Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers

Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers

4.8 11
by Daniel Ellsberg, Dan Cashman (Read by)

See All Formats & Editions

In 1971 former Cold War hard-liner Daniel Ellsberg made history by releasing the Pentagon Papers-a 7,000-page top-secret study of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam-to the New York Times and Washington Post. The document set in motion a chain of events that ended not only the Nixon presidency but the Vietnam War. In this remarkable memoir, Ellsberg


In 1971 former Cold War hard-liner Daniel Ellsberg made history by releasing the Pentagon Papers-a 7,000-page top-secret study of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam-to the New York Times and Washington Post. The document set in motion a chain of events that ended not only the Nixon presidency but the Vietnam War. In this remarkable memoir, Ellsberg describes in dramatic detail the two years he spent in Vietnam as a U.S. State Department observer, and how he came to risk his career and freedom to expose the deceptions and delusions that shaped three decades of American foreign policy. The story of one man's exploration of conscience, Secrets is also a portrait of America at a perilous crossroad.

Author Biography: Daniel Ellsberg is a former U.S. Marine commander and Rand analyst, and was one of the "whiz kids" recruited by Robert McNamara as a Pentagon war analyst in the Johnson administration. He is a prominent speaker and activist on behalf of antinuclear and environmental causes.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Daniel Ellsberg came to international attention in 1969 when he smuggled out the Pentagon Papers, an act that flung open the gates of secrecy that surrounded American conduct and policy in Vietnam, and changed United States history. Now he tells the whole exciting story in this impassioned memoir.

In the 1960s, ex-Marine Ellsberg was a high-level government adviser, spending considerable time in Vietnam. Upon his return Stateside, he worked for the Rand Corporation, a private think tank with close ties to the Pentagon. There, he took part in the creation of a comprehensive history of the Vietnam conflict for former defense secretary Robert McNamara. After reading the completed 7,000-page document -- which became known as the Pentagon Papers -- Ellsberg's disillusionment with U.S. policies turned to outrage. He discovered that, from the start of U.S. military involvement in Indochina in the 1950s, our government had systematically misled the public about its actions and objectives. With the Vietnam War still going strong under the Nixon administration -- despite official statements that it was winding down -- Ellsberg felt compelled to go public with this top-secret history of government duplicity.

At considerable personal risk to himself and his family, Ellsberg made the Pentagon Papers available to the media, and they were published in their entirety by The New York Times. The reverberations were titanic. Ellsberg was arrested and put on trial. At the same time, President Nixon's paranoia grew, resulting in illegal actions that led to his political fall from grace.

Whether he was crawling on his belly in the rice paddies of Vietnam's Plain of Reeds or fleeing the FBI in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Ellsberg's actions demonstrated that he was a man of conscience. This memoir should inspire the reader's sense of civic duty. It raises serious questions about our responsibilities, what it is we owe our government and our community, and asks whether there is a path of integrity that can be taken to preserve both. Dana Isaacson

Seymour Hersh
It is a chilling tale of life at the bureaucratic top, and what profound compromises it takes to stay there.
John Kerry
[Ellsberg's] story reminds us that to fulfill the responsibilities of citizenship is to always ask questions and demand the truth.
Daniel Schorr
This is an honestly and lucidly told narrative by someone who single-handedly changed the course of history.
Howard Zinn
If our nation could absorb its lessons we might all face a better future.
A. J. Langguth
Martin Sheen
The most important expose of Washington since the Pentagon Papers themselves, Secrets is essential reading for any American who wants to understand true patriotism.
Ben Bagdikian
...written with breathtaking excitement...
Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Ellsberg's transformation from cold warrior and Defense Department analyst to impassioned antiwar crusader who released the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times in June 1971 makes a remarkable and riveting story that still shocks 30 years later. Avoiding, for the most part, self-justification and self-aggrandizement, he clearly relates the experiences that led him to reject as arrogant lies the premises six presidents presented to the public and Congress to secure support for the Vietnam War. He describes the disjunction between what he saw during visits to Vietnam in the early and mid-'60s, driving through dangerous Viet Cong-held territory, and what was told to the press and public. And he recalls his first reading of the classified documents later known as the Pentagon Papers, which exposed the motives, in his view unprincipled, behind American involvement in Vietnam. Ellsberg creates page-turning human drama and suspense in both his descriptions of his early experience accompanying U.S. combat missions in Vietnam and his days spent underground evading an FBI manhunt after the Times's publication of the Papers. Another strength of this memoir is Ellsberg's vivid recollections of meetings with prominent policymakers, from Henry Kissinger to Senator William Fulbright, that re-create the deep tensions of the Vietnam era. Ellsberg raises serious ethical questions about how citizens, politicians, the press and officials act when confronted with government actions they consider immoral and perhaps illegal. Ellsberg's own answer is history. (Oct. 14) Forecast: Broad and prominent review coverage is guaranteed, and boomers, especially those who opposed the war, will grab this. But it remains to be seen whether a post-Vietnam generation will be similarly moved.
Foreign Affairs
Ellsberg's memoir recounts the story of how he came to leak the Pentagon Papers (the history of the American intervention in Vietnam) to The New York Times in 1971 and how his subsequent trial unfolded. Ellsberg draws attention to the need for public servants to guard against government mendacity and speak out against reckless policies instead of confining their doubts to safe internal channels. The bulk of the book, however, is a candid and detailed account of Ellsberg's own involvement in the Pentagon's policymaking during the critical years of the Johnson administration and the early deliberations of the Nixon administration. He paints a striking picture of intelligent people persevering and tinkering with a war policy that could never be successful, given the inherent limitations of the U.S. military and its South Vietnamese ally. He also describes the complex interaction between the various forms of opposition to the war as it continued under Richard Nixon, and how the president's fury with Ellsberg's own act of dissent led to Watergate and to the added bonus — in addition to Ellsberg's own acquittal — of Nixon's resignation.
Library Journal
Before leaking the Pentagon Papers, which documented U.S. foreign-policy failures and deceit in Vietnam from 1945 to 1968, Ellsberg was a gung-ho advisor to the State and Defense departments. One fascinating part of this story is his growing disenchantment with the war during these years. He came to believe that leaking the top-secret papers and other classified documents was a patriotic act that could help end the war. Other fascinating aspects of this account include Ellsberg's frustrated attempts to find a member of Congress who would accept and use the papers to build a case against the war as well as his growing role in the antiwar movement. President Nixon failed in his strong-arm tactics to discredit Ellsberg, and the case against him was dismissed because of the illegal break-in at the office of Dr Lewis Fielding, Ellsberg's psychiatrist. Interestingly, Ellsberg speculates that the break-in by Nixon's "Plumbers" was as much an attempt to blackmail Fielding as it was a gambit to stop Ellsberg. The book suffers somewhat from the overabundance of detail and repetition that also flawed Tom Wells's Wild Man: The Life and Times of Daniel Ellsberg. However, Ellsberg's autobiographical account provides insight into the disturbing abuses of presidential power that plagued the Vietnam/Watergate era. Recommended for public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/02.]-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A well-crafted, windmill-tilting autobiography by the famed cold warrior turned antiwar activist. A former Marine officer and civilian employee in Vietnam, Ellsberg knew early on that the war would lead to heartache for America; as early as the fall of 1961, he recalls, he believed "that nothing we were trying to do was working or was likely to get better." Armed with "go-anywhere" clearance and allied with the likes of John Paul Vann (the subject of Neal Sheehan's A Bright, Shining Lie, 1988), Ellsberg had ample opportunities to prove himself right. What is more, he writes here, just about everyone in the American command knew full well that the Vietnam War was a senseless slaughter, the product of think-tankers' fond wishes and blind faith in American might and technological prowess; still, the habitually blundering leadership ignored clear signs of disaster, and when it did, Ellsberg writes, "I foresaw very strong tendencies to try to recoup early failures and break out of a stalemate by expanding the war still further." Determined to bring this folly to a conclusion, Ellsberg, by the late 1960s an analyst for the Rand Corporation, decided to expose more than 7,000 pages of secret material that provided "documentary evidence of lying, by four presidents and their administrations over twenty-three years, to conceal plans and actions of mass murder." When portions of the so-called Pentagon Papers were released by the New York Times and other publications, he writes, sitting president Richard Nixon at first seemed happy to have support for his don't-blame-me argument, then worried that secret documents from his own administration would be leaked to the media-which, Ellsberg writes, set inmotion the chain of spying that ended in the Watergate affair and Nixon's resignation. Throughout, Ellsberg is convinced of the justice of his cause-as will be many of his readers, on seeing the evidence amassed here of the criminality of our recent politics. Thoughtful, full of righteous indignation-rightly so-and likely to be of great interest to students of the Vietnam War and domestic resistance thereto.
From the Publisher
"[Ellsberg's] well-told memoir sticks in the mind and will be a powerful testament for future students of a war that the United States should never have fought." (The Washington Post)

"Ellsberg's deft critique of secrecy in government is an invaluable contribution to understanding one of our nation's darkest hours." (Theodore Roszak, San Francisco Chronicle)

Product Details

HighBridge Company
Publication date:
Edition description:
Abridged; 10 hours on 8 CDs
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 5.92(h) x 0.92(d)

Read an Excerpt

Prologue: Vietnam 1961

In the fall of 1961 it didn't take very long to discover in Vietnam that we weren't likely to be successful there. It took me less than a week, on my first visit. With the right access, talking to the right people, you could get the picture pretty quickly. You didn't have to speak Vietnamese, or know Asian history or philosophy or culture, to learn that nothing we were trying to do was working or was likely to get better. I read somewhere you don't have to be an ichthyologist to know when a fish stinks.

It helped that I was part of a high-level Pentagon task force, visiting the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) in Vietnam with a "go anywhere, see anything" kind of clearance. The chief of MAAG, General Lionel McGarr, told his staff members to help us any way they could and to speak frankly. One colonel in particular whom I talked to was near the end of his tour and inclined to pass on what he had learned in-country to someone who might have the ear of folks in Washington. He opened MAAG's files to me and pulled out piles of folders, and I stayed up half the night several nights in a row reading plans and reports and analyses of our programs in Vietnam and their prospects. The smell of rot, of failure, lay all over them, and my colonel friend made no attempt to pretend otherwise.

He told me-and the documents and what I heard from his colleagues supported it-that under President Ngo Dinh Diem, the dictatorial leader we had essentially chosen for South Vietnam seven years earlier, the Communists would almost surely take power eventually, probably within a year or two. If Diem was deposed in a coup-one had almost succeeded the year before-the Communists would probably win even faster. His reasoning was informed and complex; my notes of our discussions are filled with diagrams of "vicious circles," a whole network of them. It was persuasive.

Most of the MAAG officers agreed with him, and with many Vietnamese officials, that the only thing that would change this prospect in the short run would be American combat forces on a large scale. (The Geneva Accords of 1954 permitted only some 350 American military "advisers" in the country, although by various subterfuges some 700 were present, none in American combat units.) But even American divisions, this colonel believed, would only postpone the same outcome. The Communists would govern soon after our forces left, whenever that might be.

This was not good news to me. I was a dedicated cold warrior, in fact a professional one. I had been anti-Soviet since the Czech coup and the Berlin blockade in 1948, my last year of high school, and the Korean War while I was a student at Harvard a couple of years later. For my military service I had chosen the Marine Corps and spent three years as an infantry officer. After the Marines I returned to Harvard as a graduate fellow and then went to the Rand Corporation, a nonprofit research organization whose entire focus was the military aspects of the cold war. My own work up to 1961 had been mainly on deterring a surprise nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. I should have liked nothing better than to hear that South Vietnam was a place where Soviet-backed Communists were going to be defeated, with our help. But the colonel's arguments persuaded me that this was not that place.

When I got back to Rand the next month, my informal message to my bosses was that they would be well advised to keep clear of Vietnam, stay away from counterinsurgency research, in Vietnam at least. We were on a losing course there, I said, that was very unlikely to be changed, and all associated with it would only be frustrated and tarred by failure. They would suffer the fate of those who had worked on the Bay of Pigs, just a few months earlier. I privately decided to have nothing to do with it.

But the Kennedy administration didn't have that luxury in the short run. Just weeks after I returned from Vietnam a White House team under two top presidential advisers, General Maxwell Taylor and Walt W. Rostow, headed out to Saigon to assess the situation for the president. In particular, they were to judge the necessity for sending U.S. ground forces. Soon after their return a month later the White House announced an increase in our involvement in Vietnam. In mid-November President Kennedy launched a steadily growing increase in the number of U.S. military personnel in Vietnam, breaking through the ceiling set by the Geneva Accords in 1954. He doubled the number of military advisers in the last two months of 1961 and accompanied them with support units for the Vietnamese armed forces: helicopter companies and specialists in communications, transportation, logistics, and intelligence.

I wasn't really surprised by this. I was glad that contrary to press speculation over the previous weeks, he sent no U.S. ground combat units. Nevertheless, I thought the increased involvement went in the wrong direction. (U.S. presence had increased to twelve thousand "advisers" by the time President Kennedy died in 1963, and some U.S. support was being supplied covertly, but still no ground combat units.) It was what I had feared was likely to happen; that was why I'd made a conscious decision not to be part of it.

I kept that resolution for the next three years.

The Tonkin Gulf: August 1964

On Tuesday morning, August 4, 1964, my first full day on my new job in the Pentagon, a courier came into the outer office with an urgent cable for my boss. He'd been running. The secretaries told him Assistant Secretary John McNaughton was out of the office; he was down the hall with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. They pointed him to me, his new special assistant. The courier handed me the cable and left. It was easy to see, as I read it, why he had been running.

It was from Captain John J. Herrick, the commodore of a two-destroyer flotilla in the Tonkin Gulf, off North Vietnam in the South China Sea. He said he was under attack by North Vietnamese patrol boats and had opened fire on them. He was in international waters, over sixty miles off the coast of North Vietnam. One torpedo had been heard by the sonarman on his command ship, the USS Maddox, and another had just passed by the other destroyer, the Turner Joy.

As soon as he gave me the cable, the courier returned to the message center of our department in the Pentagon, International Security Affairs (ISA), part of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the civilian part of the Department of Defense. Within ten minutes he was back to me with another one in the same series: "Am under continuous torpedo attack."

A few minutes later Herrick reported another torpedo had run by him, and two more were in the water. His ships were firing at the attackers and might already have destroyed one of them. They were firing by radar, without visual contact. The encounter was taking place in total darkness, on an overcast night without moon or stars, in the hours close to midnight.

This was no ordinary event. It was exactly the second attack on a U.S. Navy vessel since World War II. But the first had been less than three days earlier. That was on Sunday, August 2, also on Herrick's ship, the USS Maddox, on patrol in the Tonkin Gulf. In broad daylight in the middle of the afternoon, twenty-eight miles out to sea, three North Vietnamese PT boats had attacked and launched torpedoes at the Maddox. All the torpedoes had missed, and there was no damage to the destroyer, except for a single 14.5-mm bullet that lodged in one of its stacks. The boats were driven off, all damaged, by fire from the Maddox and from navy planes from the carrier Ticonderoga nearby.

Since there had been no American casualties or significant damage, President Johnson had decided to take no further action, except to add another destroyer, the Turner Joy, to the mission. The two destroyers were directed to continue what was described publicly as a routine patrol in order to assert U.S. rights to navigate freely in international waters. But the president also announced on Monday his orders that in case of any further attacks, the attacking boats were to be not only repulsed but destroyed. He had sent a formal protest to Hanoi, warning that "any further unprovoked offensive military action against United States forces" would "inevitably" result in "grave consequences." All this, except for the latest announcement, I'd read in the Monday morning newspapers. That afternoon, reading classified accounts of the episode, I'd learned a good deal more.

Now, as each new message came in, I looked at the date-time group, the six-digit number (followed by a letter indicating the time zone, then the month) at the upper-left-hand corner of the cables. The first two digits indicated the day of the month; the next four, in military time (2400 for midnight), the exact time the message had been transmitted. The first cable had been transmitted from Herrick's command ship at 10:42 a.m. Washington time (9:42 p.m. in the Tonkin Gulf). I compared the time of transmission with the clock on the wall of my office in the Pentagon, which showed, as I recall, that it was about half an hour later, an extremely short time in this precomputer age for this message to reach me. The same was true for the second, sent at 10:52 a.m. Washington time and handed to me about 11:20, and for the others that kept arriving every few minutes. Herrick was giving them "Flash" priority, the highest priority for message handling, so they were taking precedence at every terminal for handling, retransmission, and distribution.

But twenty or thirty minutes was a long duration for an action like this. The whole exchange on Sunday, surface and air, had lasted thirty-seven minutes. It could have been all over, on the other side of the world, by the time I read the first message, or the latest one. Or a destroyer might have been hit, might already be sinking, while we were reading about its evasive maneuvers or its success at destroying an attacker. But there was no way for anyone in Washington to know that as he read these.

There was then no CNN on which to watch live action half a world away. There was not even any direct voice contact between Washington and destroyers in the western Pacific. The closest to it was radio and telephone contact with Admiral Ulysses S. G. Sharp, commander in chief Pacific (CINCPAC), at his command post in Hawaii, as far away from the Tonkin Gulf as Washington was from Hawaii. CINCPAC cables, and many others, were now adding to the pile on my desk, but they weren't arriving as frequently or as fast as the flash cables from the destroyers. Following Captain Herrick's stream of messages, we weren't really watching the action in real time, but they were coming in such quick sequence that it felt as if we were.

The messages were vivid. Herrick must have been dictating them from the bridge in between giving orders, as his two ships swerved to avoid torpedoes picked up on the sonar of the Maddox and fired in the darkness at targets shown on the radar of the Turner Joy: "Torpedoes missed. Another fired at us. Four torpedoes in water. And five torpedoes in water....Have...successfully avoided at least six torpedoes."

Nine torpedoes had been fired at his ships, fourteen, twenty-six. More attacking boats had been hit; at least one sunk. This action wasn't ending after forty minutes or an hour. It was going on, ships dodging and firing in choppy seas, planes overhead firing rockets at locations given them by the Turner Joy's radar, for an incredible two hours before the stream of continuous combat updates finally ended. Then, suddenly, an hour later, full stop. A message arrived that took back not quite all of it, but enough to put everything earlier in question.

The courier came in with another single cable, running again, after an hour of relative quiet in which he had walked in intermittently at a normal pace with batches of cables from CINCPAC and the Seventh Fleet and analyses from the State Department and the CIA and other parts of the Pentagon. I was sitting at my desk-I remember the moment-trying to put this patchwork of information in some order for McNaughton on his return, when the courier handed me the following flash cable from Herrick: "Review of action makes many reported contacts and torpedoes fired appear doubtful. Freak weather effects on radar and overeager sonarmen may have accounted for many reports. No actual visual sightings by Maddox. Suggest complete evaluation before any further action taken."

It was a little after 2:00 p.m. The message had been sent at 1:27 p.m. Washington time. Half an hour later another message from Herrick, summarizing positive and negative evidence for an attack, concluded: "Entire action leaves many doubts except for apparent attempted ambush at beginning. Suggest thorough reconnaissance in daylight by aircraft." The reconnaissance in daylight, still three or four hours away in the gulf, would search for oil slicks and wreckage from the boats supposedly hit, indications that an attack, not just a fight with radar ghosts, had actually taken place.

In my mind, these messages erased the impact of the two-hour-long "live" drama that we'd been following. This new information was a cold bath. Around three o'clock, in response to frantic requests for confirmation, Herrick cabled, "Details of action present a confusing picture although certain that original ambush was bona fide." But how could he be "certain" of that, or why should anyone else be, when he had seemed equally confident, an hour earlier, of all the succeeding reports up till now? Herrick continued to assert at 6:00 p.m. Washington time (5:00 a.m. in the gulf) that "the first boat to close the Maddox probably fired a torpedo at the Maddox which was heard but not seen. All subsequent Maddox torpedo reports are doubtful in that it is suspected that sonarman was hearing ship's own propeller beat." But his acknowledgment that all the other vivid reports he had been sending were unreliable undercut his assertion of continued confidence in his initial messages and the first torpedo. As negative evidence accumulated, within a few days it came to seem less likely that any attack had occurred on August 4; by 1967 it seemed almost certain there had been no second attack, and by 1971 I was convinced of that beyond reasonable doubt. (In 1966 credible testimony from captured North Vietnamese officers who had participated in the August 2 attack refuted any attack on August 4. In late 1970 journalist Anthony Austin discovered and gave me evidence that intercepted North Vietnamese cables supposedly confirming an August 4 attack actually referred to the attack on August 2. Finally, in 1981 journalist Robert Scheer convinced Herrick-with new evidence from his ship's log-that his long-held belief in the first torpedo report was unfounded.) However, on August 4, given Herrick's repeated assurances and those of a number of seamen over the next few hours, I concluded that afternoon, along with everyone else I spoke to, that there probably had been an attack of some sort. At the same time, there was clearly a good chance that there had been none. In that light, Herrick's recommendation to pause and investigate before reacting seemed prudent, to say the very least: Reverse engines, stop the presses! But that was not how things were moving in Washington that Tuesday afternoon.

Herrick's new cables didn't slow for a moment the preparations in Washington and in the Pacific for a retaliatory air strike as quickly as possible, preferably at first light in the Tonkin Gulf. What they did stimulate was a flurry of probes for evidence and witness testimony that would support his earlier descriptions of the attack or at least confirm the fact that some attack had occurred.

As these were arriving in Washington, the president was meeting with the National Security Council (NSC) basically to inform it of the planned actions. Next he briefed congressional leaders. Carriers were moving into position to launch their planes at first light or as early in the morning as possible. In Washington time that could be anywhere from six o'clock in the evening to nearly midnight. But the president was determined to tell the American people of the U.S. attacks more or less as they were happening. He didn't want them to hear about the strikes in the morning news the next day, hours after they had taken place and after the rest of the world, in earlier time zones, had already heard.

The navy was concerned, on the other hand, not to have the president's public announcement warn Vietnamese antiaircraft gunners that an attack was coming before the planes had entered North Vietnamese radar. The president undertook not to do that. He asked for airtime for 7:00 p.m., which shifted to 8:00, then to 9:00, because the carrier Constellation had still not reached its launching station or finished briefing its pilots. The president was determined to speak no later than 11:30 p.m. After that his entire audience on the eastern seaboard would be in bed. Through McNamara to CINCPAC (Admiral Sharp, in Hawaii), he was pressing to see if he could make his announcement before the planes were over their targets, perhaps when the first ones started to launch. Would they be picked up immedi-ately on radar, he asked, so that it wouldn't be his announcement then that broke the news to Hanoi? The answer was yes, but Hanoi wouldn't know where the planes were heading, so he should take numbers and types of targets off the TelePrompTer.

At this point in the evening I was sitting with John McNaughton in his office along with his director of Far Eastern affairs and other members of his staff, reading cables from the carriers and CINCPAC on progress toward the launch and trying to help answer questions from McNamara or the White House. The large TV in McNaughton's office was on continuously, with the sound turned down, in case the president decided to break in on the programming.

Word came in that planes had taken off, then word that they had not; requests arrived that the announcement be delayed till the planes were on enemy radar, but it was too late for that. Admiral Sharp (CINCPAC) told McNamara at 11:20 p.m. that the Ticonderoga had launched its planes, and the president went on TV at 11:37. He announced that "air action is now in execution," though in fact the Constellation had not yet launched its planes and no other planes had as yet reached the coast of North Vietnam or entered its radar. So the announcement did give Hanoi warning, which it passed down quickly. Our navy concluded from the results that surprise had been sacrificed.

McNamara gave a press conference at the Pentagon after midnight. We were up all night in the office following the raids, to prepare for another McNamara press conference the next day. My first full day in the Pentagon had been over twenty-four hours long.


The president's announcement and McNamara's press conference late in the evening of August 4 informed the American public that the North Vietnamese, for the second time in two days, had attacked U.S. warships on "routine patrol in international waters"; that this was clearly a "deliberate" pattern of "naked aggression"; that the evidence for the second attack, like the first, was "unequivocal"; that the attack had been "unprovoked"; and that the United States, by responding in order to deter any repetition, intended no wider war.

By midnight on the fourth, or within a day or two, I knew that each one of these assurances was false.

"Unequivocal"? In the president's initial public announcement and in every official statement afterward, it was implicit that the August 4 attack on our ships, which had triggered our retaliatory strikes, was a simple fact. There was no official hint, either to Congress or to the public, that in the minds of various experienced navy operators and intelligence analysts at the time of our retaliation, as well as earlier and later, doubt adhered to every single piece of evidence that an attack had occurred at all on August 4.

A "routine patrol in international waters"? The two destroyers were on a secret intelligence mission, code-named DeSoto patrols, penetrating well within what the North Vietnamese regarded as their territorial waters. We assumed, correctly, that the North Vietnamese claimed the same limits as other Communist nations, twelve miles from their coastline and from their islands. The United States did not officially "recognize" this extended limit; nevertheless U.S. Navy ships were prudently directed to keep at least fifteen miles out from the Chinese islands or mainland. But before the August 2 incident the Maddox had been frequently eight miles from the North Vietnamese mainland and four miles from their islands. The purpose of this was not merely to demonstrate that we rejected their claims of limits on our "freedom of the seas" but to provoke them into turning on coast defense radar so that our destroyers could plot their defenses, in preparation for possible air or sea attacks. Thus it was true that the August 2 attack had been twenty-eight miles out to sea, but that was because a warning of attack when the Maddox was just ten miles from the coast had led the skipper to change course and to head out to sea, with torpedo boats in pursuit.

"Unprovoked"? Hanoi had claimed that "puppet" forces of the Americans had shelled two of its coastal islands, Hon Me and Hon Nieu, on the night of July 30-31. In public releases, the State Department denied any knowledge of any such attacks, as did McNamara in his press conferences on August 4 and 5. In top secret testimony to congressional committees in closed hearings over the next two days, Secretary of State Dean Rusk and McNamara acknowledged such attacks but insisted that they could not realistically be considered U.S. provocations that justified or were intended to evoke North Vietnamese counterattacks because they were entirely "South Vietnamese" operations, run by the South Vietnamese navy, aimed at stopping infiltration from the North. The United States supported them and knew about them in general terms but, Rusk claimed, not in detail; there was little knowledge of them in Washington. They had no relationship at all with our destroyer patrols, they were in no way coordinated, and in fact the commander on the destroyers knew nothing of them at all. It was implicit in this testimony, and not challenged, that in any case no such raids were taking place in the context of the second attack or since July 31. The resolution that Congress was being asked to pass quickly and as nearly unanimously as possible was nothing other than a gesture of support for the president's action, to demonstrate solidarity to Hanoi and to deter future attacks on our forces. Each of these assertions was false.

In my new job I was reading the daily transcripts of this secret testimony, and at the same time I was learning from cables, reports, and discussion in the Pentagon the background that gave the lie to virtually everything told both to the public and, more elaborately, to Congress in secret session. Within days I knew that the commander of the destroyers not only knew of the covert raids but had requested that his patrol be curtailed or terminated after the first attack on August 2 because he expected retaliatory attacks on his vessels as a result of the raids. His request was denied. Moreover, I learned, these weren't South Vietnamese operations at all, not even joint operations. They were entirely U.S. operations, code-named 34A ops. The anti-infiltration operations by South Vietnamese junks that McNamara described in some detail to Congress were entirely separate and different, as he knew. For the raids against North Vietnam, of which Hanoi had publicly complained, the United States owned the fast patrol boats known as Nastys (which the CIA had purchased from Norway), hired the crews, and controlled every aspect of the operations. The CIA ran the training, with help from the U.S. Navy, and recruited the crews; some of them were recruited, as individuals, from the South Vietnamese navy, but others were CIA "assets" from Taiwan and elsewhere in Asia, along with mercenaries from around the world. The operations had been run originally by the CIA but now were jointly controlled by the CIA and Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), in coordination with the navy. Despite the use of foreign personnel, to provide "plausible deniability" if captured, the 34A operations were exactly as much American operations as were the U.S. Navy DeSoto patrols of the destroyers. Moreover, the North Vietnamese were not mistaken to believe that the two types of American operations were coordinated at various levels. For one thing, the DeSoto missions in that particular area were timed to take advantage, in their plotting of coastal radars and interception of communications, of the heightened activity that was triggered in North Vietnamese coastal defenses by the 34A raids.

As for Washington knowledge of them, top officials read and signed off personally on schedules for them in advance, based on incredibly detailed descriptions of the planned actions. I soon knew this because I came later that month to be the courier who carried these highly secret plans around Washington from one to another of these officials for their signatures. These included Deputy Secretary of Defense Cyrus Vance, Deputy Secretary of State Llewellyn Thompson, and finally, National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy in the White House. They were among the members of the 303 Committee, which oversaw and approved all covert operations for the president. While they read the documents, I sat in their offices, along with a colonel from the covert operations branch of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) who had initially brought the file to me.

The contrast between what the senators had been told by the secretaries in a secret joint session of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, as I read the testimony, and what I soon knew as a first-week staffer in the Pentagon was striking. Pressed by Senator Frank Church to acknowledge that "our government which supplied these boats" (supposedly, as he had just been told, to the South Vietnamese) did know that they would be used for attacks on North Vietnam, Secretary Rusk replied, "In the larger sense, that is so, but as far as any particular detail is concerned we don't from Washington follow that in great detail."

In contrast with this disclaimer, as I knew very well, it would have been more accurate to say that every particular detail of these operations was known and approved by the highest authorities in Washington, both military and civilian. The monthly plan for September 1964, the month following the August raids, which I carried over to the State Department to be read and initialed by Mr. Rusk's deputy and then to McGeorge Bundy in the White House, included the following scheduled actions:

Two junk capture missions; remove captives for 36-48 hours interrogation; booby trap junk with antidisturbance devices and release; captives returned after interrogation; timing depends upon sea conditions and current intelligence;...Demolition of Route 1 bridge by infiltrated team accompanied by fire support teams, place short-delay charges against spans and caissons, place antipersonnel mines on road approaches;...Bombard Cape Mui Dao observation post with 81 MM mortars and 40 MM guns from two PTFs;...Destruction of section of Hanoi-Vinh railroad by infiltrated demolition team supported by two VN [Vietnam] marine squads, by rubber boats from PTFs, place short-delay charges and anti-personnel mines around area....

Some of these operational details, such as the placement of antipersonnel weapons and 81-mm mortar rounds, might have seemed rather petty to be occupying the attention of these officials, but this was the only war we had. Of course it was precisely the "sensitive" nature of the operations-their illegality, the danger both of exposure and of escalation, and their covertness, defined as "plausible deniability"-that required such high-level officials to lie to the Senate if questions were raised and therefore to need such detailed prior awareness and control of what it was they would have to lie about.

This wasn't the end of the coordination in Washington. After a monthly program like this was approved, General William Westmoreland, U.S. military commander in Vietnam, requested approval for execution of each individual maritime mission, and I again carried these around for approval. When an attack that had earlier been approved in Washington for the following month actually took place-the exact timing would depend on weather and sea conditions-that fact and its results were reported back to Washington before another attack was approved by Washington. On August 2, during the Sunday morning meeting in which President Johnson was told of the daylight attack on the Maddox, there was discussion of the results of the July 31 covert attacks on the islands, and the president personally approved the next proposed covert raids, for the nights of August 3 and August 5.

On the evening of the fourth, at an NSC meeting when the president asked, "Do they want war by attacking our ships in the middle of the Gulf of Tonkin?" Director of Central Intelligence John McCone answered: "No. The North Vietnamese are reacting defensively to our [sic] attack on their off-shore islands. They are responding out of pride and on the basis of defense considerations." He was referring to the July 31 raids, but his answer covered the supposed attack that morning, since there had been another raid, this time on the North Vietnamese mainland, the night before. This estimate did not prevent the president from saying, in his message as he urged Congress to pass the resolution days later: "We have answered their unprovoked aggression...."

On August 7 Congress approved the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which reads: "Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression....The United States is...prepared, as the President determines, to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom" [emphasis added].

There was some unease expressed regarding the unusually vague and open-ended scope of the resolution drafted by the administration. Senator Wayne Morse called it a predated declaration of war. Senator Gaylord Nelson offered an amendment expressing a sense in Congress that "[o]ur continuing policy is to limit our role to the provision of aid, training assistance, and military advice," and "we should continue to attempt to avoid a direct military involvement in the Southeast Asian conflict." Senator Fulbright, who managed passage of the resolution in the Senate, said he believed this amendment was "unobjectionable" as "an accurate reflection of what I believe is the President's policy." He rejected it only because (as Johnson had stressed to him in private) the delay in passage to resolve differences in language between the House and Senate versions would weaken the image of unified national support for the president's recent actions. At this moment it was announced that the House had passed the resolution 416 to 0 after forty minutes of debate. Fulbright hoped the Senate would approach that unanimity. Soon after this the Senate voted 88 to 2, with only Senators Morse and Ernest Gruening voting against it.

Several senators, including George McGovern, Frank Church, Albert Gore, and the Republican John Sherman Cooper, had expressed the same concern as Nelson. Fulbright acknowledged that the language was broad enough to permit the president to launch direct combat involvement, including U.S. infantry divisions, which was what worried them. But they accepted Fulbright's assurances-reflecting his talks with officials including the president-that there was no consideration in the administration of using the resolution as an authorization for changing the American role in the war. He had "no doubt that the president will consult with Congress in case a major change in present policy becomes necessary."Most of the Democrats saw the resolution mainly as a way to get a strong expression of bipartisan support for the president's forceful action, undercutting Goldwater's campaign claim that Johnson was uncertain in foreign affairs and indecisive in Vietnam. By thus helping to defeat Goldwater, they saw their support for the resolution as a way of avoiding escalation in Vietnam, which only Goldwater was promising.

But Fulbright's assurances, all of them, were as unfounded as those of Johnson, Rusk, and McNamara. The difference was that he didn't know it. He had been deceived, and in turn, unwittingly, he misled the Senate. Of all the week's deceptions, these were by far the most significant.

We seek no wider war? But the president that summer was secretly and explicitly threatening the Hanoi regime with a wider war against North Vietnam itself, unless its leaders took steps to end the conflict that no one in the administration thought they were likely to take. Johnson's messages to Ho Chi Minh, through a Canadian intermediary, amounted to a secret promise by the president of the United States to the leaders in Hanoi to widen the war unless they called it off.

The warnings were being delivered to North Vietnam by Blair Seaborn, the Canadian member of the International Control Commission (ICC), set up to monitor observance with the 1954 and 1962 Geneva Accords. In his first meeting in Hanoi on June 18, he had met privately with Prime Minister Pham Van Dong. Seaborn had relayed the warning, drafted by U.S. officials and coordinated with the Canadians, that "U.S. public and official patience with North Vietnamese aggression is growing extremely thin," and that if the conflict should escalate, "the greatest devastation would of course result for the DRV [Democratic Republic of Vietnam, or North Vietnam] itself."

Among those who had advocated these threats-virtually all of the president's civilian and military advisers-no one regarded them as bluffs. The Joint Chiefs of Staff had been directed to make detailed plans for air attacks on North Vietnam. By the end of May it had completed studies and preparations, down to target folders for a recommended list of ninety-four targets. The targets for retaliation selected so quickly on August 5 had simply been drawn from this ninety-four-target list. Both this planning and the warning by a Canadian intermediary figured in detailed scenarios coordinated within the government since March and April-most recently on May 23-leading up to a "D-Day" air assault on North Vietnam, to continue until "terrorism, armed attacks, and armed resistance to pacification efforts in the South stop." Another key element, scheduled for D-20 (twenty days before the attacks began), was:"Obtain joint resolution [from Congress] approving past actions and authorizing whatever is necessary with respect to Vietnam."

Although the detailed thirty-day scenario approach was shelved by the president's top advisers in late May, they recommended to him as separate items that month nearly all of its pre-D-Day elements, including those above. They also recommended an initial strike against North Vietnam to underline the secret warning. This followed a proposal by Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge in Saigon, a strong advocate of attacks on the North who had earlier in the spring introduced the notion of the warning through Canada. On May 15, in a message to the president, he suggested:

If prior to the Canadian's trip to Hanoi there has been a terroristic act of the proper magnitude, then I suggest that a specific target in North Vietnam be considered as a prelude to his arrival....

This had not occurred prior to Seaborn's first visit to Hanoi in June. But his second visit was scheduled for August 10. The events of August 2-7 allowed the United States to point out, in case of any doubt in Hanoi, just what that warning meant in concrete terms. Moreover, the second discussion would allow the administration to make clear what it felt entitled to do with the authority granted by the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, lest Hanoi had been misled by the interpretation Senator Fulbright had given to his fellow Democrats.

To these ends my new boss, John McNaughton, was asked to draft instructions for Seaborn's August 10 session. That was why McNaughton chose to tell me about and to show me a file on the threat process, describing it as one of the most closely held secrets in the administration. He told me that Imust not hint of the existence of this process to anyone, including any of his own deputies. One reason for the extreme secrecy of the information McNaughton gave me was that it was a very dubious role for an ICC commissioner to be conveying U.S. threats to Hanoi. (An intermediary was needed because the United States had no formal representation or contact with the Hanoi regime.) That role could not be known to the other members of the ICC, Poland and India, or to the Canadian Parliament or public, which would not be as quick to accept it as Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson. But what was most "sensitive" about this information was that this official warning by the president to the heads of an adversary state came very close to committing him to the course of action that his Republican opponent, Senator Goldwater, was advocating and that President Johnson was opposing and describing in his campaign as dangerously reckless. Moreover, it put the administration's intentions with respect to the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in an entirely different light from what Congress was being told. Indeed, on August 7, as Congress was voting on the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, John McNaughton was drafting instructions on the message Seaborn should (and later did) deliver that precisely reversed the emphasis on the two key clauses in the resolution that Senator Fulbright had been encouraged by the administration to convey to his fellow senators. His draft, which was adopted by the administration and followed by the Canadians, told Seaborn to conclude his comments with the points:

a. That the events of the past few days should add credibility to the statement made last time, that "U.S. public and official patience with North Vietnamese aggression is growing extremely thin."

b. That the congressional resolution was passed with near unanimity, strongly reaffirming the unity and determination of the U.S. government and people not only with respect to any further attacks on U.S. military forces but more broadly to continue to oppose firmly, by all necessary means, DRV efforts to subvert and conquer South Vietnam and Laos.

c. That the U.S. has come to the view that the DRV role in South Vietnam and Laos is critical. If the DRV persists in its present course, it can expect...to suffer the consequences.

Pham Van Dong's reaction on August 13, as a State Department report described it, was "extremely angry" and cold. And unyielding, as on the first visit (when the exchange had been friendlier, despite the threat). Then he had said that the prospect for the United States and its friends in South Vietnam was "sans issue": no way out, a dead end. Now, in the aftermath of the American raids, he said that the United States had found "it is necessary to carry the war to the North in order to find a way out of the impasse...in the South."

He had gotten the message. (It remained a secret from the American electorate, and from Congress, for the next eight months.) A wider war was on the way.

—from Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg, Copyright © October 2002, Viking Press, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"[Ellsberg's] well-told memoir sticks in the mind and will be a powerful testament for future students of a war that the United States should never have fought." (The Washington Post)

"Ellsberg's deft critique of secrecy in government is an invaluable contribution to understanding one of our nation's darkest hours." (Theodore Roszak, San Francisco Chronicle)

Meet the Author

DANIEL ELLSBERG, a Harvard graduate, ex-marine, and Rand Corporation analyst, was one of the "whiz kids" recruited to serve in the Pentagon during the Johnson administration. In 1971, Ellsberg made headlines around the world when he released the Pentagon Papers. Now a prominent speaker, writer, and activist, Ellsberg lives in California and Washington DC.

DANIEL ELLSBERG, a Harvard graduate, ex-marine, and Rand Corporation analyst, was one of the "whiz kids" recruited to serve in the Pentagon during the Johnson administration. In 1971, Ellsberg made headlines around the world when he released the Pentagon Papers. Now a prominent speaker, writer, and activist, Ellsberg lives in California and Washington DC.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Dr_Wilson_Trivino More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
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
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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