The New York Times was slapped with an injunction ordering a stop to publication which led to the a case in the Supreme Court. On June 26 the Supreme Court heard the case New York Times Co. v. United States. On June 30, 1971 the Supreme Court held in a 6–3 decision that the injunctions were unconstitutional due to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution advocating the right to free speech.
Daniel Ellsberg was charged with theft, conspiracy and violations of the Espionage Act for leaking the Pentagon Papers, but his case was dismissed as a mis-trial when evidence emerged about wiretappings and break-ins that had been ordered by the government
The Pentagon Papers were published in the New York Times, the Washington Post and various other newspapers and caused outrage and uproar with the American Public.
The publication of the Pentagon Papers confirmed many suspicions about the "credibility gap" between what the government said and what they actually did.
The significance of the Pentagon Papers heralded a new era of skepticism about the Vietnam War and the US government in general.
The End of the Vietnam War came with a Ceasefire agreement on January 27, 1973 ending U.S. military involvement in the war. A total of 2.59 million Americans had served their country in the conflict during which 58,307 American troops were killed and 304,000 were wounded, of which 75,000 returned home severely disabled.
The government sanctions of wiretappings and break-ins surrounding Daniel Ellsberg and Pentagon Papers were later mirrored in lies and deceptions of the Watergate Scandal which led to the downfall of President Nixon.
The Pentagon Papers were finally declassified and released on June 13, 2011.
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