Rachel's Reviews > Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers

Secrets by Daniel Ellsberg
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's review
Mar 04, 2008

really liked it
Read in December, 2007

I saw Daniel Ellsberg at a 2008 Great Conversations event at the University of Minnesota. He impressed me with his astonishing grasp of past and present events (he's either 76 or 78, depending on which source I'm relying on is correct), and his clear philosophy of right v. wrong. (Sounds simple I know, but I find it's rare in today's politics.) If you're interested, the audio is online: www.cce.umn.edu/conversations/audio.html

Back to the book...
Secrets at its best is a look into how the American government makes decisions. Daniel Ellsberg worked in Robert McNamara's Defense Department, and saw firsthand how staff members suppressed their own personal feelings or ideas about Vietnam so that they could "better" serve their superiors (essentially leading up to Johnson), whom they felt supported escalation. Rather than offer contrary opinions or highlight inconvenient facts, they toed the party line.

Ellsberg also talks about his decision to release the top-secret Pentagon Papers, in an effort to dispel the secrecy surrounding the government's decision. The essential impression I came away with is that the secrecy classification system in use in our government is hurtful to the country as a whole. Average citizens believe that the government (in Ellsberg's mind, mainly the President) must be making the right decision, because the government has access to information that citizens don't have. Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers so that citizens could see that, despite having all this top secret information, the government in fact made the wrong decisions--time and time again.

Moments in this book read like a political thriller; at other times it bogged down in details. Overall though it was an interesting and eye-opening read. For myself I thought it added a new perspective to my knowledge of the Vietnam War and government decision-making in general.
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