Somehow I missed this milestone-anniversary yesterday:
For Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers, the first excerpts of which were published on this day in 1971, were a case study in the hazards of decision-making under conditions of uncertainty. https://t.co/lMVhhD0lxl
— The New Yorker (@NewYorker) June 13, 2021
In June 1971, I was still in the USAF (an air traffic controller) and was way-politically naive, which led me to lean heavily toward the right as most of my superiors/supervisors were conservative bent so I without a reflective thought in my 22-year-old brain went in that direction. I even studiously watched William F. Buckley’s “Firing Line” on PBS and became a nit-twit Republican in actual name only.
Shamefully, still under the influence the following year after my discharge from the Air Force, I stood in line under a slight drizzle in order to vote for Richard Nixon. A most-great life’s regret.
However, the GOP impact was short-lived as I was then a student at the University of Florida and worked on the copydesk of the student newspaper, “The Alligator,” which quickly changed/shifted my outlook on politics to the left and Democrat in more-than name only. Nonetheless, the change came rather quickly as by the time of so-called ‘Christmas Bombings‘ of North Vietnam in December 1972 by Dick Nixon/Hank Kissinger I was in the truth and reality camp.
Where I’ve stayed all these following years.
As an aside, it didn’t hurt to witness attractive female UF students on The Alligator staff constantly use the word, “fuck,” which in my closed, pea-brained and way-unsophisticated inner-self was a wondrous charge to the ears. My four years in the USAF really stunted my personal growth, mental health and life’s enjoyment. The Vietnam era was shitty for a number of reasons. And with the student paper, we were thrown off campus in 1973 (when I orginally joined the staff we operated out of the student center) for bucking the UF administration for some reason or another, I can’t even start to remember — the new name is “The Independent Alligator.”
Anyway, here we be 50 years later, and despite my ignorant-idiot stance at the time, the ‘Pentagon Papers’ being published was way-indeed in the sometime-words of Joe Biden, one ‘Big Fucking Deal.’ And the release of the ‘secret’ shit would eventually lead to the end of the horror in Vietnam.
On first release, though, the ‘Papers’ weren’t considered all that special:
The so-called Papers showed that the U.S. had told colossal lies about our relations with Vietnam, starting with the Geneva Conventions from 1945 right up to Johnson’s bid for reelection in 1967.
When the Times published on June 13, 1971, no one in the government paid much attention because Nixon and his peers were entranced by news coverage of the marriage of Nixon’s daughter Tricia the day before.
Gradually, as it sunk in, the government realized that thousands and thousands of pages, classified “Top Secret,” were effectively in the public’s hands.
No one even knew who had classified them or what they contained.
However, in a short space the real-shit hit the fan. Soon it became obvious to the general public this was way-some serious shit — especially two days later when Nixon’s lawyers took the case to New York’s federal court to try and keep the Times from publishing any more shit. In a couple of days further, The Washington Post did its thing, and the whole matter eventually was fast-tracked to the Supreme Court, where it was decided that journalism wins.
The lies fron the US government continues onward to today.
Via The New York Times last week:
Officially titled “Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force,” the papers filled 47 volumes, covering the administrations of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Their 7,000 pages chronicled, in cold, bureaucratic language, how the United States got itself mired in a long, costly war in a small Southeast Asian country of questionable strategic importance.
They are an essential record of the first war the United States lost. For modern historians, they foreshadow the mind-set and miscalculations that led the United States to fight the “forever wars” of Iraq and Afghanistan.
And the leaker, Daniel Elleberg, became a national hero, and a symbol of whistleblowers forever.
In that New Yorker link from the tweet above, is a review of Ellseberg’s book,”Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers,” published in 2003, and a summary-like look at Ellesberg’s life — go read the whole piece (from October 2002) as it’s an interesting glance at a fascinating life, including this, which reveals how on-the-spot he’s always been:
He had a Forrest Gump-like talent for popping up at key moments and for meeting historical figures. In 1964, he moved to Washington to work in the E Ring of Robert McNamara’s Pentagon, just at the moment when it was determining Vietnam War policy.
A year later, he went to Vietnam, where his guides in Saigon and the jungles and rice paddies of the surrounding countryside were General Edward Lansdale, the model for Pyle in Graham Greene’s “The Quiet American,” and Colonel John Paul Vann, the antihero of Neil Sheehan’s “A Bright Shining Lie.”
Guns and jeeps and patrols and ambushes replaced memos and meetings and press conferences as the stuff of Ellsberg’s routine.
As I say, go read the whole thing. And even today, Ellesberg has no remorse on ‘leaking’ the ‘Papers.’
In a Zoom interview yesterday at the Guardian, he noted:
So, half a century on, is he glad he did it? “Oh, I’ve never regretted for a moment doing it from then till now,” he says, wearing dark jacket, open-necked shirt and headphones against the backdrop of a vast bookcase. “My one regret, a growing regret really, is that I didn’t release those documents much earlier when I think they would have been much more effective.
“I’ve often said to whistleblowers, don’t do what I did, don’t wait years till the bombs are falling and people have been dying.”
And the courage to perform the task:
But Ellsberg did break the silence. Why was he, unlike them, willing to risk life imprisonment for a leak that he knew had only a small chance of ending the war?
He says he was inspired by meeting people who resisted being drafted into military service and, unlike conscientious objectors, did not take alternative service.
“They didn’t go to Sweden. They didn’t get a deferment. They didn’t plead bone spurs like Donald J Trump. They chose a course that put them in prison. They could easily have shown their protests in other ways but this was the strongest way they could say this war is wrong and it’s a matter of conscience and I won’t participate in it.
“That kind of civil courage is contagious and it rubbed off on me. That example opened my eyes to the question, what can I do to help end this war, now that I’m ready to go to prison?”
And it changed history. Now half-a-century later, we need more of that kind of shit.
‘He also leaves out some really good stuff.‘
(Image out front by illustrator and portrait painter, Tim O’Brien, and can be found here).