22. How much damage did the Pentagon Papers do to the United States?
In the long run, the Pentagon Papers did little to change the political situation in the United States as it regarded the Vietnam War. Hawks remained hawks and demanded the heads of Daniel Ellsberg and the reporters and editors who published the documents. Peace advocates continued to condemn America’s “illegal war” and demand an immediate ending to it. The government continued to expand the war, into Cambodia and Laos, while informing the American people that gradual American withdrawal and “peace with honor” was coming. The long-suffering Vietnamese people continued to suffer.
The entity which was most damaged by the release of the Pentagon Papers and the legal squabbles which surrounded them was the Nixon Administration, and as in other areas of his troubled and troubling presidency, most of the wounds suffered were self-inflicted. Had Nixon allowed publication to go forward unimpeded the papers would have exposed the duplicity of previous presidents while allowing him to compare his efforts for peace and Vietnamization of the war effort favorably in comparison to his predecessors. Instead, he bore the bulk of the damage for America’s long involvement in Vietnam.