The Pentagon Papers Release
The media took center-stage in 1971 when an article in The New York Times appeared. This article was plastered on the front page, and it detailed the true purpose for the Vietnam War to the American people. The Pentagon Papers completed the disillusionment of the American people and their distrust of the government. The relationship between the people and the governing institution would be forever changed after this moment. The build up to the release of the papers was started four years earlier in 1967 by Robert McNamara.
McNamara would create the Vietnam Study Task Force on June 17, 1967. The purpose was, in his mind, to provide something for future historians to use when examining the war in hindsight. He claimed it was to prevent future administrations from making the same policy mistakes. Thirty-six analysts were employed; some military, some civilian. They were to conduct their interviews with no active duty military personnel, White House staff, or members of federal agencies like the CIA.
McNamara left the White House in 1968, and his successor Clifford in 1969 would receive the report from the Vietnam Study Task Force. The report contained 3,000 pages of historical analysis and 4,000 pages of original government documents in forty-seven volumes.
The report was classified "Top Secret-Sensitive."
The report detailed the true nature of the United States purpose in Vietnam. The Johnson administration had claimed that the American objective was to secure an independent, non-Communist nation in South Vietnam. The report contained a memorandum by McNamara from 1965 outlining the goal as the prevention of spreading influence from China. In this same memo, McNamara said that the containment of China would cost America much in terms of time, money, and lives.
The papers would go on to outline that the United States had been involved with Vietnam since the Truman years, assisting France in maintaining their grip on Indochina. The Eisenhower administration had helped establish South Vietnam in 1954 for the express purpose of curbing Chinese power in Southeast Asia. But the most damning part were the pages on the Kennedy administration.
These pages outline that the creation of South Vietnam was attributed to the United States. The United States was the only reason the Ngo Dinh Diem maintained power during 1955-1956. It was also the United States that allowed South Vietnam to contest the results of the elections. The United States was responsible for the ultimate overthrow of Diem in the end.
Nothing that had happened in Vietnam was real. It was all manufactured by the United States. The American people felt betrayed, and rightly so. They had been lead to believe that the US had stepped in to protect an allied nation that did not want to turn Communist. Instead they now faced the truth. Their government had been responsible for starting, continuing, and escalating the conflict in Vietnam. Four presidents had lied to the American people.
The media was ultimately responsible for the discrediting of the government, and it faced the wrath of Richard Nixon as he had Daniel Ellsberg tried for treason. The trial would eventually vindicate the reporter, but the damage was done to the government.