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Spellbinding Recounting Of The Pentagon Papers Story!,
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This review is from: Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (Hardcover)
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 the 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 recommend this book to anyone interested in 20th century American history. Enjoy!
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Initial post: Jun 20, 2014 6:36:35 PM PDT
Ben Herr says:
What a great review. I haven't read the book yet, but I will order it immediately. As a naÔve young Vietnam vet during the late 60's and early 70's I bought the government's' "official" policy crap. I thought Ellsberg was a criminal. Not so, he was an American hero. When your stationed 5 miles from the border and they put you in a helicopter and fly west for an hour, you know your not in Kansas anymore.
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