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Context of 'June 13, 1971: New York Times Publishes Pentagon Papers'

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South Vietnamese gun boats attack the North Vietnamese island of Hon Me as part of operation OPLAN 34A. Daniel Ellsberg, a Pentagon official working under US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, will later describe 34A as a “100 percent US operations, utilizing some South Vietnamese personnel along with… foreign mercenary crews, totally planned and controlled by the US, through MACV [Military Assistance Command Vietnam], CIA and CINCPAC [Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet]; some people in the GVN [Government of (South) Vietnam] had very limited knowledge of the operations, but no hand in planning or managing them.” [Ellsberg, 2003 Sources: Daniel Ellsberg]

Entity Tags: Daniel Ellsberg

Timeline Tags: US-Vietnam (1947-2001)

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Relations Committee hold closed hearings on the Gulf of Tonkin torpedo attacks (see August 2, 1964) (see August 4, 1964). Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon, who had received a tip from an unnamed Pentagon insider (not Daniel Ellsberg), asks US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara if the torpedo attacks might have been a response to operation OPLAN 34A which had conducted attacks on the North Vietnamese island of Hon Me on July 31 (see July 31, 1964). The Senator raises the possibility that the North Vietnamese may have thought the ship was supporting OPLAN 34A’s attacks. Morse suggests that McNamara should inquire as to the exact location of the Maddox on those days and what its true mission was. McNamara responds: “First, our Navy played absolutely no part in, was not associated with, was not aware of, any South Vietnamese actions, if there were any…. The Maddox was operating in international waters, was carrying out a routine patrol of the type we carry out all over the world at all times. I did not have knowledge at the time of the attack on the island. There is no connection between this patrol and any action of South Vietnam.” [New York Times, 6/13/1971; Herring, 1986, pp. 122; Ellsberg, 2003]

Entity Tags: Wayne Morse, Robert McNamara, US Congress

Timeline Tags: US-Vietnam (1947-2001)

The New York Times publishes excerpts from a secret Pentagon study leaked by Daniel Ellsberg of the RAND Corporation to journalist Neil Sheehan. Ellsberg had worked in the Pentagon under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. The study, later known as the “Pentagon Papers,” had been commissioned by McNamara and completed in 1968. It focused on how policy and tactical decisions had been made during the war. Between 30 and 40 writers and researchers participated in the 40-volume project, producing 3,000 pages of analysis and compiling 4,000 pages of original documents. After the Times publishes its first article on the papers, the US government goes to great lengths to block additional stories. But on June 30, the US Supreme Court rules in a 6-3 decision in favor of the New York Times. [New York Times, 6/13/1971; National Security Archives, 6/29/2001; Vietnam Veterans of America, 4/15/2004] The June 13 Times article reports that the Pentagon Papers included the following conclusions:
bullet “That the Truman Administration decision to give military aid to France in her colonial war against the Communist-led Vietminh ‘directly involved’ the United States in Vietnam and ‘set’ the course of American policy.” [New York Times, 6/13/1971]
bullet “That the Eisenhower Administration’s decision to rescue a fledgling South Vietnam from a Communist takeover and attempt to undermine the new Communist regime of North Vietnam gave the Administration a ‘direct role in the ultimate breakdown of the Geneva settlement’ for Indochina in 1954.” [New York Times, 6/13/1971]
bullet “That the Kennedy Administration, though ultimately spared from major escalation decisions by the death of its leader, transformed a policy of ‘limited-risk gamble,’ which it inherited, into a ‘broad commitment’ that left President Johnson with a choice between more war and withdrawal.” [New York Times, 6/13/1971]
bullet “That the Johnson Administration, though the president was reluctant and hesitant to take the final decisions, intensified the covert warfare against North Vietnam and began planning in the spring of 1964 to wage overt war, a full year before it publicly revealed the depth of its involvement and its fear of defeat.” [New York Times, 6/13/1971]
bullet “That this campaign of growing clandestine military pressure through 1964 and the expanding program of bombing North Vietnam in 1965 were begun despite the judgment of the Government’s intelligence community that the measures would not cause Hanoi to cease its support of the Vietcong insurgency in the South, and that the bombing was deemed militarily ineffective within a few months.” [New York Times, 6/13/1971]
bullet “That these four succeeding administrations built up the American political, military and psychological stakes in Indochina, often more deeply than they realized at the time, with large-scale military equipment to the French in 1950; with acts of sabotage and terror warfare against North Vietnam, beginning in 1954; with moves that encouraged and abetted the overthrow of President Ngo Dinh Diuem of South Vietnam in 1963; with plans, pledges and threats of further action that sprang to life in the Tonkin Gulf clashes in August, 1964; with the careful preparation of public opinion for the years of open warfare that were to follow; and with the calculation in 1965, as the planes and troops were openly committed to sustained combat, that neither accommodation inside South Vietnam nor early negotiations with North Vietnam would achieve the desired result.” [New York Times, 6/13/1971]

Entity Tags: Daniel Ellsberg, Robert McNamara

Timeline Tags: US-Vietnam (1947-2001)

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