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Daniel Ellsberg writes: "While we go on waging unwinnable wars on false premises, the Pentagon papers tell us we must not wait 40 years for the truth. Don't wait until thousands more have died, before you go to the press and to Congress to tell the truth with documents that reveal lies or crimes or internal projections of costs and dangers. Don't wait 40 years for it to be declassified, or seven years as I did for you or someone else to leak it."

Suspected Viet Cong guerrillas are led by US infantrymen to an interrogation point near Long Thanh, 40 miles southwest of Saigon, 01/02/66. (photo: Henri Huet/AP)
Suspected Viet Cong guerrillas are led by US infantrymen to an interrogation point near Long Thanh, 40 miles southwest of Saigon, 01/02/66. (photo: Henri Huet/AP)

Why the Pentagon Papers Matter Now

By Daniel Ellsberg, Reader Supported News

13 June 11


While we go on waging unwinnable wars on false premises, the Pentagon papers tell us we must not wait 40 years for the truth.

he declassification and online release Monday of the full original version of the Pentagon Papers - the 7,000-page top secret Pentagon study of US decision-making in Vietnam 1945-67 - comes 40 years after I gave it to 19 newspapers and to Senator Mike Gravel (minus volumes on negotiations, which I had given only to the Senate foreign relations committee). Gravel entered what I had given him in the congressional record and later published nearly all of it with Beacon Press. Together with the newspaper coverage and a government printing office (GPO) edition that was heavily redacted but overlapped the Senator Gravel edition, most of the material has been available to the public and scholars since 1971. (The negotiation volumes were declassified some years ago; the Senate, if not the Pentagon, should have released them no later than the end of the war in 1975.)

In other words, today's declassification of the whole study comes 36 to 40 years overdue. Yet, unfortunately, it happens to be peculiarly timely that this study gets attention and goes online just now. That's because we're mired again in wars - especially in Afghanistan - remarkably similar to the 30-year conflict in Vietnam, and we don't have comparable documentation and insider analysis to enlighten us on how we got here and where it's likely to go.

What we need released this month are the Pentagon Papers of Iraq and Afghanistan (and Pakistan, Yemen and Libya). We're not likely to get them; they probably don't yet exist, at least in the useful form of the earlier ones. But the original studies on Vietnam are a surprisingly not-bad substitute, definitely worth learning from.

Yes, the languages and ethnicities that we don't understand are different in the Middle East from those in Vietnam; the climate, terrain and types of ambushes are very different. But as the accounts in the Pentagon Papers explain, we face the same futile effort in Afghanistan to find and destroy nationalist guerrillas or to get them to quit fighting foreign invaders (now us) and the corrupt, ill-motivated, dope-dealing despots we support. As in Vietnam, the more troops we deploy and the more adversaries we kill (along with civilians), the quicker their losses are made good and the more their ranks grow, since it's our very presence, our operations and our support of a regime without legitimacy that is the prime basis for their recruiting.

As for Washington, the accounts of recurrent decisions to escalate in the Pentagon Papers read like an extended prequel to Bob Woodward's book, Obama's War, on the prolonged internal controversies that preceded the president's decisions to triple the size of our forces in Afghanistan. (Woodward's book, too, is based on top secret leaks. Unfortunately, these came out after the decisions had been made, and without accompanying documentation: which it is still not too late for Woodward or his sources to give to WikiLeaks.)

In accounts of wars 40 years and half a world apart, we read of the same irresponsible, self-serving presidential and congressional objectives in prolonging and escalating an unwinnable conflict: namely, the need not to be charged with weakness by political rivals, or with losing a war that a few feckless or ambitious generals foolishly claim can be won. Putting the policy-making and the field realities together, we see the same prospect of endless, bloody stalemate - unless and until, under public pressure, Congress threatens to cut off the money (as in 1972-73), forcing the executive into a negotiated withdrawal.

To motivate voters and Congress to extricate us from these presidential wars, we need the Pentagon Papers of the Middle East wars right now. Not 40 years in the future. Not after even two or three more years of further commitment to stalemated and unjustifiable wars.

Yet, we're not likely to get these ever within the time frame they're needed. The WikiLeaks' unauthorised disclosures of the last year are the first in 40 years to approach the scale of the Pentagon Papers (and even surpass them in quantity and timeliness). But unfortunately, the courageous source of these secret, field-level reports - Private Bradley Manning is the one accused, though that remains to be proven in court - did not have access to top secret, high-level recommendations, estimates and decisions.

Very, very few of those who do have such access are willing to risk their clearances and careers - and the growing possibility (under President Obama) of prosecution - by documenting to Congress and the public even policies that they personally believe are disastrous and wrongly kept secret and lied about. I was one - and far from alone - with such access and such views, as a special assistant to the assistant secretary of defence for international security affairs in the Pentagon in 1964-65. (My immediate boss John T McNaughton, Robert McNamara's primary assistant on Vietnam, was another; as documented in the recent publication of his personal diary.)

I've long regretted that it didn't even occur to me, in August 1964, to release the documents in my Pentagon safe giving the lie to claims of an "unequivocal, unprovoked" (unreal) attack on our destroyers in the Tonkin Gulf: precursors of the "evidence beyond any doubt" of nonexistent WMDs in Iraq, which manipulated Congress, once again, to pass the exact counterpart of the Tonkin Gulf resolution.

Senator Morse - one of the two senators who had voted against that unconstitutional, undated blank cheque for presidential war in 1964 - told me that if I had provided him with that evidence at the time (instead of 1969, when I finally provided it to the senate foreign relations committee, on which he had served): "The Tonkin Gulf resolution would never have gotten out of committee; and if it had been brought to the floor, it would have been voted down."

That's a heavy burden for me to bear: especially when I reflect that, by September, I had a drawer-full of the top secret documents (again, regrettably, not published until 1971) proving the fraudulence of Johnson's promises of "no wider war" in his election campaign, and his actual determination to escalate a war that he privately and realistically regarded as unwinnable.

Had I or one of the scores of other officials who had the same high-level information acted then on our oath of office - which was not an oath to obey the president, nor to keep the secret that he was violating his own sworn obligations, but solely an oath "to support and defend the constitution of the United States" - that terrible war might well have been averted altogether. But to hope to have that effect, we would have needed to disclose the documents when they were current, before the escalation - not five or seven, or even two, years after the fateful commitments had been made.

A lesson to be drawn from reading the Pentagon Papers, knowing all that followed or has come out in the years since, is this. To those in the Pentagon, state department, the White House, CIA (and their counterparts in Britain and other Nato countries) who have similar access to mine then and foreknowledge of disastrous escalations in our wars in the Middle East, I would say:

Don't make my mistake. Don't do what I did. Don't wait until a new war has started in Iran, until more bombs have fallen in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, Libya, Iraq or Yemen. Don't wait until thousands more have died, before you go to the press and to Congress to tell the truth with documents that reveal lies or crimes or internal projections of costs and dangers. Don't wait 40 years for it to be declassified, or seven years as I did for you or someone else to leak it.

The personal risks are great. But a war's worth of lives might be saved. your social media marketing partner


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We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

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Founder, Reader Supported News

+47 # Kayjay 2011-06-13 17:22
Many thanks to Mr. Ellsberg for his continuing revelations re. the papers and the need for government accountability. Sadly, government agencies and employees then and even more so today, are too busy trying to save their own butts, to make needed changes or learn from past mistakes. Big government actions are a lot like corporate measures, in that they are awash in opportunities for plausible denial. In the meantime, there's money to be made, congressional seats to retain and legacies to mold, all in name of American interests amid the bloodshed.
+27 # sabiha1 2011-06-13 23:17
For each life lost, for each child orphaned, each woman widowed each family left without succour, in countries with no social support system, who will answer? The politicians everywhere are self-serving; it is the tax-payers who are funding the wars and allowing horrible things to happen. More whistleblowers are needed. I salute wikileaks and its founder.
-20 # boudreaux 2011-06-14 10:45
My tax dollars may be funding this war but I am in no way accountable for it, I remember that is was Bush that started it. I take offense to what you said.
+8 # mtnview 2011-06-15 19:40
Troll, your name and your blood are responsible for this war. There is a reason our government is hated externally and internally. WE all are responsible for the wars, for the draining of our economy, for the billions of armaments constructed in America that bring death throught the planet. Shame on you, and on me, and on everyone reading this....... we are guilty. As Americans, our government is a representation of each of us. We have failed to hold are government accountable and thus we are! Ms. Troll, you are definitely accountable. As am I......
-4 # dlet60 2011-06-14 04:50
VietNam reductio!
+23 # jlohman 2011-06-14 06:54
Americans had best wake up. Wars are caused by politicians who take gobs of cash contributions from the defense industry. Choke off those dollars (with public funding of campaigns) and we'll soon let other countries solve their own problems.

Jack Lohman
+6 # MidwestTom 2011-06-14 08:11
I tell everyone to read TRAGEDY AND HOPE by Professor Quigley. His book not only reports history, but goes into some of the hidden reasons why it happened the way it did. In his book, written in 1976, he suggests that the United States must always be in an unwinnable war. He also suggests that the U.S. must suffer a very severe depression before it waill accept world government, as in the New World Order.
+10 # S. Wolf Britain 2011-06-14 09:29
And Quigley was Bill Clinton's mentor, and both, as well as many others support(ed) what Quigley wrote in that book. In other words, these evil people, including ObamaCON/FRAUD, want the "New World Order (NWO)" and one-world government, and all of the enslavement (eradication of freedom and liberty) that goes along with it. They are ALL traitors to the U.S. Constitution; because, to do away with national sovereignty, which is what these traitors have to do in order to bring about one-world government and their "New World Order (NWO)", is a blatant, treasonous violation of the U.S. Constitution. But, what are most of us doing in response? We're allowing it to happen, and far too many of us are cheering it on, believing the monstrous lies that global government is "necessary" in order to "save" us from all of the ills of the world, the very same ills that these global mobsters cause in the first place in order to get the majority to call for their own enslavement and destruction; and it's working all too well for these monsters.

This is why we need more "Daniel Ellsbergs", "Woodwards and Bernsteins", "Wikileaks", "Julian Assanges" and "Bradley Mannings", etc.; and why we need a coup in the U.S. government, for the government to turn on itself, and for more and more people in the government to refuse to go along with this tyranny, despotism, treason and rising fascism.
+10 # rm 2011-06-14 10:02
Quigley is a great supporter of oligarchy in the US. His earlier book, "The Anglo-American Elite" is full of praise for the ruling elites who passed the torch from the British empire to the American empire. He thinks the US and all the world should be ruled by these AAE - Anglo-American Elites.

Quigley recruited Clinton into the CIA while at Georgetown. There are such professors at most elite universities. Read Confessions of an Economic Hitman fo the story of another such functionary of empire.

The US is a empire in every sense of the word. All empires collapse in the end. I'd say the US is moving pretty close to its demise. It cannot be reformed. It will charge forward until it collapses.
+6 # S. Wolf Britain 2011-06-14 11:11
Until the U.S. empire collapses by design. The globalist elitist oligarchy cannot bring about world government, and/or bring the U.S. into one-world government, without the U.S. empire falling. It's part of the plan, and that's why these U.S. and global traitors are intentionally destroying the U.S.; because, without U.S. sovereignty and independence falling and the U.S. becoming part and parcel of global government, and without all countries' national sovereignty falling, they couldn't turn the entire world, or all the countries of the world, into one great big worldwide slave plantation without any true liberty(ies) and freedom(s) whatsoever, the long sought after goal for complete world domination, subjugation and control, aka enslavement, by the Vatican.
+7 # tomo 2011-06-14 11:21
"The US is an empire in every sense of the word." I think this is true, rm; but we've gone to great lengths to deny it--preferring to call ourselves "the leader of the free world." What Alfred Thayer Mahan and John Hay and the other "expansionists" wanted for us at the dawn of the 20th century was "economic hegemony." But even at the moment when Hay drafted and circulated "the Open Door Notes," we had already gone beyond that with the annexation of the Philippines. We wanted empire-on-the-c heap, but the realization had already dawned that SOME territorial conquest was the foundation stone for this slimmed down empire. We did not want the British burden of ADMINISTRATIVE control. As this has played out, we've tried to control the economics of other countries by an alliance in each case with a dictator who will act in accord with us. We seems perpetually amazed that dictators make bad allies--in that they tend to go their own ways. So we have this long history of broken "friendships" with people we despise, and who despise us. Noriega, Saddam, and Bin Laden are simply among the more recent examples. That our underlying stance is imperial is manifested in the outrage we express when any of these puppets slips our control. So I think you're right, rm. It may sound hyperbolical to say so, but a little reflection shows we really are an empire.
+4 # wanda 2011-06-16 08:37
Described Orwell's Oceana.
+23 # granny 2011-06-14 09:00
This is truly important - the Weiner hullaballoo is NOT. Too bad the editors and pundits don't realize it.
+15 # John Gill 2011-06-14 10:06
In 1898, while Americans were still reeling from the great depression of the 1890s, corporate expansionist interests hungered for new frontiers and set their sights on Cuba, the Phillipine Islands, and Puerto Rico. Although there was much talk of supporting the revolutionists of Cuba in their fight for independance against Spain, it took the sinking of the battleship Maine, under what are still today mysterious circumstances, to get us involved and to declare war against Spain. When Spain surrendered, the "free" Cubans had new masters, American corporate interests. Watch Libya. My point is that none of this is new. War for profit has been this country's business for two hundred years, beginning with incursions into Latin America in the early 1800s. Whenever it happens, people are angry, are suspicious,(usu ally in retrospect,) of camel back straws like the sinking of the Maine, like Pearl Harbor, like the Twin Towers, and then, we once again vote for the one head of the two headed snake, Democrat or Republican, whichever one tells us, this time, what we want to hear. "Pentagon Papers"-like truth is uncovered again and again. Past is prologue.
+6 # tomo 2011-06-14 11:47
Good for you, John! This is the best use of history I've seen in a long time. As Santayana tried to tell us, the only way to keep the past from being prelude is to know it very well. Even then, it's going to take prayer and fasting. The reason our corporations and politicians have been able to get away with centuries of this "shadow show" is that we, the people, like the results--the wonderful access we enjoy to the world's resources and labor.
+4 # boudreaux 2011-06-14 10:28
This goverment is draining us as dry as they can. It's like they don't have the sense to know when to stop. It's not just a tragedy there we are suffering it here to by loss of life and jobs. Our people are doing everything that they can to get jobs and they just aren't there so what do you do, you look to your representive's to get things back on track but they lost the train in China and ain't even looking for it anymore. Sold out....and then start shit like the weiner thing to get your mind off it while they bully the dude to death and just wear that out then here we are again, looking for the train cause thats where the money went.
+14 # carsten byrn 2011-06-14 15:45
one thing for sure is,
that the soldiers killed on the battle field are never the sons of the people
declaring the wars.
+6 # fredboy 2011-06-15 14:39
Thanks, Daniel, for setting a courageous precedent.

Wish there were more like you today. Way too many cowards and gelded, mind-warped yes types these days to ever step forward and do the right thing for the greater good.
+3 # Dwayne Walls, Jr 2011-06-15 19:10
Damn right they matter. The FBI thretened my father at the Charlotte Observer about them

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