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

Secrets by Daniel Ellsberg
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Jan 01, 12

Read in June, 2003

This is a memoir of Daniel Ellsberg. He was a mid-level analyst who worked at the Pentagon, State Department, Rand Corp. and other government and private jobs. He became famous in 1971 with the release of the Pentagon Papers, a classified study of the history of the war in Vietnam. The study showed a consistent pattern of lies and misinformation put out by the government over a period of 25 years between the late 1940's and mid 1960's.He discusses the Tonkin Gulf Resolution and the lies put out to justify it. He talks about the 18 months he himself spent in Vietnam in 1964-1966. He realized then that the war was unwinnable and that the efforts put forth by the americans were a pointless waste of life and treasure.After he got back from Vietnam, he came to see the war as not only futile, but immoral and unjust. He got involved with the antiwar movement. His conclusions about the war were as follows: 1) Rather than there being an early 'french war' and a later 'american war' there was one war, continuous for 30 years from 1945-1975. 2) In the early years, the french did most of the fighting, but the americans provided funds and logistical support. Thus, the war was almost entirely an american action from the beginning. 3) The war was fought not because of bad advice that presidents had, but in spite of good advice. A series of 5 presidents had very smart people telling them that the best course of action was to simply withdraw. Every one ignored that advice. 4) The war was being fought not on behalf of a democratic South Vietnamese regime, but was a war of aggression against a popular movement in the countryside aided from the north. 5) At every turn, the US government lied about its intentions in Vietnam, stating that they did not wish a larger war, meanwhile formulating plans to escalate. Lyndon Johnson was especially guilty of this. 6) The Americans signed peace accords, but did everything in their power to undermine them.There are two main conclusions from the war that I draw. 1) The government can and usually does lie about its aims with regards to wars. Nothing the government says should be believed on its face. This is an especially important lesson in the wake of the Iraq war. 2) America is not always on the side of right and good. Sometimes we support the bad guys.After leaking the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, Ellsberg went into hiding. He was indicted for the act of leaking them. He finally came out and became a target of Richard Nixon and was prosecuted by the Justice Department. The last part of the book details Ellsberg's trial, and the way it folded into the Watergate scandal. Nixon, trying to get Ellsberg, ordered his thugs to burglarize the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist. It is thought that much of the Watergate coverup was trying to keep anyone from finding this out. The trial is the most dramatic part of the book, and in the end, the judge throws the case out because of prosecutorial misconduct. The story is complicated but fascinating.We find out almost nothing about what Ellsberg has done since his acquittal. It would have been nice to hear a few pages about that.
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