Pentagon Papers - Summary

Allowing the New York Times and the Washington Post to publish documents which the U.S. government insisted were secret, Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black made a telling statement.

On the 30th of June, 1971, he said: “In revealing the workings of government that led to the Vietnam war, the newspapers nobly did precisely that which the Founders hoped and trusted they would do.”

What, exactly, did the U.S. government try to keep out of the press?

Robert McNamara (Secretary of Defense for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson) commissioned a top-secret study on American involvement in Vietnam. Documents from that study had found their way into a reporter’s hands. That reporter - Neil Sheehan - wrote a story sure to embarrass every Administration from Eisenhower through Nixon.

Collectively, those fought-over documents are known as “The Pentagon Papers.” Many paint a picture of governmental arrogance, miscalculation, lies and deception. Worse, the McNamara-commissioned study confirmed what many Americans were thinking at the time: They had not been told the truth about the war in Vietnam.

In this story behind the Pentagon Papers, meet Daniel Ellsberg - a study participant - and learn why he gave secret documents to Neil Sheehan. Watch a discussion about whether to publish, or quash, the news article. Hear a White-House tape in which Richard Nixon first talks with Henry Kissinger about the New York Times story.

Take a trip to the National Archives to see the controversial documents. Explore how they answer questions, such as: Did the people of South Vietnam support the war? Did the Kennedy Administration know about the coup in which the leader of South Vietnam was assassinated?

Did the Johnson Administration lie about the Gulf of Tonkin? And ... Hear a White-House tape in which President Kennedy expresses regret about the fate of Ngo Dinh Diem.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5155stories and lessons created

Original Release: Sep 01, 2005

Updated Last Revision: Jan 19, 2018

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"Pentagon Papers" AwesomeStories.com. Sep 01, 2005. Jul 17, 2018.
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