Most folks these days only know about the Pentagon Papers from occasional news saccounts discussing all the mistakes made by the US during the Viet Nam war. Inevitably those articles are negative about the role of the US and the hiding of secret information from the public and it gets all mixed up with the Watergate scandal because the revelation of the existence of the report came during his term in office. The revelation of the papers is typically hailed as an act of great patriotism and heroic action by Daniel Elsberg and the New York Times. The media is always very good at tooting their own horn in case you haven’t noticed. Elsberg is portrayed as a hero and the Times as a stalwart defender of the truth and an exposurer of corruption and devious Government cover ups. It is useful sometimes to get a different perspective and review what some of the facts were in the episode. It has continuing relevance today to our affairs both internally and in foreign relations. The whole affair is an excellent example of how “history” gets written by the media. Specifically by the slant taken on facts from the left of center media. The Times is proudly a left of center news outlet as were the three major networks during the late ’60’s and early ’70’s. They hated Nixon long before anything about Watergate ever emerged. They hated the Viet Nam war policy. They thought it was evil and that the US was the bad guy fighting against the noble little people of Viet Nam. Those who have read a few of these blogs know that I never object to a diversity of opinion even when I don’t agree with it. I don’t like twisting the facts or simply making them up to support a particular view. Hypocrisy is the worst of all.
In those ancient days the Pentagon and the CIA made continually updates and assessments of our stratgic position in all affairs around the world. Just as they do todady. Nothing new or exceptional about that then or now. That included Viet Nam of course. The Cold War was very real during the time frame we are covering. We had a clear and defined enemy who openly wished us ill and took active steps at every opportunity to make life difficult for the US. These intelligence reports were produced on a regular basis for review by the highest levels of the Government. That meant the President, Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State and a handful of others necessary to have input in the decisions of the day about how to conduct our affairs both military and non military around the world. There were intelligence assessements regarding Viet Nam before the so-called Pentagon Papers and there were many more made after it. These reports were from the military and the CIA. The intelligence reports were based naturally upon the facts at a given point in time. There is always an ebb and flow in the course of any war. There were many during Viet Nam. The Tet Offensive as it came to be known in Jan. of 1968 was a sensation in the news media here. The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese launched a coordinated assault throughout the country. It did catch us mosly off guard. The attacker almost always has the advantage at the beginning of any battle because they get to control the timing of the battle and the location of each individual assault. It was made all the more dramatic because they attacked the US Embassy in Saigon and that made for dramatic footage on the news shows. The heart of the major city of Hue was also taken over by the enemy for several days and the fighting was intense in the city streets. It had been thought that we and the South Vietnamese could always control the urban areas. The North Vietnamese were precise and careful in their planning and put a major effort into the attacks. They were hoping for a “knockout punch” to the US resolve and to the South Vietnamese.
I will not review the details of the battle. There are many quite good military histories of that engagement. The fact is that is was a resounding victory for us and the South Vietnamese. It was a comparable situation I think to the Battle of the Bulge in ’44 when the Germans launched their last offensive of the war. There was initial success by the Germans and they caused many casualties and took thousands of prisoners but in the end they were soundly defeated. When the Tet Offensive had run its course the North Vietnamese were hurt badly. Their main goal of collapsing the Southern government and breaking the will of the US was not achieved and they did not end up holding any of their temporary gains. It was a devastating defeat for them. Unless you read actual histories of that battle by the people who were there you would never know that though. It was reported by our media as a total defeat and renounciation of all our policies in Viet Nam. It is out of that envoirnment that the Pentagon Papers emerged. Even among the intelligence experts there was a difference of opinon about how we should proceed in Viet Nam or if we should proceed at all. The Pentagon Papers constituted one report. It was negative about our prospects. It was a secret document for obvious reasons. Anyone with an IQ over 70 can understand that you would not want your enemy to look at any analysis from your highest level strategists.
Elsberg was a left winger. He was proud of that fact. He didn’t like the war. He was entitled to that opinion. I was against it too, not because I thought it was evil but because we were fighting not to win but “stabilize” the country. The tactics were stupid I thought. There were many different opinons on the war. Elsberg eventually leaked the documents to the Times and they published them to great fanfare. They would have you believe that this was the penultimate assessment of the war and that the negative views there were carved in stone as verities and any continuance of the war was not only evil it was futile. Not everyone at the Pentagon or CIA agreed with the conclusions in those reports then or later. There were many more assessments that followed those Pentagon Papers. Many learned military folks and those dealing in realpolitks believe we missed the golden opportunity to end the war successfully after the Tet Offensive. Many believe that was the moment to bomb Hanoi, really bomb it and mine the harbor and destroy the infrastructure of the North. We had always been hit or miss with our bombing. We never waged a true campaign like we did in WWII. We dropped lots of bombs for sure but mostly on useless jungle. Elsberg was no hero to me. He was a traitor. I view him no different than Hanoi Jane when she went to Hanoi and had her picture taken manning an ack ack battery with helmet on. If he opposed the war that was his right and he could speak out against it all he wanted. He signed a confidentiality agreement with the Government and knew he would be handling secret documents that could not be revealed, ever. He broke his word based on his own whims and beliefs. Just because he reached one conclusion from that intelligence report doesn’t mean his opinion was the only one or even the correct one. It was one view at one point in time. The importance of that one intelligence report was blown all out of proportion to exaggerate its impact on the public mind. It was a propoganda ploy by the media. Of course Elsberg became the darling of the media. Especially after it was revealed his private psychriatric medical records were reviewed secretly by the CIA when they learned of his treachery. The media to this day takes the view that the Pentagon Papers “prove” we couldnt’ win the war and that the public was deceived. There was a deception for sure going on then and now when the episode is recalled by the media. I urge you to do some reading of your own. You conclude who was the deceiver.
If the current gang in Washington insist that we do this just announced 275 billion bailout for housing and mortgage holders I have a suggestion. The way it is designed there will be winners (the losers who can’t or won’t pay their bills) and losers (the honest Joe who struggles and does the right thing) and the worst part is that they will be chosen by the Government and its bureaucrat cronies. That is so UnAmerican and so unfair on its face. You pay your bills but your neighbor is a profligate spendthrift and he gets breaks from the Government and all you get is the bill for his overspending ways. The people receiving any of this aid should be chosen strictly by blind lottery. The good, the bad and the ugly. If we are going to parcel out this money at least do it fairly. Whether you are current on your mortgage or not, whether you have already paid off your mortgage or not, if you name comes up you get a piece of that pie. I would much rather that than the Government picking the recepients. The lottery would take away the political clout and the obvious and scandalous buying of votes of certain blocs of voters. I hate the whole bailout thing and I am against it from TARP to Stimulus bill to Mortgage rescue no. 1. But do the lottery. Make it fair anyway. Not a payoff for votes.