In the summer of 2011 the National Archives released the Pentagon Papers. The 47-volume report officially titled “United States-Vietnam Relations 1945-1967” was an amazing research effort led by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
Somewhat fittingly today (Memorial Day 2013) I have finished the final volume.
This has been a rather involved “process” to say the least. At times the reports left me frustrated, curious, shocked, empathetic and even enraged. All 47 volumes remain freely available to download in Adobe Acrobat format and total 7,919 pages. This top secret report forever changed America’s view of this long and tragic war.
Robert McNamara appointed a TaskForce of select military, RAND staff members and academic researchers to write the report. Those who contributed included Daniel Ellsberg who would later leak the Papers to Neil Sheehan at the New York Times.
The US conflict in Vietnam, America’s longest war spanned over 30 years. A full generation of soldiers dedicated to our country, democracy and freedom served, fought and died throughout French Indo-China. I am deeply moved by those brave men who gave their lives in battle.
The Papers trace America’s support for French colonial rule over Vietnam under President Roosevelt — even before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The papers reveal how Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy & Johnson all mismanaged the war. Yet the war escalated under Nixon. Ultimately our involvement in Vietnam ended under President Ford. Seven American Presidents over 33 years had to manage the nightmare of this war.
Understanding over 7,500 pages of reports, studies and policy decisions has enabled me to walk away with difficult, heart breaking lessons: Vietnam was ultimately America’s commitment to support a fading colonial empire after World War II as communism began to dominate Asia and Eastern Europe. The domino theory did not matter as the knowledge reveals America and the South Vietnamese would never win the war to defeat communism in Vietnam.