An excerpt from the book Heartland by Mort Sahl
Harcourt, Brace, Jovonich, 1976 - hard cover, 1st edition
from pages 106 - 108
It seemed very curious to me. It seemed to me that they were doing what most people were doing. It never is free speech. Abbie Hoffman doesn't open schools to speak in: he writes four-letter words on the wall, he lights up joints of marijuana, and his speaking engagements cancel the entire program for the semester. It was almost as if that were his job.
Let's look at some others. Angela Davis. Angela Davis is a brilliant Ph.D., a very attractive woman, and she chooses to express her anger with the system by joining the Communist Party, which is made up of 850 eighty-six-year-old Jewish people in the Lower East Side of New York and about a thousand FBI agents. Why would she choose such an outmoded form? There's always a trial, a lot of noise, and always there's an acquittal, you'll notice. None of them is ever punished. Then she goes on a speaking tour where the action is--Bulgaria.
Stokely Carmichael couldn't wait to tear the system down; then he was suddenly silent. The man who arrested Dr. Spock and the Reverend William Sloan Coffin, Ramsey Clark, went to Hanoi and suddenly became an outspoken dissident. Daniel Ellsberg, who worked at the Rand Corporation, a CIA-funded group, was in and out of the Marine Corps for thirteen years and suddenly arrived and said he's been redeemed and accused the Army of ruling the country. The Army. Not the CIA. The Army. Who does the CIA speak for? The American financial establishment. And where did Ellsberg speak? He spoke in the New York Times, which is more of a financial tribunal than the Wall Street Journal, if the truth were known, or if the papers were read from cover to cover. Ellsberg was immediately accepted by the liberals, who don't ever ask for credentials. The left is lovely: You say to them, "I'm turning you in," and they say, "Will you ride to the station with me?"
Ellsberg was immediately accepted because the liberals were starved for heroes, obviously. He went on to discredit the Army, and the concert goes on in the Times, an orchestrated scenario. Officers' enlistments are down; the soldiers smoke dope; officers are being fragged by their subordinates. A discreditation of the Army. At the same time, coincidentally, General Abrams caught the Green Berets working for the CIA, killing a double agent and dropping his body in a mail sack in a river in Vietnam, and he said, I don't want any SS in my Army; at which time the CIA said, we're going to drop a real octopus on you, which was My Lai.
When the Warren Report was printed in the New York Times, it was printed in one day and buried. The "Pentagon Papers" were printed piecemeal, day by day, as the group that printed it waited to be stopped by the government. Wasn't it the lawyer for the New York Times who said in the Supreme Court hearing, "Why don't you define espionage for us so we don't violate the tenets and make it more restrictive?" And Justice Douglas replied by saying, "I find this a very odd argument for a defense counsel." Defense counsel being Alexander Bikel, who wrote in Commentary, an influential Jewish monthly, that anybody who didn't accept the Warren Commission must have corrupt reasons.
An excerpt from the book JFK The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy by L. Fletcher Prouty
Birch Lane Press, 1992 - hard cover, 1st edition
from pages 272 - 283
As mentioned earlier, Diem had made it quite clear what his goals with the Strategic Hamlet program were. His position did not jibe with those who wanted to escalate the war in Indochina and who were not at all interested in the introduction of an ancient form of self-government into the battle-scarred countryside.
On top of this came Kennedy's desire to get the United States out of Indochina by the end of 1965, as evidenced by his orchestration of a series of events such as the Krulak-Mendenhall visit to Vietnam in September 1963. By late summer, and certainly by the time of the McNamara-Taylor trip, closely held plans had progressed for the removal of the Diems from Saigon. President Kennedy had reached the decision that the United States should do all it could to train, equip, and finance the government of South Vietnam to fight its own war, but that this would be done for someone other than Ngo Dinh Diem.
On the same day that the President received this McNamara-Taylor report, Gen. Tran Van Don had his first "accidental" (it had been carefully planned) meeting with the CIA's Lt. Col. Lucien Conein at Tan Son Nhut airport in Saigon. This was a meeting of great significance, and one that to this day has never been properly explained. General Don was the commander of the South Vietnamese army. He had been born and educated in France and had served in the French army during World War II. He and Conein were well acquainted.
Nearly twenty years later, in 1963, the CIA designated Conein, one of its most valuable agents in the Far East, to meet with his old friend of eighteen years, Cen. Tran Van Don, to arrange for the ouster of President Diem. Only ten years earlier, Gen. Edward G. Lansdale and Conein had worked hard to get Ngo Dinh Diem started as the newly assigned president of South Vietnam.
Conein's task was to stay close enough to key Vietnamese to assure them that the United States would not interfere with their plan to move in as soon as President Diem had left Saigon, and to keep Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge and Conein's own CIA associates informed.
The plan prepared by the United States had been carefully drawn to leave Diem no alternative except to leave on this scheduled trip. There was much discussion and argument among members of the Kennedy administration, who knew of the Presidents intention to oust Diem once he had left the country. With Madame Nhu and Archbishop Thuc already in Europe, Diem and his brother were to follow to attend a meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.
The evacuation plan, carefully orchestrated under Kennedy's direction, broke down, and Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother were murdered. There have been many accounts of this coup d'etat. They do not tell the role that Kennedy played in the story, and many were created to cover the real plan and to protect those Vietnamese who had worked closely with the administration.
I was on duty in the Joint Chiefs of Staff section of the Pentagon on the day of the coup d'etat. My immediate boss, General Krulak, knew the full details of the plan to remove Diem from the scene by flying him and his brother out of Saigon. Krulak remained in contact with the White House as developments in Saigon were relayed. I can recall clearly the absolute shock in our offices when it was learned that Diem had not left on the proffered aircraft for Europe.
One of the most important narratives of this event was written by Edward G. Lansdale in his autobiography In the Midst of Wars. Few Americans, if any, knew Ngo Dinh Diem and the situation in Vietnam from 1954-68 better than Ed Lansdale. He wrote:
As the prisons filled up with political opponents, as the older nationalist parties went underground, with the body politics fractured, Communist political cadre became active throughout South Vietnam, recruiting followers for action against a government held together mainly by the Can Lao elite rather than by popular support. The reaped whirlwind finally arrived in November 1963, when the nationalist opposition erupted violently, imprisoning many of the Can Loa and killing Diem, Nhu, and others. It was heartbreaking to be an onlooker to this tragic bit of history.
It was some time before the news became known that Diem had fled to Cholon and been captured and killed there. This news was flashed around the world; this was the story that everyone heard. The public never heard of the planned flight to Europe that the Kennedy administration had arranged for him.
Thus it was that the file of routine cable traffic between Washington and Saigon eventually became known with the release and publication of the Pentagon Papers. This is how it happened that Howard Hunt was able to locate certain top-level messages to and from the White House and Ambassador Lodge in Saigon that contained information referring to "highest authority"--the cable traffic code for President Kennedy.
None of these messages contained any reference to a plot to kill President Diem and his brother or came even close to it. Concealed within these messages were carefully worded phrases that gave Ambassador Lodge the information he needed in order to direct all participants into action and to begin the careful removal of the two brothers to Europe by commercial aircraft.
According to information that came out during the Watergate hearings, those files that had been forged to smear President Kennedy were put in Hunt's White House safe, where they remained until discovered by investigators later.
There is much about this episode that has become important upon review. There are those who have been so violently opposed to Jack Kennedy and all that he stood for that they have stooped to all kinds of sordid activities to smear him while he was alive, to attack his brother Bobby while he was still alive, and to hound Sen. Edward Kennedy to this day. Nixon's gratuitous reference to Kennedy's "complicity in the murder of Diem" after a decade of silence on that subject speaks for itself. The efforts of Howard Hunt and Chuck Colson (both employees of the White House at the time) to dig up old files in order to besmirch the memory of President Kennedy provide another example.
In an ominous way, the Pentagon Papers and Watergate episodes were cut from the same fabric, and most important, their exposure was a direct outgrowth of the nationwide dissatisfaction with the Vietnam War. Because the development of the war in Indochina had been spread out so long, since 1945, and because most of the events that brought about this terrible form of modern genocide in the name of "anti- communism" or "containment" were buried in deep secrecy or not even available in written records, Robert S. McNamara, then secretary of defense, directed, on June 17, 1967 that a task force be formed to collate and study the history of U. S. involvement in Vietnam from World War II to the present.
This project, which produced thousands of documents of all kinds from many sources, was the primary source of that group of more than four thousand documents that were surreptitiously released to various news media and called the Pentagon Papers. Almost four years later, on June 13, 1971, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Boston Globe, among others, started the serialization of the Pentagon Papers. Few people have been more articulate on the subject than the then senator from Alaska, Mike Gravel:
The Pentagon Papers reveal the inner workings of a government bureaucracy set up to defend this country, but now out of control, managing an international empire by garrisoning American troops around the world. It created an artificial client state in South Vietnam, lamented its unpopularity among its own people, eventually encouraged the overthrow of that government, and then supported a series of military dictators who served their own ends, and at times our government's ends, but never the cause of their own people.
In his brilliant introduction the senator included an extract from the works of the English novelist and historian, H. G. Wells, who once wrote:
The true strength of rulers and empires lies not in armies or emotions, but in the belief of men that they are inflexibly open and truthful and legal. As soon as a government departs from that standard, it ceases to be anything more than "the gang in possession" and its days are numbered.
The publication of the Pentagon Papers became an event unique in American history. One day after their publication had begun in the New York Times, I received a call from the British Broadcasting Corporation requesting that I travel to London to participate in a series of programs, live on prime-time TV, with Daniel Ellsberg. I did travel to London and did take part in a daily series on the subject, but Ellsberg did not participate in the broadcasts, because his lawyer advised him not to leave the country at that time.
In this book, I have used various editions of the Pentagon Papers as reference material. They are useful and they are quite accurate as far as individual documents go, but they are dangerous in the hands of those who do not have the experience or the other sources required to validate and balance their content. This is because their true source was only marginally the Pentagon and because the clever selection of those documents by the compilers removed many important papers. This neglect of key documents served to reduce the value of those that remained to tell the story of the Vietnam War. From the beginning, the Pentagon Papers were a compilation of documents designed to paint President John F. Kennedy as the villain of the story, and to shield the role of the CIA.
This vast stack of papers has been labeled the Pentagon Papers, but that is a misnomer. It is quite true that most of them were found in certain highly classified files in the Pentagon, but they were functionally limited files. For example, despite their volume--nearly four thousand documents--there are remarkably few that actually bear the signature of military officers. In fact, many of those that carry the signature of a military officer, or that refer to military officers, make reference to such men as Edward G. Lansdale, who actually worked for the CIA while serving in a cover assignment with the military. When such papers are removed from the "military" or "Pentagon" categorization, what remains is a nonmilitary and non-Pentagon collection. For the serious and honest historian, this becomes an important distinction. To be truly "Pentagon" Papers, the majority of them, at least, ought to have been written there.
In a letter to the then secretary of defense, Clark Clifford, dated January 15, 1969, Leslie H. Gelb, director of the Study Task Force that assembled the Pentagon Papers, said: "In the beginning, Mr. McNamara gave the task force full access to OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] files, and the task force received access to CIA materials, and some use of State Department cables and memoranda. We had no access to the White House files.
Despite this disclaimer, there are many White House files in the Pentagon Papers--and it was this group of documents, in fact, that was the source of the anti-Kennedy forgeries.
The files from which most of these papers were obtained were in that section of the Office of the Secretary of Defense called International Security Affairs. Although this office was in the Pentagon, it was lightly staffed with military officers, and most of its activities concerned other government departments and agencies, such as the CIA, the Department of State, and the White House. That is why its files consisted of papers that originated outside the Pentagon, giving the Pentagon Papers production an entirely nonmilitary slant.
Another reason for caution regarding the utilization of the Pentagon Papers as history is that, as Gelb said, "These outstanding people [those who worked on the task force] came from everywhere--the military services, State, OSD, and the 'think tanks.' Some came for a month, for three months, for six months . . . in all, we had thirty-six professionals working on these studies, with an average of four months per man."
That says it all! They had become experts in four months!
John Foster Dulles, formerly secretary of state, once declared that one of the most complicated periods in this nation's history began in Indochina on September 2, 1945. There is no way that this group, averaging "four months per man" in its studies in 1967, and 1968, was going to be qualified to present a true and accurate account of that war by the compilation of a scattering of papers that contained bits and pieces of the story.
This reveals one of my greatest misgivings concerning the accuracy of the study. There are altogether too many important papers that did not get included in this study, too many that were absolutely crucial to an understanding of the origins of, and reasons for, this war.
This has been a complaint of historians who have attempted to teach the facts of this war. They have found that the history book accounts of it have been written by writers who were not there, who had little or nothing to do with it--or, conversely, that they have been written by those who were there, but who were there for a one-year tour of duty, usually in the post-1965 period. Few of these writers have had the comprehensive experience that is a prerequisite to understanding that type of contemporary history.
Regarding the Pentagon Papers themselves, Senator Gravel wrote:
The Papers do not support our good intentions. The Papers prove that, from the beginning, the war has been an American war, serving to perpetuate American military power in Asia. Peace has never been on the American agenda for Southeast Asia. Neither we nor the South Vietnamese have been masters of our Southeast Asian policy; we have been its victims, as the leaders of America sought to preserve their reputation for toughness and determination.
The elaborate secrecy precautions, the carefully contrived subterfuges, the precisely orchestrated press leaks, were intended not to deceive "the other side," but to keep the American public in the dark....For too long they have been forced to subsist on a diet of half-truths or deliberate deceit by executives who consider the people of the Congress as adversaries.(1)
It is important to understand the Pentagon Papers' subtle anti-Kennedy slant. Nothing reveals this bias more than the following extract taken from the section "The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November 1963.
At the end of a crucial summary of the most momentous ninety-day period in modern American history, from August 22 to November 22, 1963, this is what the authors of the Pentagon Papers had to say:
After having delayed an appropriate period, the U.S. recognized the new government on November 8. As the euphoria wore off, however, the real gravity of the economic situation and the lack of expertise in the new government became apparent to both Vietnamese and American officials. The deterioration of the military situation and the Strategic Hamlet program also came more and more clearly into perspective.
These topics dominated the discussions at the Honolulu conference on November 20 when [Henry Cabot] Lodge and the country team [from Vietnam] met with [Dean] Rusk, [Robert] McNamara, [Maxwell] Taylor, [George] Ball, and [McGeorge] Bundy. But the meeting ended inconclusively. After Lodge had conferred with the President a few days later in Washington, the White House tried to pull together some conclusions and offer some guidance for our continuing and now deeper involvement in Vietnam. The instructions contained in NSAM 273, however, did not reflect the truly dire situation as it was to come to light in succeeding weeks. The reappraisals forced by the new information would swiftly make it irrelevant as it was overtaken by events.
Recall what had been going on during that month of November 1963. President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother had been murdered, and the administration of South Vietnam had been placed in the hands of Gen. Duong Van "Big" Minh. Then, in one of the strangest scenarios of recent history, most of the members of the Kennedy cabinet had flown to Honolulu, together, for that November 20 series of conferences. The full cabinet meeting--even the secretary of agriculture was there--in Hawaii was to be followed by a flight to Tokyo on November 22. Again, almost all of the Kennedy cabinet members were on that flight to Tokyo. They were on that aircraft bound for Tokyo when they learned that President Kennedy had been shot dead in Dallas. Upon receipt of that stunning news, they ordered the plane to return directly to Hawaii and, almost immediately, on to Washington.
But consider here the strange and impersonal words used by this "official history." The Pentagon Papers, in its long section on the events of that tragic period, ends its own narrative report of those events by saying: "Put probably more important, the deterioration of the military situation of the Vietnamese position...."
What could have been the basis for that conclusion? What caused the Papers' authors to say that in 1968? Let's look at the record from the pages of their own work:
1) On September 11, 1963, Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge had cabled to Secretary Rusk saying:
"I do not doubt the military judgment that the war in the countryside is going well now.
2) On September 16, 1963, President Kennedy had written a personal letter to President Ngo Dinh Diem in which he said:
"...the contest against the Communists in the last year and one half has gradually but steadily turned in our favor.
3) On September 29, 1963, Secretary McNamara and General Taylor met for three hours with President Ngo Dinh Diem in Saigon. As reported, President Diem said:
"The war was going well, thanks in large measure to the strategic hamlets program..." Diem concluded his optimistic presentation by noting that "although the war was going well, much remained to be done in the Delta area" [where most of the Tonkinese had been sent].
4) Then we have the McNamara/Taylor "Trip Report" of October 2, 1963, that became the body of NSAM #263 on October 11, 1963, that concludes:
#1."The military campaign has made great progress and continues to progress.
#2. "A program be established to train Vietnamese so that essential functions now performed by U.S. military personnel can be carried out by Vietnamese by the end of 1965. It should be possible to withdraw the bulk of U.S. personnel by that time.
#3. "...the Defense Department should announce in the very near future presently prepared plans to withdraw 1,000 U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963.
#6. "...We believe the U.S. part of the task can be completed by the end of 1965.
News of this "White House Report" was splashed across the front page of the U.S. armed forces Pacific Stars and Stripes newspaper of October 4, 1963, in banner headlines: U.S. TROOPS SEEN OUT OF VIET BY '65.
These are quotes taken from official documents of that time, all taking an optimistic view of the war by the leaders closest to it and including statements by President Kennedy and President Diem. The official Kennedy White House policy document, National Security Action Memorandum #263, was dated October 11, 1963, and there is no evidence that the situation, as perceived by Kennedy and his closest advisers, had changed over the next month. General Krulak was as close to the President and his policy as he had ever been, and I worked directly with General Krulak on the Joint Staff. We never heard of any changes in plans from the White House.
Just four days after Kennedy's death and less than sixty days after Kennedy published NSAM #263, which visualized the Vietnamization of the war and the return of all American personnel by the end of 1965, Lyndon Johnson and most of the JFK cabinet viewed the situation in an entirely different light. In Johnson's NSAM #273 they saw the military situation deteriorating ("the deterioration of...the Strategic Hamlet program") and all of a sudden saw the program as a failure. ("These topics dominated the discussions at the Honolulu Conference on November 20....")
This is a remarkable statement. On that date, John Kennedy was still alive and President of the United States. Yet this report says that his cabinet had been assembled in Honolulu to discuss "these topics"--the very same topics of NSAM #273, dated November 26, and a vital step on the way to a total reversal of Kennedy's own policy, as stated in the Taylor-McNamara report and in NSAM #263, dated October 2, 1963. The total reversal was completed with the publication of NSAM #288, March 26, 1964.
This situation cannot be treated lightly. How did it happen that the Kennedy cabinet had traveled to Hawaii at precisely the same time Kennedy was touring in Texas? How did it happen that the subject of discussion in Hawaii, before JFK was killed, was a strange agenda that would not come up in the White House until after he had been murdered? Who could have known, beforehand, that this new--non-Kennedy--agenda would be needed in the White House because Kennedy would no longer be President?
Is there any possibility that the "powers that be" who planned and executed the Kennedy assassination had also been able to get the Kennedy cabinet out of the country and to have them conferring in Hawaii on an agenda that would be put before President Lyndon Johnson just four days after Kennedy's death?
President Kennedy would not have sent his cabinet to Hawaii to discuss that agenda. He had issued his own agenda for Vietnam on October 11, 1963, and he had no reason to change it. More than that, he had no reason at all to send them all to Hawaii for such a conference. It is never good practice for a President to have key members of his cabinet out of town while he is on an extended trip. Why was the cabinet in Hawaii? Who ordered the cabinet members there? If JFK had no reason to send them to Hawaii, who did, and why?
Keep in mind, through this series of vitally important questions, that we are piling circumstance upon circumstance. It is the body of circumstantial evidence that proves the existence of conspiracy.
As soon as the Honolulu conference broke up, these same cabinet members departed from Hawaii on an unprecedented trip to Japan. No one has explained why the Kennedy cabinet was ordered to Japan at that time.
This trip to Japan was not some casual event. Someone had arranged it with care. A reading of newspapers from late November 1963 reveals that extracts of speeches supposedly given by some of these cabinet officers in Japan were made available and then printed, for example, even in the Washington, D.C., Star.
We all know now that these cabinet officers did not reach Japan and that their VIP aircraft returned to Hawaii. Why would newspapers in the United States print extracts of their speeches as though they actually had gone to Japan and delivered those speeches? Who had set this trip up so meticulously that even such details as the press releases appeared to validate the presence of the cabinet members in Japan when in fact they never went there?
Continuing this account of the period, the chronology prepared by the authors of the Pentagon Papers lists the following:
22 November 1963: Lodge confers with the President. Having flown to Washington the day after the conference, Lodge meets with the President and presumably continues the kind of report given in Honolulu.
23 November 1963 NSAM #273: Drawing together the results of the Honolulu Conference, and Lodge's meeting with the President, NSAM #273 reaffirms the U.S. commitment to defeat the VC in South Vietnam....
These are astounding statements, considering that they were written sometime in 1968, when everyone knew that the most important fact of those two days was the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963. This massive compilation of official documents produced by Secretary McNamara's "task force...to study the history of United States involvement in Vietnam from World War II to the present" (1969) totally ignored the assassination.
The Pentagon Papers say simply, "Lodge confers with the President," as though it were just another day in the life of a President. Which President? Didn't that matter? What a way to dismiss Kennedy and his tragic death! This entire section of the Pentagon Papers, which were commissioned to be a complete account of the history of the Vietnam war period, cannot find a word to say about that assassination. This official history simply skips all mention of the death of the President of the United States and tells the story of the death of Diem as though it had occurred in a vacuum.
Why do you suppose Leslie Gelb, director of the Pentagon Papers Study Task Force, chose to close his "Letter of Transmittal of the Study" with this quote from Herman Melville's Moby-Dick: "This is a world of chance, free will, and necessity--all interweavingly working together as one; chance by turn rules either and has the last featuring blow at events.
Then, as if to introduce some reality into the study, he closes with this remarkable thought: "Our studies have tried to reflect this thought; inevitably in the organizing and writing process, they appear to assign more and less to men and free will than was the case. This sounds more and more like the "God throws the dice" syndrome. What could Les Gelb have been thinking about when he saw "chance" taking "the last featuring blow at events?" Did the Vietnam War happen by "chance"? Was President John E Kennedy killed by "chance"? That takes a strange view of history. When Oliver Stone's movie asked, "Why was Kennedy killed?" I doubt that anyone in the audience would have answered, "By chance."
This "Letter of Transmittal" of January 15, 1969, was addressed to Clark M. Clifford, secretary of defense and a man we have quoted frequently during this work.
These questions and the subjects they unfold are the things of which assassinations and coups d'etat are made. The plotters worked out their plans in detail as they moved to take over the government that Kennedy had taken from them. As a result, every other public official became a pawn on that master chess board. Assassinations and coups d'etat permeate and threaten all levels of society.
1 Senator Gravel wrote these words in August 1971 for the introduction to The Pentagon Papers (Boston: Beacon Press Books, 1971). They were timely and applicable then. The reader cannot help but note that they are equally timely and applicable to the more recent Iranian "hostages for arms" controversy and even to Desert Storm.
An excerpt from the book In Retrospect by Robert S. McNamara
Times Books, 1995 - 1st edition, hard cover
from pages 280 - 282
By now it was clear to me that our policies and programs in Indochina had evolved in ways we had neither anticipated nor intended, and that the costs--human, political, social, and economic--had grown far greater than anyone had imagined. We had failed. Why this failure? Could it have been prevented? What lessons could be drawn from our experiences that would enable others to avoid similar failures? The thought that scholars would surely wish to explore these questions once the war had ended was increasingly on my mind.
In June 1967, I decided to ask John McNaughton, my assistant secretary for international security affairs (ISA), to start collecting documents for future scholars to use. I told him to cast his net wide, including relevant papers not just from our department but also from the State Department, the CIA, and the White House. Because I wanted the work done as objectively as possible, I said to John that I would not be personally involved. "Tell your researchers not to hold back," I instructed. "Let the chips fall where they may." Perhaps out of the same impulse that prompted me to say this, I never thought to mention the project to the president or the secretary of state. It was hardly a secret, however, nor could it have been with thirty-six researchers and analysts ultimately involved.
The document collecting started on June 17, 1967--one month before McNaughton's tragic death in an air accident--under the direction of Leslie H. Gelb, who was then a member of the ISA staff and is now president of the Council on Foreign Relations. He and his task force assembled memos, position papers, cables, and field reports stretching back more than twenty years. Les told a researcher several years later: "All I had to do was call up and say: 'McNamara asked. . . . I would go see people, explain the study, and say I wanted the following kinds of material. . . . They all said, 'Yeah, sure.'. . . No one refused a thing."(7)
By early 1969, going far beyond the collection of raw materials for scholars, they had completed a 7,000-page study of America's Vietnam policy since World War II. It had shortcomings, in part reflecting the natural limitations of history written close to the event and in part because Les and his team in fact lacked access to White House files and some top-level State Department materials. But overall the work was superb, and it accomplished my objective: almost every scholarly work on Vietnam since then has drawn, to varying degrees, on it.
But as with so much involving Vietnam, this effort to assist scholars was also a lesson in unintended consequences. In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg, who had worked for Gelb, leaked the document to The New York Times. The editors christened it the Pentagon Papers and began running excerpts, to the intense embarrassment of officials from both the Johnson and Nixon administrations. When the first excerpt appeared on Sunday, June 13, President Nixon's Justice Department reacted immediately, using every legal means at its command to block further publication.
Though I was long since out of the Defense Department, I found myself tangentially involved behind the scenes. On Monday evening, June 14, The Times's Washington bureau chief, James B. "Scotty" Reston, and his wife, Sally, dined with Marg and me at our home. The phone rang, a call for Scotty, which he took in the library. After a few minutes, he came back to the table holding a piece of paper. He reported that The Times's editors and lawyers had drafted a statement "respectfully declining" Attorney General John Mitchell's request to desist from further publication of the papers. Then he read us the draft and asked what I thought. I said The Times should continue printing them but should hedge its position by making clear it would obey any order issued by the Supreme Court. Ultimately, of course, the Court allowed The Times to go ahead.
Because of the papers, those of us involved in Vietnam decision making came under scrutiny and criticism that was sharper than ever. Wild rumors circulated about why I had started the project. One report even alleged I had done so at Robert Kennedy's behest, to undermine LBJ and help Bobby's 1968 presidential campaign. That was nonsense. But when Dean later asked me why I had not told him or the president about the project, I felt chagrined. I should have.
7 Quoted in Sanford J. Ungar, The Papers and the Papers: An Account of the Legal and Political Battle over the Pentagon Papers (New York: Dutton, 1972), pp. 20-21.