My 2011 Book of the Year: Pentagon Papers. I’m actually still reading the study known as “United States – Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense” or as history refers has always called it — The Pentagon Papers.
The study is a 47 volume, 7,000+ page report regarding the US involvement in Vietnam’s long civil war. This is a long deeply engaging read of organizational failure at the highest levels of the military and government. So many American lives were lost for a policy that was doomed from the beginning. This book will painfully show that the brightest and smartest RAND analysts knew it, senior military and policy advisors knew it and so did the White House.
The study was commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in 1967. And for “newly released” material (in 2011) it provides the most horrific, fascinating and astounding read of our policy and warfare strategy under a total of four Presidents: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson. However the war continued through both Johnson and Nixon administrations finally ending under President Gerald Ford in 1975.
The Vietnam War was the longest 20th century war in American history. The study covers a 25-year military engagement in Vietnam while US political interests and efforts actually developed before the end of World War II and continued until the fall of Saigon in 1975. Take a step back and realize it was a 30 year losing commitment.
Even today in 2012 its amazing to learn multiple volumes of this 1967 study remained classified for exactly 40 years until released (fully redacted) by the National Archives in June 2011.
As important as this study is for understanding our role in the world over a generation, it will regrettably open old wounds. We finally have full access to read the carelessness of our decision makers (both military and Presidential) that cost the lives of over 53,000 American soldiers. How horrific would these numbers be viewed today?
So why isn’t this “book” listed with any 2011 best sellers? It was sure greeted with much fanfare and press coverage the day the US National Archives released the study.
IMHO today’s twitter-focused society cannot read a 7,000+ page study. Sorry to be so blunt. American culture today — we are a nation of ‘skimmers’ due to the vast amounts of data available and our busy lifestyle, we simply do not have the time to read such lengthly books. We only seek to quickly skim headlines in print, online and while mobile.
And regarding war, I’m afraid here (yet again) is where the lessons of history are lost.
40 years also makes another amazing difference — my ability to hold all 47 volumes on an iPad. As of January I’m just past page 3,500.