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Pentagon Papers

PENTAGON PAPERS

PENTAGON PAPERS. Popularly known as the Pentagon Papers, the "History of U.S. Decision Making Process on Vietnam Policy" is a forty-seven volume, 7,000-page, 2.5 million-word study that traces the involvement of the United States in Vietnam from World War II to 1968. Four thousand pages of the study consist of republished government documents; the balance comprises historical studies prepared by thirty-six civilian and military analysts and focused on particular events. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara commissioned the study in 1967 during the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson. The Vietnam War had sparked serious dissent within the United States, and U.S. foreign policy was dominated by Cold War thinking that emphasized the importance of containing the spread of communism. Directed by Leslie H. Gelb, the study was completed shortly before Richard M. Nixon was sworn in as president in January 1969. The fifteen copies made were classified "top secret sensitive."

The first volumes of the study reviewed U.S. policy toward Indochina during and immediately following World War II, as well as the U.S. involvement in the Franco–Viet Minh War between 1950 and 1954, the Geneva Conference of 1954, and the origins of insurgency from 1954 to 1960. Most of the study, however, was devoted to the years following the election of President John F. Kennedy in 1960. It included detailed reviews of the overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem; the Tonkin Gulf episode; the decision to begin and expand the air war against North Vietnam; the decision to deploy U.S. ground forces in Vietnam; the buildup of those forces; the strategy for the use of troops; and the history of the war's diplomacy from 1964 to 1968.

As a history, the Pentagon Papers had shortcomings. The staff did not collect White House documents or conduct interviews, and the Central Intelligence Agency as well as other branches of government with held documents. Because the historical studies were based solely on the collected documents, the subjects analyzed were narrowly conceived and treated.

Believing that the public disclosure of the Pentagon Papers might shorten the war in Vietnam, Daniel Ellsberg, a defense department consultant working at the Rand Corporation, made the study available to the New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan in early 1971. On 13 June 1971 the New York Times published the first of a ten-part series on the Pentagon Papers under a headline that read: "VIETNAM ARCHIVE: PENTAGON STUDY TRACES 3 DECADES OF GROWING U.S. INVOLVEMENT." The opening paragraph of that first article sounded a theme that many thought distilled the salient meaning of this government study: the U.S. government had through successive administrations misled

the American public about "a sense of commitment to a non-Communist Vietnam, a readiness to fight the North to protect the South, and an ultimate frustration with this effort."

Initially the Pentagon Papers drew little public attention or comment, but when the United States obtained a temporary restraining order barring the New York Times from publishing its fourth installment, the dry and tedious study captured national attention. The government initiated litigation premised on the claim that further publication would endanger national security at a time when U.S. combat troops were fighting a land war in Vietnam, and proceeded frantically through all three levels of the federal courts. Eventually the Washington Post and other newspapers became involved. On 30 June 1971, in New York Times Co. v. United States,403 U.S. 713, the United States Supreme Court, by a vote of 6 to 3, denied the government's request for a prior restraint on the ground that the government's evidence fell short of what the constitution required. The outcome was widely hailed as a landmark in the history of free press.

The United States criminally prosecuted Ellsberg and Anthony J. Russo, who had helped in photocopying the study, mainly on charges of espionage, but in 1973 U.S. District Judge William M. Byrne dismissed the charges because of government misconduct. There is no evidence that the public disclosure of the Pentagon Papers injured national security as the government contended it would. The disclosure had no discernible impact on the course of the war, did not appreciably reignite the antiwar movement with in the United States, and did not result in the commencement of war-crimes prosecution against high-level U.S. officials.

The entire Pentagon Papers episode was, however, a critical turning point for the Nixon administration, which located with in the White House a group that became known as the "Plumbers Unit." Ostensibly charged with investigating the improper disclosure ("leaks") of classified information, in the fall of 1971 this group burglarized the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist in search of information about Ellsberg and his accomplices. Nine months later it broke into the headquarters of the Democratic Party at the Watergate building complex in Washington, D.C. Thus, the Pentagon Papers indirectly led to the Watergate scandal, which caused Nixon to resign the presidency on 9 August 1974.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Herring, George C., ed. The Secret Diplomacy of the Vietnam War: The Negotiating Volumes of the Pentagon Papers. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983.

The Pentagon Papers: The Defense Department History of United States Decision-Making on Vietnam. 4 vols. Boston: Beacon Press, 1971.

Rudenstine, David. The Day the Presses Stopped: A History of the Pentagon Papers Case. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Sheehan, Neil, et al. The Pentagon Papers: As Published by the New York Times, Based on Investigative Reporting by Neil Sheehan. New York: Bantam, 1971.

Ungar, Sanford J. The Papers and the Papers: An Account of the Legal and Political Battle over the Pentagon Papers. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.

DavidRudenstine

See alsoCold War ; New York Times ; Nixon, Resignation of ; Vietnam War ; Watergate ; andvol. 9:Excerpt from the Pentagon Papers .

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Pentagon Papers

Pentagon Papers (1971).On 13 June 1971, the New York Times began publication of a secret Department of Defense history of Vietnam War decision making commissioned by Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara toward the end of the Johnson administration. Leaked by former Defense Department analyst Daniel Ellsberg, who believed the revelation might alter the course of the war, the story outraged President Richard M. Nixon, already suspicious of the press, particularly by threatening the president's hoped‐for opening to China. As Nixon's national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, observed in his memoir, The White House Years, “Our nightmare was that … the massive hemorrhage of state secrets was bound to raise doubts [in Peking] about our reliability.” When the Times declined to suspend further publication on its own, Nixon's lawyers won a temporary restraining order from the 2nd Circuit Court in New York. At that point, Ellsberg approached the Washington Post, which picked up and ran the story. Nixon's lawyers sued again in the District of Columbia Circuit Court but failed to demonstrate any substantial damage to national security and lost. On 23 June, they appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to review the case in an unprecedented Saturday morning sitting. In the end, the Court likewise found in favor of the newspapers, but despite widespread public belief it set no solid precedents in support of freedom of the press by doing so. Ruling that prior restraint of the press imposed a heavy burden of proof, which the Nixon administration had failed to carry out, it left the possibility open that the government or the military might pursue similar litigation in the future with greater success.
[See also Supreme Court, War, and the Military; Vietnam War: Changing Interpretations.]

Bibliography

Sanford Ungar , The Papers and the Papers, 1972.
Lucas A. Powe, Jr. , The Fourth Estate and the Constitution, Freedom of the Press in America, 1991.

William M. Hammond

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"Pentagon Papers." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Pentagon Papers." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pentagon-papers

Pentagon Papers

Pentagon Papers, government study of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. Commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara in June, 1967, the 47-volume, top secret study covered the period from World War II to May, 1968. It was written by a team of analysts who had access to classified documents, and was completed in Jan., 1969. The study revealed a considerable degree of miscalculation, bureaucratic arrogance, and deception on the part of U.S. policymakers. In particular, it found that the U.S. government had continually resisted full disclosure of increasing military involvement in Southeast Asia—air strikes over Laos, raids along the coast of North Vietnam, and offensive actions by U.S. marines had taken place long before the American public was informed. On June 13, 1971, the New York Times began publishing a series of articles based on the study. The Justice Dept. obtained a court injunction against further publication on national security grounds, but the Supreme Court ruled (June 30) that constitutional guarantees of a free press overrode other considerations, and allowed further publication. The government indicted (1971) Daniel Ellsberg, a former government employee who made the Pentagon Papers available to the New York Times, and Anthony J. Russo on charges of espionage, theft, and conspiracy. On May 11, 1973, a federal court judge dismissed all charges against them because of improper government conduct.

See the New York Times ed., The Pentagon Papers (1971); S. J. Ungar, The Papers and the Papers (1972); D. Rudenstine, The Day the Presses Stopped (1997).

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"Pentagon Papers." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Pentagon Papers." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pentagon-papers