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Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers

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  • Posted December 9, 2011

    The scoop on the Pentagon Papers

    How do we balance the fine line between having an open government and allowing those in the inner sanctum to conduct research that can be expected to stay out of the public domain?
    This holds true today in the war against terror, where secrets matter and our national security lies so vulnerable. However in Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg chronicles his internal conflicts of keeping his job full of secrets and disclosing the truth of a situation.
    This book is part autobiographer and part commentary of a time in our nation¿s history that challenged many of the expected norms.
    Ellsberg, best known as the one who leaked the Pentagon Papers, an in-depth private study of the history of the Vietnam conflict, takes you behind the scenes of revealing this work. Ellsberg now seems to be simply an asterisk to a troubling time in our nation¿s history, but at the time he was in the center of a very controversial storm.
    The case against the Pentagon Papers release went all the way up to the Supreme Court. What makes this a fascinating read is how complex the act was in an again without faxes, fast coping fax machines, and the internet.
    It is easy to look back now and say that Ellsberg did the right thing but at the time he was deemed a traitor by many for exposing a work that was meant to stay secret.
    Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg is a must read for those who want to understand the complexity of ethical behavior and the risks in standing up for one¿s beliefs.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2008

    I Also Recommend:


    I don't know what disturbed me the most - the facts of what occured as described in the book or the fact that I knew so little about them. I'm 46 and was only a child when these events occured, but as a voracious reader and seeker of knowledge on many subjects, including Military and US History, I thought I knew about the Vietnam War and Watergate. I first bought this book after my high-school-sophomore daughter asked me about Watergate for her US History class, after which we watched "All The President's Men." Then she did more research and eventually let me read her paper, which talked about "the break-in at the psychiatrist's office" as a prelude to those at the Watergate. I knew nothing of that story, so I reasearched and then eventually bought and read Ellsberg's book. The details that he reveals, including and most powerfully excerpts from the Nixon tapes, are disturbing. That successive White House Administrations can acts in such a way so as to believe that the American public as a whole are people to be lied to is a concept that eneters everyone's thoughts from time to time, but is absolutely stunning when factual, confirming evidence is revealed. My heart was actually pounding in my chest as I read the last chapter. Ellsberg does a magnificant job of weaving the pertinent facts into a story that reads as well as the best of Grisham, Ludlum, or Clancy. This book should should be required reading for every high school student and every person already past schooling. And every would-be politician should have to write an essay describing how they would change the political system to insure that events like these never happen again. Daniel Ellsberg should be given the Medal Of Honor and commended for his actions and for his efforts to bring this knowledge to the American public.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2004

    Those who don't learn from history are bound to repeat it

    I am 37 years old and have always been fascinated by the Vietnam War. I've read a great deal about it and always had the same question: 'How did so many very smart people continuously (from the French in the 40's - 50's to us through the 70's) make so many poor decisions?' This book answers this question with a very interesting, somewhat disturbing look at how the government works behind closed doors. Given the fact that we just fought a war based on a false (or at least greatly exagerated) premise makes this book a crucial read for all Americans. The similarities between the Gulf of Tonkin 'Incident' and the 'iminent threat' posed by Sadam Hussein are remarkable. Bottom line is that unless people take action (like Ellsberg did), presidents have a blank check when it come to deciding to go to war and to deciding how to justify it through the information shared with the public, Congress, and the UN. There's a definite lesson to be learned in this book. But there's more than that - after guiding us through the evolution of the Vietnam War and his own changing views on it, Ellsberg then uses the last third of the book to tell his adventures with the Pentagon Papers. If not for the fact that the story is true, you would think that you were reading the best John Grisham novel not written by Grisham himself. All in all - a great book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2003

    Essential Reading for Americans

    This book should be read by all Americans who want to understand how their govt really functions. Ellsberg has exposed the US govt in the 50s through the 70's as the lying murderers who thumbed their noses at democracy here and in Vietnam. The arrogant attempts by the federal govt to conceal massive secret bombing campaigns and invasions of Laos and Cambodia are illustrated vividly by Ellsberg. The idea that Nixon thought it possible that the executive branch could hide such massive lies from Congress and citizens scares me. The parallels with Bush are chilling and so sad. It is such a shame that the lessons of Vietnam have been forgotten by so many.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2003

    U.S. in Vietnam: An insider's confessions

    Ellsberg's fame - for surviving indictment and dismissal of the Nixon administration's case over the Pentagon papers which he leaked to the press - obviates the need for introducing the author. What makes the publication of this book timely, about three decades after the main events it describes, is the renewed questioning in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001 over the secrecy of the foreign policy process and its domestic implications within the United States. Ellsberg does not deal with events after 1973 when the Pentagon Papers case is dismissed. However, he documents the secrecy of the policy making process during the US engagement in Vietnam - in which public pronouncements are continually at variance with intelligence available partly to insiders like Ellsberg, but mainly to his superiors - and thus invites reader to speculate on its relevance to contemporary decision making. Ellsberg opens with the famous Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964, coinciding his days on the job as a top Pentagon official with the highest civil service grade, and ends with the May 1973 dismissal of the case brought against him by the Nixon administration for his leaking of the 'Pentagon Papers' to various media. You can read this book on two different levels. It is first and foremost an insider's view of the policy and bureaucratic interactions through which successive U.S. administrations and agencies (including the various parts of the military and intelligence community) justified and pursued a growing U.S. military engagement in Vietnam, despite, as Ellsberg forcefully documents, deep convictions among many senior members of this community that this was a doomed enterprise from the outset. Second, the book is about the personal transformation of the author whose was continually wracked by his intellectual and moral struggles between his convictions of the futility of the ends and means of U.S. policy in Vietnam and his involvement with this policy for over a decade as a top Pentagon official and later as a consultant with RAND Corporation. Although much of the material has appeared elsewhere and also covered in other books such as David Halberstam's 'The Best and the Brightest', Ellsberg provides some fresh material and insights in this latest work. Ellsberg continually juxtaposes evidence of intelligence available to him others against a series of official pronouncements, beginning with those of President Johnson and Defense Secretary McNamara, claiming unprovoked enemy aggression and threats to U.S. interests. Within twenty hours of starting his new job at the Pentagon, and referring to the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Ellsberg writes that he already knows that 'each one of the assurances [given by the President and Defense Secretary] was false.' However, Ellsberg, a former officer in the Marines holding a Harvard economics doctorate, is hardly a dove, but he is not alone in his incredulity about various claims, particularly between civilians (With whom General Maxwell Taylor tended to side, he says) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the scale of risks the U.S. being drawn into a war with China. 'The JCS was inviting the administration to play with nuclear fire. And whatever their reasons and reservations, the top civilian officials were not refusing to play.' Ellsberg documents his own bureaucratic reflexes, as he responds to his Pentagon boss, John McNaughton, who reports directly to McNamara. 'An order from McNamara to McNaughton for fast action was like an order from God; it wasn't an occasion for John to express reservations to show hesitation. He passed it on to me with the same expectation. I didn't disappoint him.' But Ellsberg continually struggles to explain why he remained in his Pentagon job despite his growing doubts, beginning with the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam. 'This book represents my continuing effort far from complete to understand my country's war on Vietnam, and my own part in it, and

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2003

    A Great Explanation

    A thorough memoir of Daniel Ellsberg's political career and ultimate publishing of the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg tells his story from the heart and gives the reader a reason to believe that we must not always blindly follow our leaders, from one who did for so many years.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2003

    Relevant to 2003 Iraq

    This is a must read to all Americans, whether you consider yourself a liberal, independent, conservative, democrat or republican. It is eye-opening and will make you think twice before you rely on information from your elected officials at the top of the chain. You will find this book to be very relevant about the 2003 American policy-making toward Iraq. This is a book about politics that is never boring. You will not want to put this book down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 15, 2002

    Intriguing Look Back At The Days Of Rage!

    After finding this book quite by accident while browsing through the wonderful Concord bookstore the other day, I was astounded to find how relevant and interesting a story author Daniel Ellsberg manages to conjure up after all this time regarding his legendary experience leading up to and including the leaking, release and publication of the infamous ¿Pentagon Papers¿ by the New York Times. As he explains early in the long yet fascinating monologue, he fully expected to be sentenced to a long prison sentence for having secreted a copy of the highly classified Department of Defense¿s official history of the American Government¿s policy and involvement in Vietnam. The report was a damning confirmation of the worst fears of the anti-war movement, and provided overwhelming evidence of the cynical, manipulative, and deceitful character of our government and its deceit to its own people regarding its involvement. What surprised Ellsberg most in all of this swirling excitement and activity was his own growing celebrity, and while he spent years fearing the worst for his own admitted culpability in defying criminal statues by stealing and leaking official government secrets, eventually the charges against him were dropped based, among other things, on the revelations of the Nixon¿s plumber¿s unit¿s illegal break-in at Ellsberg¿s psychiatrist¿s office. Ellsberg was an unlikely hero, a graduate of the Harvard University economics doctoral program, a former marine officer turned defense issue intellectual, a frequent visitor to Vietnam who was rankled by the distinct difference between what he was seeing and experiencing during his visits, on the one hand, and what the official American government position regarding what the situation was on the ground on the other. Based on this growing dissatisfaction and the discovery of the so-called Pentagon papers, a treasure trove of more than 7,000 pages of carefully documented details about the U.S. Government¿s involvement in Vietnam and its motives, considerations, and actions, Ellsberg tried to enlist the support of a number of Senators and Congressmen in an effort to use the evidence in the Pentagon Papers to undercut the Government¿s position and thereby end the war itself. Failing to do so, he finally surrendered the documents to the New York Times, which agreed to publish them through a series of daily excerpts (and also later in an abridged best-selling paperback version). The Government tried to stop publication, but was denied the right to do so by the Supreme Court. Of course, with the publication came an increase in public opposition to the war and a recognition of the degree to which the Executive branch and the military had intentionally misled the public regarding the conduct of the war and the situation on the ground for the moiré than 500,000 troops then stationed in-country. Still, it took more than five more years before the American involvement in Vietnam ended. This is a wonderful book to experience, and in reading it one comes to recognize the formidable skills Ellsberg brings to bear in terms of his amazing recall, eye for details, and ability to successfully juggle a variety of interacting considerations at the same time. This guy is smarter than average teddy bear, and it is easy to see how difficult a task it would have been for the Department of Defense and the nitwits over in the White House to try to outmaneuver him. I was a bit surprised at some of the personal revelations in the book, and while it is obvious that Mr. Ellsberg has a healthy ego, he manages for the most part to keep it at bay in retelling a story that could have easily have devolved in a retelling of the David against Goliath epic, but which he keeps objective and factual enough to keep the story rolling along as a recounting of the gripping events that transpired more than thirty years ago and helped to turn the tide of public opinion toward the war in Vietnam. I heartily recomm

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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