Today’s Release of Pentagon Papers Has ‘Contemporary Resonance,’ Says Cornell History Professor


Newswise — Fredrik Logevall, Cornell University professor of history, is a leading historian of the Vietnam War. He is the author of several books on the Vietnam War, including “Twilight War,” to be released by Random House in early 2012.

Logevall says:

“The leak of portions of the Pentagon Papers forty years ago by Daniel Ellsberg showed clearly the degree to which the Johnson administration concealed from the public and from Congress its grim assessment of the situation on the ground in the South Vietnam, and its plans for escalation. Lyndon Johnson and many of his aides in 1964-65 doubted that the outcome in Vietnam really mattered to U.S. security, yet they Americanized the war anyway, the papers show.

“We also know that Nixon’s view of Ellsberg’s action was initially mixed. He relished the thought that people would know of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations’ secret escalation, but he feared that his own secret policies would be revealed, notably his bombing of Cambodia. Nixon’s attempt to block publication had a boomerang effect and only increased the publicity surrounding the story. Ultimately, the leak and his response to it would play a role in his downfall.

“The issue also has contemporary resonance, with Wikileaks and the Obama administration’s response similar to that of the Nixon administration forty years ago. In both instances the government charged that the leakers were guilty of stealing government property, that by their actions they had endangered U.S. national security, and that they should be tried under the Espionage Act.”

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