If you opened the the New York Times this morning in 1971, you would have seen the first part of the secret “Pentagon Papers” that the newspaper published—without authorization from the government.
Today in 2011, the National Archives and the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon Presidential libraries will release the entire official Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force (commonly referred to as the Pentagon Papers).
Although the unauthorized publication of the Papers fueled opposition to the Vietnam War and provided historians with unique insight into the U.S. policymaking apparatus, today’s release will finally provide the American public with unimpeded access to this historic text.
The release will feature over 2,300 pages of previously undisclosed material not included in the Senator Gravel Edition of the Pentagon Papers, the most commonly referenced compilation of the Papers.
So what were the Pentagon Papers?
Following the 1954 Geneva Accords, the United States assumed a substantial role in the political and military development of South Vietnam. In order to prevent the new nation from falling into the communist sphere of influence in Southeast Asia, the Eisenhower administration provided the government of Ngo Dinh Diem with billions of dollars in economic and military aid. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson continued authorizing similar assistance prior the introduction of U.S. combat troops in 1965.
In 1967, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara commissioned the Vietnam Study Task Force to develop a comprehensive report chronicling the American commitment in Vietnam from 1945 onward. The task force—led by Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton, and officials Morton Halperin and Leslie Gelb—eventually published the 47-volume report “United States–Vietnam Relations 1945–1967.” The classified report contained 7,000 pages of sensitive intelligence and government documents, including some material that exposed American policy failures in Vietnam.
After the Tet Offensive in 1968, American newspapers and media outlets began to question the assessments of the war provided by the U.S. Government. Public condemnation and antiwar activities soared.
Former military analyst Daniel Ellsberg was just one of a growing number of former government officials who had grown disillusioned with the Vietnam War by 1971. Ellsberg, who had worked on the Pentagon Papers in 1967, began leaking parts of the classified study to the New York Times early in 1971.
On June 13, 1971, after some internal deliberations, the Times published the leaked materials. Other publications, like the Washington Post and the Boston Globe, quickly followed suit.
Today, three Presidential libraries and the Research Room at the National Archives facility in College Park, MD, will have hard copies of the papers available for review, beginning at noon EDT in College Park and at the Kennedy Library, 11 a.m. CDT at the Johnson Library, and 9 a.m. PDT at the Nixon Library. The materials will also be available online at noon EDT.