Oscar 2018: “The dark secrets of the Pentagon”, the history of the documents that revealed the lies of the United States about the Vietnam War

Oscar 2018: “The dark secrets of the Pentagon”, the history of the documents that revealed the lies of the United States about the Vietnam War


Writing with journalists in shirt sleeves who type and face a dilemma that can change the course of history is a very cinematic scene.

If in addition who is put behind the cameras is the director of cinema Steven Spielberg and in front of the lens they act Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, the attractiveness of the film multiplies.

This is the case of The Post (translated as “The dark secrets of the Pentagon” or “The Pentagon archives”) that this Sunday aspires to two Oscars: best film and best actress protagonist.

The production of Spielberg counts on the trepidante development of some events that tensed the relation between means and the authorities until putting in check the freedom of press in the United States.

Meryl Streep in "The Dark Secrets of the Pentagon" (Photo: IMDB)Image caption The actress Meryl Streep plays Kay Graham in the movie “The Dark Secrets of the Pentagon” and is nominated for an Oscar for best actress, but it is difficult to win. (Photo: IMDB)

How did the real events that the movie recreates?

For those who have not seen the film, want to do it and do not know the historical facts that sustain the plot, we note that this article reveals details of its outcome .

An unexpected figure

June 1971: The United States was facing, without being aware of it, the final stretch of its involvement in the Vietnam War.

The conflict had caused a deep division in a country where hundreds of thousands of people had been protesting for years against the participation of the United States in a war that had no sign of coming to an end and did nothing but take the lives of young soldiers.

Protest against the Vietnam War in front of the Washington DC Capitol in May 1971Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES imageImage caption The protests in the United States against the war in Vietnam worsened in the late 60s, early 70s.

Discontent and outrage intensified after 1965, when the US military started bombing North Vietnam.

The number of victims increased every day, the costs of the war also increased and the citizens began to question the justifications of the government to remain involved in such a distant war.

“It changes your life, the search for the truth”.

Ben Bradlee, former editor of The Washington Post

The anti-war marches counted from 1969 with an unexpected participant: Daniel Ellsberg, American military analyst who knew from the inside the details of the war .

Ellsberg’s frustration grew in such a way that he made a decision that would mark his life: he copied thousands and thousands of secret documents that eventually came to light and are known as the Pentagon Papers .

The deception of Vietnam

Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense of the United States
Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES imageImage caption Defense Secretary Robert McNamara said he wanted to leave a written record of the Vietnam War for historians and to avoid political mistakes by future governments.

Ellsberg was one of the few people who had access to a study that, under the title “US-Vietnam Relations 1945-1967: Study Prepared by the Department of Defense,” detailed the history of the military-political involvement of the United States

in Vietnam during those years.

It was commissioned by then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara with the aim of writing an “encyclopedic history of the Vietnam War”.

The final work consisted of 3,000 pages of historical analysis and 4,000 pages of original government documents distributed in 47 volumes and classified as top secretsensitive material . 15 copies were made.

Basically, the documents exposed how the governments of Presidents Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961), John Kennedy (1961-1963) and Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969) extended the reach of their maneuvers in Vietnam without informing the public.

The armed forces of the United States they were involved in bombings of neighboring Cambodia and Laos, coastal raids in the north of the country and attacks by the Navy.

According to Ellsberg, “the documents demonstrated the unconstitutional behavior of a series of presidents, the violation of their oath and the violation of the oath of all subordinates .”

Image of soldiers of South Vietnam in 1967Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES imageImage caption The Pentagon papers reflected the lies of various US governments about the real reasons for getting involved in the Vietnam War.

The Pentagon papers also reflected that the US motive to get involved in this war was not so much a humanitarian impulse towards South Vietnam but the use of conflict to contain the power and influence of China.

The filtration to the media

After becoming an opponent of the war, Ellsberg and his colleague Anthony Russol photocopied the study in October 1969 with the intention of publishing it.

Ellsberg’s son, Robert, told the press that he and his sister, who were just teenagers, helped his father with the thousands of copies and trimming the top secret words of the documents.

Ellsberg’s initial intention was to get the papers to legislators and members of the government to end what he considered a wrong war, but before the indifference of politicians, decided to go to the press .

Daniel Ellsberg, American military analyst who leaked Pentagon papersCopyright of the GETTY IMAGES imageImage caption Daniel Ellsberg approached with Pentagon papers National President Richard Nixon’s National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, and Senators William Fulbright and George McGovern among others, but none were interested.

Ellsberg approached New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan and gave him 43 volumes in March 1971.

After receiving legal advice, the newspaper began publishing fragments of the documents on June 13, 1971 with a strong impact .

Despite not being directly indicated by the documents, the Nixon government accused Ellsberg and Russo of breaking the espionage law of 1917.

In addition, Attorney General John Mitchell obtained a court order that forced The New York Times to stop publication after three articles.

Love what you do and feel that it matters … how can there be anything more fun? “

Katherine Graham, former owner of The Washington Post

The newspaper appealed the order and The New York Times Co case . vs USA He quickly reached the Supreme Court.

Jump to The Washington Post

In full court, another newspaper, The Washington Post , began publishing its own series of articles based on the information revealed by the Pentagon papers.

The analyst Ellsberg gave part of the documents to Ben Bagdikian, reporter of the newspaper, which at that time was a modest publication that had just gone public and that was in the hands of Katharine Graham.

Bagdikian presented the information to The Washington Post editor , Ben Bradlee.

Frame of the movie "The dark secrets of the Pentagon" (Photo: IMDB)Image caption “The dark secrets of the Pentagon”, in which Tom Hanks plays Ben Bradlee, aspires to the Oscar for best film. (Photo: IMDB)

“In total there were 7,000 pages although we only had 4,000,” said Bradlee himself in an interview with the US public radio station NPR in 1995.

” We received them at 10:30 in the morning and at 10:30 that night we published the first story, nobody read them completely.

“We could only read fragments, each of us read sections, then for about eight hours we read and then we had an editorial meeting and we decided what we could publish.”

That same day, US Deputy Attorney General William Rehnquist urged the newspaper to stop the publication.

At that point played a key role the owner of the newspaper, Kay Graham, who had been at the head of The Washington Post after the suicide of her husband, Philip.

Kay Graham
Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES imageImage caption Katherine Graham (affectionately known as Kay) was the owner of The Washington Post when the scandal of Pentagon papers broke out.

Before the possible accusation of desacato, Graham had to decide between going back and to safeguard the security of the newspaper or to publish and to fight by the freedom of the press.

After many comings and goings, conversations with Bradlee on the one hand and with the team of lawyers and financial advisors of the company on the other, Graham decided to go ahead with the publication of the documents .

Given this, Rehnquist sought an order in a US District Court. but Judge Murray Gurfein declined to issue a request.

The government appealed the decision of Gurfein and on June 26 the Supreme Court agreed to study the case in conjunction with the litigation of The New York Times .

Another 15 newspapers received copies of the study and began publishing it.

Sentence of the court

On June 30, 1971, the Supreme Court decided, in a 6-3 ruling, that the government had not complied with the “weight of proof” requirement and agreed with the newspapers.

Ben Bradlee, editor of The Washington Post, in a 2011 image in CaliforniaCopyright of the REUTERS imageImage caption Ben Bradlee died in October 2014 after several years suffering from Alzheimer’s.

“Only a free and unrestricted press can effectively expose the government’s deception,” court magistrate Hugo Black wrote in his reasoning.

“And among the responsibilities of a free press, it is fundamental the duty to avoid that any part of the government deceives the citizens and sends them to distant lands to die of strange fevers and foreign shots and bombs”.

A year later, Bradlee and Graham would also have an indispensable role in the Watergate case, which culminated in the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

And about that there is also a movie: All the President’s Men (1976).

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