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Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers [Hardcover]

by Daniel Ellsberg
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 14, 2002 0670030309 978-0670030309 First Edition
Daniel Ellsberg began his career as the coldest of cold warriors-a U. S. Marine company commander, a Pentagon analyst, and a staunch supporter of America's battle against Communist expansion. But in October 1969, Ellsberg-fully expecting to spend the rest of his life in prison-set out to turn around American foreign policy by smuggling out of his office the seven-thousand-page top-secret study, known as the Pentagon Papers, of U.S. decision making in Vietnam. Now, for the first time, Ellsberg tells the full story of how and why he became one of the nation's most impassioned and influential anti-war activists-and how his actions helped alter the course of U.S. history.

Covering the decade between his entry into the Pentagon and Nixon's resignation, Secrets is Ellsberg's meticulously detailed insider's account of the secrets and lies that shaped American foreign policy during the Vietnam era. Ellsberg provides a vivid eyewitness account of the two years he spent behind the lines in Vietnam as a State Department observer-an experience that convinced him of the hopelessness of Johnson's policies and profoundly altered his own political thinking. As Ellsberg recounts with drama and insight, the release of the Pentagon Papers, first to The New York Times and The Washington Post, set in motion a train of events that ultimately toppled a president and helped to end an unjust war.

Infused with the political passion and turmoil of the Vietnam era, Secrets is at once the memoir of a committed, daring man, an insider's exposé of Washington, and a meditation on the meaning of patriotism under a government intoxicated by keeping secrets.

Editorial Reviews

From 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.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From 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.
Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (October 14, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670030309
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670030309
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #93,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
176 of 180 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spellbinding Recounting Of The Pentagon Papers Story! October 10, 2002
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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.
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding Hidden American History February 7, 2003
Like many others I was sucked into the Vietnam war against
my will. I paid for what I thought was LBJ's war with my
blood and sanity. What "SECRETS" does is to fill in the
blanks with the background of the political agendas of a
number of presidential administrations. "SECRETS" validates suspicions some of us have had for more than thirty years. "SECRETS" is the memoir of one person, Daniel
Ellsberg, who took a stand on the side of humanity and
morality in an effort to end the Vietnam war and topple
the corrupt and insatiable desire for ultimate power that
would have been Richard M. Nixon's had it not been for
the release of the Pentagon Papers.
"SECRETS" is a story of patriotism at its finest, where
one man risked everything in an effort to disclose the
truth about power and war conducted by the United States Government. Reading "SECRETS" exposes war for what it
really is, a manipulative tool of big business and
government order.
If more Americans would read this book they would become
aware enough to argue whether or not we should ever
engage in the brutality and ignorance of war again.
"SECRETS" should be required reading for anyone in
America who believes him/herself to be a patriot.
Bob Algie
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73 of 80 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This extraordinary work comes at the perfect time, as an Administration is seeking to create new forms of secret operations invisible to Congress and the public, in pursuit of its war on Iraq and-one speculates-other targets of ideological but not public priority. The book covers seven areas I categorize as Background, History, Information Strategy, Pathology of Secrecy, Ethics, War Crimes, and Administrative.
By way of background, the book establishes that the author was not a peacenik per se, as some might perceive him, but rather a warrior, both in terms of Cold War ideology and from actual experience as a USMC infantry company commander and an on-the-ground observer traveling across Viet-Nam by jeep instead of helicopter, generally in the company of the top U.S. ground expert in Viet-Nam, John Paul Vann. The book establishes-as George Allen has also told us in NONE SO BLIND, that intelligence did not fail in Viet-Nam, that Presidents do get good advice from good men, but that the position of President, combined with executive secrecy as an enabling condition, permits very irrational and ineffective policies, conceived in private without public debate, to go forward at taxpayer expense and without Congressional oversight. The author is timely in emphasizing that the "spell of unanimity" is very dangerous and provides a very false image to the public-the stifling of dissent and debate at all levels leads to bad policy.
The author does an effective job of bringing forward the lessons of history, not only from Truman and Eisenhower forward, but from the Japanese and French occupations of Indochina.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "We are eating our young" January 8, 2005
"Ellsberg is the most dangerous man in the world and must be stopped at all costs," Henry Kissinger proclaimed in the Oval Office on March 2, 1971. President Richard Nixon was equally fearful of Daniel Ellsberg because the highly regarded government insider had copied 7,000 pages of Top Secret documents about U.S. involvement in Vietnam and released it to the New York Times for publication.

Ellsberg, a former U.S. Marine infantry officer, Vietnam expert and dedicated cold-war warrior witnessed how the war was eating our young and decided to expose dark White House policy. On that note, "Secrets; A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers," is a startling exposure of how the White House often conducted destructive policy behind closed doors and lied to Congress and the American public about it. The author aptly summed up the situation he found when he finished researching years of Top Secret historical reports on Vietnam..."you don't have to be an ichthyologist to know when a fish stinks."

Ellsberg discloses (among many other things) that in March of 1969 William Beecher of the New York Times reported the Top Secret bombing of Cambodia. Beecher's story had been particularly embarrassing to Nixon and Kissinger because it revealed details on the operation that the White House had meant to keep from Secretary of Defense Mel Laird and Secretary of State William Rogers. Ellsberg also demonstrates how Nixon and Kissinger orchestrated a strong government denial that forced the quiet death of Beecher's New York Times report.

The author concludes that, "it appeared that only if power were brought to bear on the executive from outside," would the situation change. He realized just like many other Americans that the Vietnam War was a endless, hopeless bloody stalemate.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent historical perspective from troubled times
Having been in the army during some of the events covered by Dan Ellsberg, I too, as he states, wish he had acted sooner - and that others would have had the moral convictions to... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Robert A. Cary
4.0 out of 5 stars enjoyable
A nice book to know part of the story of the VietNam war. I would recommend it to others interested in the hostilities that occurred in that area of the world.
Published 3 months ago by Enzo
5.0 out of 5 stars Greek Tragedy, Roman Irony and Nixonian Farce
This is a brilliant book. During the time Ellsberg relates, he was constantly called upon to write lengthy and detailed reports for officials already over burdened with endless... Read more
Published 4 months ago by D. J. Leedham
5.0 out of 5 stars Most extraordinary
It is by far the greatest of all the great books about America's experience in Vietnam. It is essential to beginning to understand how monstrous a nation's government can become.
Published 7 months ago by Juanito
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye opening!!!!
I haven't finished the book yet, but it is already worth the price. It's hard to put down. Knowing first hand what our government was up to in that era is disgusting but... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Sandi
4.0 out of 5 stars So informative
Wow. Almost like Forrest Gump. This guy knew everyone. Going on patrol in Viet Nam - locked and loaded - while an embassy employee. Really? Read more
Published 8 months ago by E. Dale Moser
4.0 out of 5 stars Invaluable, but Flawed
"Secrets" is a first-person account of Daniel Ellsberg's involvement with the Vietnam War and the Pentagon Papers. Read more
Published 9 months ago by F. Hobbs
5.0 out of 5 stars Hero
Brave at every turn, from Vietnam rice paddies to facing prison to protect our freedoms, Daniel Ellsberg is a hero and patriot -- and an excellent author.
Published 10 months ago by Vince Scafaria, CFA
5.0 out of 5 stars I wanted to know more about what led up to Watergate
Common Cause conducted a conference: Did we learn anything from Watergate. Dan Ellsberg did an excellent job of providing the history of the Pentagon Papers and his time he spent... Read more
Published 12 months ago by F. LaVerne Gillespie
5.0 out of 5 stars Important work
What is left to say about this book? It's more important than ever with the ongoing trial of Pvt. Bradley Manning. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Nick Cheng
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