Pentagon Papers Vietnam War Summary Essay

Pentagon Papers
Richard Nixon was the 37th American President who served in office from January 20, 1969 to August 9, 1974. One of the important events during his presidency was the publication of the Pentagon Papers in the summer of 1971.

Background History to the Pentagon Papers: The Vietnam War
The Vietnam War (November 1, 1955 – April 30, 1975) was a long standing conflict fought between the Communist government of North Vietnam and Viet Cong guerrillas, who were supported by the Chinese, and the armies of South Vietnam supported by the United States.

Background History to the Pentagon Papers
To understand the impact of the Pentagon Papers it is helpful to understand the recent historical events surrounding the Vietnam War just prior to the publication of the Pentagon Papers.  In 1967 General Westmoreland, who was in overall command of the Vietnamese operation, had told the American public the war in Vietnam was progressing well and the end was in sight.

● Despite assurances from the military and the US Government things were not going well, and anti-war protests against the Vietnam War were dramatically increasing
● The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong launched the surprise attack called the Tet Offensive (January 30, 1968 - September 23, 1968) which gained a massive psychological and political victory for the communists
● By April 1969 US troop deployment had reached its peak, numbering 543,000 US soldiers in the Vietnam War.
● In November 1969, news of the My Lai Massacre broke in America to the horror of the nation
● On April 30, 1970 President Nixon, fearing a humiliating defeat in Vietnam, extended the war to Cambodia.
● Large scale anti-war demonstrations spread across the USA and on May 4, 1970 four student demonstrators were shot dead at Kent State University by Ohio National Guardsmen

The Pentagon Papers were therefore revealed at the time when the American public began raising questions about the US involvement in the Vietnam war.

Background History to the Pentagon Papers: Daniel Ellsberg
The impact of the above events had a dramatic effect of the psyche of the American people, including a Military analyst called Daniel Ellsberg. Daniel Ellsberg had begun work for the US Department of Defense in 1964. Daniel Ellsberg moved to Vietnam in 1965 to work out of the American Embassy in Saigon. He left Vietnam in June 1967 and began to work for the RAND Corporation on a top-secret report, ordered by Robert McNamara the Defense Secretary, entitled 'U.S. Decision-making in Vietnam, 1945-1968'. The report later became known as "The Pentagon Papers". The top-secret report contained proof of what Daniel Ellsberg called "evidence of a quarter century of aggression, broken treaties, deceptions, stolen elections, lies and murder." Daniel Ellsberg believed that the Vietnam War should be stopped and made the dangerous decision to become a "Whistleblower" and expose the dishonesty and deception of the military and successive administrations regarding the Vietnam War. Daniel Ellsberg made the decision to photocopy the "Pentagon Papers".

Pentagon Papers Facts for kids
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Pentagon Papers

Pentagon Papers Facts for kids

Pentagon Papers Facts - 1: What were the Pentagon Papers? A United States government 7,000-page, 47-volume report on the internal planning and policy decisions within the U.S. government regarding the Vietnam War.

Pentagon Papers Facts - 2: The official title of the report was 'United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense' but would become famously known as the "Pentagon Papers".

Pentagon Papers Facts - 3: Who commissioned the Pentagon Papers? The report was commissioned in 1967 by Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense during the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Why did Robert McNamara commission the report? McNamara was frustrated with the stalemate of the Vietnam war and wanted to leave a comprehensive analysis about U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War for succeeding administrations in order to prevent future policy errors.

Pentagon Papers Facts - 4: Who compiled the Pentagon Papers? Work began on June 17, 1967 by the Vietnam Study Task Force, under the direction of Leslie H. Gelb. The top secret 'Pentagon Papers' were compiled by a team of 36 military officers, analysts, historians and civilian policy experts. One of the team was Military analyst, Daniel Ellsberg.

Pentagon Papers Facts - 5: What did the Pentagon Papers consist of? The report consisted of 4,000 pages of actual documents taken from the 1945 - 1967 period of the Vietnam War and 3,000 pages of analysis. The classified study was so secret that is was completed without the knowledge of President Lyndon Johnson or his Secretary of State, Dean Rusk.

Pentagon Papers Facts - 6: What did the Pentagon Papers reveal? The Pentagon Papers revealed that Presidents Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and their administrations had deliberately deceived the American people by escalating the Vietnam War, while publicly stating the opposite.

Pentagon Papers Facts - 7: The Pentagon Papers revealed that the Harry S. Truman administration gave military aid to France in its war against the communist Viet Minh which led to the direct involvement of the United States in Vietnam

Pentagon Papers Facts - 8: The Pentagon Papers revealed that the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration, immersed in the Cold War, decided to undermine the new communist regime of North Vietnam and prevent a communist takeover of South Vietnam.

Pentagon Papers Facts - 9: The Pentagon Papers revealed that the John F. Kennedy administration changed the Vietnam policy of "limited-risk gamble" to a policy of “broad commitment”.

Pentagon Papers Facts - 10: The Pentagon Papers revealed that as President Lyndon Johnson was promising not to expand the Vietnam War the US government was deliberately expanding its role in Vietnam by sending in U.S. combat troops, with raids of the coast of North Vietnam, attacks by U.S. Marine Corps and air strikes against Laos. Johnson had made up his mind to send U.S. combat troops to Vietnam

Continued...

Pentagon Papers Facts for kids

Facts about the Pentagon Papers for kids
The following fact sheet continues with facts about Pentagon Papers.

Pentagon Papers Facts for kids

Pentagon Papers Facts - 11: Robert McNamara left the Defense Department in February 1968 and his successor Clark M. Clifford received the finished study on January 15, 1969, five days before the inauguration of President Richard Nixon. The report was classified as "Top Secret – Sensitive" and only 15 copies were published with limited access.

Pentagon Papers Facts - 12: The Pentagon Papers only covered the period in Vietnam up to 1967 and did not implicate the Nixon administration.

Pentagon Papers Facts - 13: A member of the team who compiled the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg, knew it contained "evidence of a quarter century of aggression, broken treaties, deceptions, stolen elections, lies and murder" and desperately wanted the Vietnam War to end.

Pentagon Papers Facts - 14: Ellsberg, assisted by another team member called Anthony Russo, began to photocopy large sections of the study with the intention of becoming a 'Whistleblower' and exposing the content.

Pentagon Papers Facts - 15: Daniel Ellsberg approached several members of Congress including Senator Fulbright and Senator McGovern, in the hope that they would debate the report in Congress and enter the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record. All of the Senators declined.

Pentagon Papers Facts - 16: In March 1971, taking advice from Senator McGovern, Daniel Ellsberg made the decision to approach Neil Sheehan, a New York Times reporter and show him the Pentagon Papers.

Pentagon Papers Facts - 17: The first of a series of articles based upon the leaked Pentagon Papers was published by The New York Times on June, 13 1971.

Pentagon Papers Facts - 18: President Nixon was not unduly worried about the first publication as the Pentagon Papers focused more on the errors of his predecessors, rather than on him. Nixon was also promoting the policy of Vietnamization aimed at withdrawing U.S. troops from Vietnam. However, Henry Kissinger, National Security Advisor, was extremely concerned and convinced Nixon that the articles could "destroy American credibility forever".

Pentagon Papers Facts - 19: The New York Times was slapped with an injunction ordering a stop to publication which led to the a case in the Supreme Court. On June 26 the Supreme Court heard the case New York Times Co. v. United States. On June 30, 1971 the Supreme Court held in a 6–3 decision that the injunctions were unconstitutional due to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution advocating the right to free speech.

Pentagon Papers Facts - 20: Daniel Ellsberg was charged with theft, conspiracy and violations of the Espionage Act for leaking the Pentagon Papers, but his case was dismissed as a mis-trial when evidence emerged about wiretappings and break-ins that had been ordered by the government

Pentagon Papers Facts - 21: The Pentagon Papers were published in the New York Times, the Washington Post and various other newspapers and caused outrage and uproar with the American Public.

Pentagon Papers Facts - 22: The publication of the Pentagon Papers confirmed many suspicions about the "credibility gap" between what the government said and what they actually did.

Pentagon Papers Facts - 23: The significance of the Pentagon Papers heralded a new era of skepticism about the Vietnam War and the US government in general.

Pentagon Papers Facts - 24: The End of the Vietnam War came with a Ceasefire agreement on January 27, 1973 ending U.S. military involvement in the war. A total of 2.59 million Americans had served their country in the conflict during which 58,307 American troops were killed and 304,000 were wounded, of which 75,000 returned home severely disabled.

Pentagon Papers Facts - 25: The government sanctions of wiretappings and break-ins surrounding Daniel Ellsberg and Pentagon Papers were later mirrored in lies and deceptions of the  Watergate Scandal which led to the downfall of President Nixon. 

Pentagon Papers Facts - 26: The Pentagon Papers were finally declassified and released on June 13, 2011.

Pentagon Papers Facts for kids

Pentagon Papers - President Richard Nixon Video
The article on the Pentagon Papers provides detailed facts and a summary of one of the important events during his presidential term in office. The following Richard Nixon video will give you additional important facts and dates about the political events experienced by the 37th American President whose presidency spanned from January 20, 1969 to August 9, 1974.

Pentagon Papers

● Interesting Facts about Pentagon Papers for kids and schools
● Summary of the Pentagon Papers in US history
● Facts about the Pentagon Papers
● Richard Nixon Presidency from January 20, 1969 to August 9, 1974
● Fast, fun, facts about the Pentagon Papers
● Foreign & Domestic policies of President Richard Nixon
● Richard Nixon Presidency and Pentagon Papers for schools, homework, kids and children

In early 1967, Robert S. McNamara, U.S. Secretary of Defense, who had been a leading proponent of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, was now frustrated with the stalemate of the Vietnam War. He desired to leave a comprehensive analysis about U.S. involvement  in Vietnam for researchers and succeeding administrations so as to prevent future policy errors. On June 17, 1967, the Vietnam Study Task Force – consisting of 36 military personnel, historians, and defense analysts under the direction of John T. McNaughton and then Leslie H. Gelb, was formed and began to prepare the classified study without the knowledge of both President Johnson and Secretary of State Dean Rusk.

The Study

After one and a half year, on January 15, 1969, a 7,000-page report was completed and titled “United States – Vietnam Relations, 1945 – 1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense”, which would be later known as the “Pentagon Papers”. The Pentagon Papers were divided into 47 volumes of approximately 4,000 pages of actual government documents and 3,000 pages of analysis on the policy decisions and internal planning within the U.S. government regarding its involvement in Vietnam from the end of World War II in 1945 to the aftermath of Tet Offensive in May, 1968. Upon completion, the study was classified as “Top Secret – Sensitive”. Only 15 copies were published with limited access.

Daniel Ellsberg & the Leak

Like most classified documents, the Pentagon Papers could have been buried in the dark but for an unexpected event happened in 1971, it was suddenly revealed to public. The Pentagon Papers was leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, a former United States military analyst, who was invited by Leslie Gelb to work on the study for several months in 1967. By 1969, Ellsberg was frustrated with the deception and escalation of the war by the Nixon administration. With the help of another former RAND employee, Anthony Russo, he began to sneak out and photocopy large sections of the study with the intention of disclosing it to public. Ellsberg then approached some members of Congress such as Senator Fulbright and Senator McGovern, hoping that they would enter the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record, but all of them declined. In March 1971, taking advice from Senator McGovern, Ellsberg decided to show the study to Neil Sheehan, a New York Times reporter. On June 13, 1971, the first article of the series based upon the Pentagon Papers was published by The New York Times.

Content & Impact of the Pentagon Papers

The Pentagon Papers, revealed at the time when the public began raising questions about the Vietnam war, confirmed many people’s suspicions about the “credibility gap” between what the government said and what they actually did. Many shocking information was revealed in the papers, including solid evidence that preceding administrations from Truman to Johnson had knowingly deceived American people in their conduct of the war. For example, the Kennedy administration, who professed shock when Diem regime was overthrown, had played a major role in the November 1963 coup by South Vietnamese generals in which President Diem and his brother Nhu were assassinated and then openly supported a “leaderless” succeeding government. President Johnson decided to send U.S. troops to Vietnam and escalate the war to Laos, even though he had claimed otherwise during his 1964 presidential campaign.

As for purpose of the war, while President Johnson claimed that the prime aim of the U.S. in Vietnam was to secure an “independent and non-Communist South Vietnam”, the “Plan of Action for South Vietnam” listed a different set of priorities. According to that action plan, the first priority was to avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat, which took up to 70% of the reasons for the U.S. escalation of the war. Unfortunately, after the fall of Saigon, Vietnam War was widely considered as America’s most bitter defeat in history. The “moral” purpose of keeping South Vietnam from Chinese hands that the U.S. leaders usually stated turned out to make up only 20%. And only a humble 10% was to help South Vietnamese people enjoy a better and freer way of life.

Nixon’s Reaction

After the first publication, Nixon at first did not worry too much about the papers as it focused more on his predecessors’ errors than him. However, Kissinger thought otherwise and succeeded in convincing Nixon of the threat that the papers could pose to his administration, which could even “destroy American credibility forever”. Right after that, “furious” Nixon demanded an immediate injunction to prevent further publications of the papers. As a matter of fact, both The New York Times and Ellsberg were sued by Nixon administration, but both cases ended up with defeat on the government side.

To conclude, the Pentagon Papers not only revealed a considerable amount of hidden facts to the public but also served as an accusation toward the “incredible deceptions” of the U.S. government, who had used the power given by its people to manipulate them. Marked by a landmark battle between The New York Times – one of America’s top newspapers and its government – led by President Nixon which went to the Supreme Court, the study awakened the public, widened the credibility gap between the government and its people and unravelled a saga that led directly to the Watergate, Nixon’s resignation and ultimately the end of the Vietnam War.

Bonus Facts:The Pentagon Papers were finally declassified and released on 13 June, 2011. Each volume of the Papers was released as a separate PDF file and available on the National Archives website.

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