The Pentagon Papers Explained
The Pentagon Papers Explained

The Pentagon Papers Explained

Larry Holzwarth - September 28, 2019

The Pentagon Papers Explained
Henry Cabot Lodge, then Ambassador to South Vietnam, was a leading architect of America’s escalation of the war in Southeast Asia. Wikimedia

25. The Pentagon Papers contain the thoughts and discussions among the policymakers of American history in the mid-20th century

Throughout the entire collection of documents which comprise the Pentagon Papers, the thoughts and suggestions of America’s post-World War II political and military experts and their lower-level staff are listed in detail. Presidents do not appear often, and when they do it is as an expression of approval or disapproval of the recommended action, questions regarding a report, or intention regarding strategy. The papers are littered with the names of second-half 20th century American history. Dean Acheson, Henry Cabot Lodge, George Marshall, Dean Rusk, Robert McNamara, Maxwell Taylor and many others. They offer a straightforward description of how American involvement developed into a trap for itself.

The Pentagon Papers have long been available in print in numerous volumes, some abridged, some with commentary. They offer a comprehensive and highly detailed presentation, step-by-step, explaining how the United States descended into the quagmire of Vietnam. Much of the presentation is not pretty to American eyes when the level of deceit by the government is considered. Late in the period of the war they cover, the military was also deceiving the government it served. They were made available online on the National Archives website, with each volume a separate PDF file, in 2011. They were also released to Presidential Libraries allowing all Americans to read them for themselves.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“In Retrospect”. Robert McNamara. 1996

“The Pentagon Papers”. John T. Correll, Air Force Magazine. February, 2007

“Pentagon Papers: The Secret War”. The Nation, TIME Magazine. June 28, 1971

“The Pentagon Papers”. Neil Sheehan. 1971

“Vietnam Archive: Pentagon Study Traces 3 Decades of Growing US Involvement”. Neil Sheehan, The New York Times. June 13, 1971

“Draft Memorandum From Secretary of Defense McNamara to President Johnson”. Robert McNamara. Office of the Historian, US Department of State. November 3, 1965

“Evolution of the War. Counterinsurgency: The Kennedy Commitments. 1961-1963”. National Archives Pdf. Online

“Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs to the President”. McGeorge Bundy, Office of the Historian, US Department of State. September 8, 1964. Online

“The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963”. Pentagon Papers Volume 2, Chapter 4. Online

“Memorandum From the Director of Central Intelligence to the President”. John McCone, Director of Central Intelligence. Office of the Historian, US Department of State. July 28, 1964. Online

“Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers”. Daniel Ellsberg, 2002

“The Nixon Defense”. John W. Dean. 2014

“Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America”. Rick Perlstein. 2008

“Nixon And The Pentagon Papers”. Jordan Moran, Miller Center, The University of Virginia. Online

“Sideshow: Nixon, Kissinger, and the Destruction of Cambodia”. William Shawcross. 1979

“The Pentagon Papers (Daniel Ellsberg) Trial: An Account”. Douglas O. Linder, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Online

“How Presidents Test Reality: Decisions on Vietnam”. John Burke and Fred Greenstein. 1989

“Pentagon Papers”. US National Archives. Searchable archives. June 13, 2011. Online