2011 Book of the Year: Pentagon Papers

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.

Pentagon Papers Marine combat units to Da Nang

Reaching page 1,758 of the Pentagon Papers (Part IV-C4 Evolution of the War Marine Combat Units Go to Da Nang, March 1965) provides a growing stream of reports and studies that the war in South Vietnam was “lost” as early as 1960.  Yet both Kennedy and Johnson decided to ignore those studies and marched America into Vietnam.

Pentagon PapersAs Part IV-C.4. reveals research, studies & politics all concluded that South Vietnamese armed forces were on the brink of collapse against the Viet Cong.  The document provides the data that should have not only questioned the decision to deploy US forces but the questioned the role of the US in Vietnam vs Laos.

It was just one terrible decision by the White House after 20 years of continued support for the South Vietnamese.  The “no surprise at the time of deployment” was an existing 20,000 American force of military and policy advisers supporting the South Vietnamese air force and government.
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Pentagon Papers update

This is taking a bit longer than originally planned.  I’m almost at the half way point of the Pentagon Papers’ 7,000+ pages.  My somewhat stale blog is always due to life getting in the way …. but I became stalled around page 1,009 (volume 4: B-3) which addressed the Gulf of Tonkin shortly after the assassination of Presidents Ngo Dihn Diem and John Kennedy.

Pentagon PapersAs I approach page 3,500 and reading about actions 40 years ago, I cannot convey how sad this is for America.  The loss of life in a war against communism (today we can realize) was doomed from the beginning. Consistently ignored by Washington and every President from FDR to Nixon lied through their teeth to protect US interests during the Cold War.

Interesting to look at the title “US – Vietnam relations 1945 – 1967” clearly the early volumes indicate before the end of World War II the US sent money and arms to the Viet Minh — yes the Viet Minh.

In 1960 the Viet Minh changed their name to the National Liberation Front (NLF) aka Viet Cong.   So FDR and the US gave money and arms to Ho Chí Minh for one year…however we reversed course, backed the South Vietnamese and welcomed the quagmire that cost 53,000 American lives.  I hope to be done in January 2012.

The first wikileak: Pentagon Papers

Finally after 40 years the US Government will publish The Pentagon Papers for the very first time.

The Pentagon Papers

The study commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was officially titled: “United States – Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense” and was a secret kept hidden from President Johnson. and American public for over 40 years.

The study traces US involvement in Vietnam beginning in 1945 just after World War II and ending in 1967 before the Tet Offensive.  The report, a scathing self-examination of U.S.-Vietnamese relations and the Vietnam War, led to one of the largest and most significant court battles ever concerning government secrets vs. freedom of the press.  Nixon’s demand to damage Ellsberg resulted in the Watergate scandal.

The Nixon Library has a copy in that was part of President Richard Nixon’s papers. It will be released at 9 a.m., June 13, 40 years to the day that leaked portions of the report were printed on the front page of The New York Times.

Latest read: In Nixon’s Web

Of all the books written about Watergate and the domino effect those crimes left upon the federal government comes a rather late entry:  In Nixon’s Web: A Year in the Crosshairs of Watergate.

This was is a rather interesting read since L. Patrick Gray wrote his first hand account leading the FBI as Watergate unfolded.

Gray was a political appointment to the FBI by Nixon following the death of J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI’s only Director who served over 48 years as the top federal law enforcement officer to appointed by President Calvin Coolidge.

To many inside the FBI his appointment was considered a shock since he was not a career FBI agent, but rather a former Navy officer who left the armed services to campaign for Nixon.

Gray’s son Edward has authored a website regarding the book.  There are interesting segments not only about Gray’s life before the FBI but also his management style that came from his Navy background as a skipper of subs during WWII and the Korean War.  Nixon appointed Gray Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division in the Department of Justice.

Gray’s biggest lesson from Watergate was, as a life long Republican he was ultimately sacrificed by Nixon’s WhiteHouse over his confirmation hearings with the Senate.  He was lead astray by John Ehrlichman and John Dean.  As Director of the FBI he reported to Ehrlichman and not Nixon.  Nixon’s men controlled access to the President.

Terrorist Attack at Chicago O’Hare
One of the surprises is Gray’s revelation of the terrorist attack planned for Chicago’s O’Hare following the 1972 Olympic tragedy.  It was a rather unique peak into history, to understand how the FBI managed the threat and to learn about Gray’s actions to lead the FBI’s response.

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Latest read: Integrity

What can you learn from a Nixon staff lawyer who pleaded guilty to approving the break-in of Dr. Lewis Fielding’s office in 1971?  Plenty to my surprise.  Egil Krogh‘s Integrity: Good People, Bad Choices, and Life Lessons from the White House is a story of how ‘national security’ and political zeal triggered Watergate.  Krogh even closes the book with an open letter to W. Bush’s illegal wiretapping to demonstrate that our nation’s politicians and their staff have forgotten Watergate‘s 40th anniversary is just a couple years away….clearly the lesson has been forgotten as well.

Krogh joined Nixon’s White House team after working in a Seattle law firm with John Ehrlichman.  Ehrlichman served Nixon as a senior consultant in the 1968 Presidential campaign and was rewarded with the role as Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs. Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman dominated the Nixon White House like no other executive staff.

Krogh was responsible for approving the break-in at Fielding’s office in order to dig up damaging evidence against Daniel Ellsberg who had leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times.  Ellsberg served on Kissinger’s staff.  This event was the first of many illegal break-ins designed by G. Gordon Liddy‘s Operation Gemstone.

Ellsberg wrote the introduction to Integrity.

Shortly thereafter Nixon’s men would invent a Special Investigative Unit, a Nixon/GOP “police force” known as “The Plumbers” to fix the leaking of government documents to the media.

It was not a total surprise to learn Liddy was willing to kill during the Fielding break-in.  Thankfully that did not happen but proves beyond a shadow of a doubt the zealots who were working for Nixon. Even Howard Hunt‘s team from Miami did not ask to be paid to break into Fielding’s office — they saw it as a patriotic act.

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Latest read: The Best and The Brightest

Writers are Heroes. David Halberstam wrote his groundbreaking The Best and the Brightest in 1972 but won a Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for reporting on Vietnam.  Did Halberstam reveal the deep mistakes (in Vietnam) that are visible today in Iraq? There are probably just a few books regarding Vietnam that can actually upset you, the reader after 40 years. David’s writing does just that.
Clearly conveyed by very bright men in President Kennedy‘s Administration, they looked past the expected failures; lack of leadership of the South Vietnamese government, an empty South Vietnamese military, a war against colonialism not communism and even falsified reports by the US military on the progress of the war. That almost documentation-like writing proved US interests in Vietnam would fail in Kennedy’s Administration.

Was our continued commitment a combination of China falling to the communists, the effects of the Korean War, McCarthyism and a view that Democrats were actually soft on communism? Clearly Kennedy surrounded himself with the best, smartest and successful cabinet members. Halberstam’s detailed writing provides the type of deep background on all who served in both Kennedy and Johnson’s Administration exploring how talented they all were, including Adlai Stevenson.

It was a bit of a surprised to learn outgoing President Eisenhower suggested in his first meeting with then President-elect Kennedy that the country would indeed fight communism in Southeast Asia…but in Cambodia.

It was also very interesting to see Daniel Ellsburg mentioned — prior to his Pentagon Papers leak. Very bright men thinking they could win a war by freeing people who viewed America not as liberators but as colonial invaders.

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Latest read: Kent State

Kent State: What Happened and Why was a very personal, private reading experience. Raised and educated in Ohio, my father was an Army MP in the Ohio National Guard. My father’s twin brother was also an MP.
During that weekend, my father’s unit based in Toledo was called up by Governor James Rhodes.

At the time of the shooting my grandmother who was in failing health was overcome by the initial, inaccurate reports that Ohio guardsmen were shot and killed. She died that day. I was only four years of age when my grandmother passed away.

In the spring of 1970 the war in Vietnam, waging since 1959 spread into Cambodia.

The US Military began limited expansion into Cambodia which came as a shock to many Americans.

President Nixon announced Thursday April 30th the incursions by US troops into Cambodia to find enemy supplies and troops. This event drove a further wedge in America still coming to terms with the My Lai massacre the previous November.

As author James Michener followed the timeline of events, he quoted Roy Thomson, Kent’s Chief of Police that same day as stating “Kent is exceedingly fortunate in that most of the 20,000 students at Kent State University are well balanced.” Could anyone have predicted the tragedy that was to unfold?

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Latest read: Secrets A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers

Daniel Ellsberg‘s Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers is about his direct experience in Vietnam and more importantly his role in leaking The Pentagon Papers.  Daniel’s lessons in both academic research and military battlefields helped me learn more about the times he lived in and how it ultimately caused him to steal and publish top secret files regarding the war in Vietnam.

Secrets A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon PapersThe Pentagon Papers showed world the surprising role of US involvement in Vietnam dating back to Harry Truman through the Nixon Administration.  His influence is not to be under estimated. I was impressed to learn of his work with President Kennedy in David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest. There was more to Ellsberg than meets the eye.

His background: undergraduate studies at Harvard and post graduate Woodrow Wilson fellowship at Cambridge in England. Daniel returned to apply for Marine officer candidates courses but had to wait a year — so he went to grad school at Harvard (during the Korean War) where he was expected to serve. In the beginning Ellsberg was a political hawk regarding communist expansion in the world especially Soviet aggressiveness in Czechoslovakia and Poland.

A week after getting his PhD he was in the military training to be a lieutenant. He would command a rifle unit in the second Marine division. As his tour was ending his first son was born. He was awarded a three year junior fellowship back at Harvard, but asked the Marine commandant to extend his tour as war in the Middle East appeared imminent. Daniel drafted secret plans against Egypt and Israel. As a research fellow back at Harvard in economic and decision theory he attracted attention of the Rand Corporation and in ’58 accepted an economic position with RAND in California. The Soviet Union launched Sputnik during this time-frame.  The cold war was beginning to really heat up.

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Latest read: 1968 The year that rocked the world

1968: The Year That Rocked the World. What a strange year…even from an American point of view. What do you remember? — I was two years old.

For most Americans 1968 was this series of events: The assassinations of MLK and RFK, The Prague Spring, USS Pueblo, Tet, The My Lai massacre, Civil Rights Act, Student protests, Apollo 6 & The death of Yuri Gagarin. The political election of Nixon, Wallace, McCarthy, Humphrey, Rockefeller, Reagan, Romney, McGovern and even Pigasus.

On a “smaller” scale: Onassis marries Kennedy, Saddam Hussein’s coup d’etat brings the Ba’tathists into power, US Army Deputy Operations officer Colin Powell wrote denials of initial reports regarding the My Lai massacre.
–Even Hypertext (aka – the web) was publicly demonstrated by Doug Englebart in 1968.

Clearly 1968 changed the world…
After finishing Mark Kurlansky’s book I realize the biggest global ‘event’ was the student protest movement. From France, Poland, Mexico, Greece, Czechoslovakia to America. –Where have all student protest gone forty years later?
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