Pentagon papers: The real war
By BRUCE LEVINE ,.
First of two parts.
J'IlS WAS an eventful June. The nation's
newspapers. spent the month publish-
ing great chunks of the Pentagon's 47- r
volume secret study of the Vietnam war. "
The Nixon administration spent it furious-"
ly trying to stop the newspapers."
The newspapers won out. Despite the
government's best efforts, the Pentagon %
papers have received a tremendous cir-
culation. They have been reported, re-I
peated, reviewed, condensed, capsulized,
and syndicated all over the country-andu
around the world
Among the best-known revelations con
tained in the Pentagon papers are:
1. That throughout 1964 and 1965 the
Johnson administration prepared secretly
to escalate the war in Vietnam, firstq
through massive aerial bombardments of#
the North and then by committing hun-
dreds of thousands of U.S. combat troops
to the South;
2. That the Johnson administration stuck
firmly by its determination to spurn any maintain control over its third-world em-
and all offers of peace talks until it could pire.
be sure North Vietnam was "hurting" And now we have the Pentagon papers
badly enough to agree to all terms; before us. What do they reveal on this
3. That these terms amounted to little score?
more than a demand for the NLF's un- Neil Sheehan (the Times reporter who
conditional surrender; obtained the study and prepared it for
4. That Johnson escalated the war, publication) puts it pretty well:
aimed for all-out military victory, and ". the study reveals a deeper per-
spurned all negotiations . . . while he ception among the President and his aides
blandly insisted to all the world that he that the United States was now the most
was doing nothing of the kind. "We will powerful nation in the world and that the
not escalate the war," he said. "We are outcome in South Vietnam would demon-
ready to reach a flexible compromise sei- strate the will and the ability of the United
tlement," he said. "Negotiations will be- States to have its way in world affairs.
gin as soon as the 'other side' shows some "The study conveys an impression that
interest," he said. Briefly: lies, lies, and the war was thus considered less important
still more lies. for what it meant to the South Vietnamese
These four points are important. Even people than for what it meant to the posi-
if the Pentagon papers had done nothing tion of the United States in the world."
more than highlight them, the papers' im-
portance to the anti-war movement and Allies
the American people at large would still
have been immense. What does it mean for the U.S. to be
But the Pentagon papers do more, much -"the most powerful nation in the world"?
more. They include classified memoran- It means, bluntly, that the United States
da, coded cables, and secret letters which maintains a massive empire around the
show us not only isolated decisions which world which governs the lives and fortunes
the government reached but the actual of much of Asia, Africa, and Latin Amer-
process of reaching them. ica.
With the help of the Pentagon papers, And how does the U.S, make sure to
we can actually return to 1964-1965 and "have its way in world affairs"? That is,
sit in on closed, top-level meetings of gv- how does it safeguard its empire? By
ernment and watch pivotal decisions of the maintaining throughout the countries of
Vietnam war being made. Above all, we its empire a network of puppet govern-
can learn the motives and considerations mtnts whose leaders are drawn from the
which led to those decisions, thin upper-class crust of their societies.
Only in this way can we really undr- It is through these governments-these
stand what makes American governments middlemen regimes-that the U.S. exerts
tick. And with that understanding we can its economic, social, and military control
learn what to expect of them and how to over the third world. In return for their
deal with them in the future. Viewed in services, the middlemen regimes are per-
this way, the value of the Pentagon papers mitted a small share in the booty and the
is tremendous. Perhaps this is why De- limited status and power which goes with
fense Secretary Laird is suddenly so loud- being the Big Boy's flunkey.
ly opposed to "raking over the coals of One of the most amusing aspects of the
past policies"-a pastime which, he vigor- Pentagon papers is the light they shed on
ously assures us, can serve "no useful U.S. high regard for its third world "al-
purpose." lies". William P. Bundy of the State De-
partment, for example, suggests that the
The imperial road in SEATO "allies" receive no notification of
possible U.S. bombing plans until they
How and why did the United States get were well under way. (These were the "al-
into the Vietnam morass in the first place? lies", we recall, who were supposedly
In general, three different groups have most endangered by an NLF victory.)
offered three different explanations. "We should consult the Philippines a
THE LIBERALS, first of all, chalk up day or so before such action, he charitably
the war to the personal weaknesses of one adds, "but not necessarily before we have
or another individual government official, made up our minds." And in fact, when
Johnson was willful and proud. Rusk was the decision to bomb became definite, the
narrow and small-minded. McNamara was Pentagon writers record, the Philippines,
a heartless machine. And so on. The liber- South Korea, and the Chinese Nationalists
els' remedy follows: Vote for better men on Taiwan were kept almost completely
next time! in the dark.
THE WAR'S DEFENDERS have a dif- The most scandalous of these vignettes,
ferent kind of explanation, of course. of course, involve the Saigon governments
"Vietnamese democracy was In ranger' themselves. On July 24, 1964, General
Or: "We had signed these ironclad treaties Nguyen Khanh, then chief of state, went
which now bound us to go in." Or: "We to the U.S. ambassador (the representa-
had no moral choice. We had to come to tive, remember of Saigon's "junior part-
the aid of the beleagured but valiant Viet- ner" in the war effort) to ask the Ambas-
namese people as they resisted foreign sador whether he ought to resign. Taylor
aggression." said no, and Khanh stayed on.
FINALLY THE RADICALS. Year in and On Sept. 3, Asst. Defense Secretary
year out, the radical community has pa- McNaughton urged pressure on the "face-
tiently explained that the war grew nei- less leaders" in Saigon "to get a real gov-
ther out of personality weaknesses nor ernment in operation." On September 8,
warmhearted sympathy with the Vietna- 1964, William Bundy, once again, wrote
mese peoples' plight. Instead, it could be the President that "The best we can ex-
understood only as an integral part of pect" is that Gen. Khanh would "give the
the large struggle by the United States to appearance" of a valid government.
Most priceless of all is the confronta-
tion of U.S. Ambassador Taylor with Sai-
gon's "Young Turk" generals after they
had overthrown the carefully put-together
'civilian government" then in office.
Taylor marches into the roomful of
generals - now supposedly the "king-
makers" in South Vietnam - and demands
right off the bat, "Do all of you under-
stand English?" He goes on:
I told you all clearly at General West-
moreland's dinner we Americans were
tired of coups. Apparently I wasted my
words. Maybe this is because something is
wrong with my French because you evi-
dently didn't understand . . . Now you
have made a real mess. We cannot carry
you forever if you do things like this. Who
speaks for this group? Do you have a
General Ky steps sheepishly forward,
denies that he is any kind of spokesman,
but whines that "we only did what we
thought was good for this country." Tay-
lor asks, ". . . Would any of the other
officers wish to speak?" (It is almost em-
barrassing to read this.) One Admiral
Cang now pipes up: "It seems to me," he
complains, "that we are being treated
as though we were guilty. What we did
was good and we did it only for the good
of the country."
General Thieu offers the cheerful news
that "after all, we did not arrest all the
members of the High National Council. Of
nine members we detained only five." But
Taylor is not mollified.
"I have real troubles on the U.S. side.
I don't know whether we will continue to
support you after this. Why don't you tell
your friends before you act? I regret the
need for my blunt talk today, but we have
lots at stake.
"And was it really all that necessary to
carry out the arrests that very night?
Couldn't this have been put off a day or
two?" [We note in passing how prin-
cipled is Ambassador Taylor's devotion
to democratic civilian government and due
The world "guarantor"
What is true of the Saigon clique is
true in general of all U.S. third-world
flunkeys. And it in. one of the outstand-
ing facts of the decade that all over the
world, these flunkeys are in trouble.
Workers, peasants, and -students are
chafing under their rule.
Faced with this unrest, few of these
regimes could stand if left to their own
devices. This is no secret: Washington
knows it; the flunkeys know it; and the
people of the third world know it as well.
Only the concentrated efforts of the
United States can guarantee these
But how strong is even this guaran-
tee? This remains the big question. And
so, when the war of national liberation
got underway in Vietnam, the attention
of all the world was irresistibly focused
on that struggle. In the Vietnam cru-
cible, the ability of even the United
States to prop up its stooges would be
These were the real stakes in Vietnam,
If there was any doubt about this before,
the publication of the Pentagon papers
ought to dispel them,
From 1964 to 1967, John T. McNaugh-
ton was the head of the Pentagon's for-
eign affairs planning staff, the Assist-
ant Secretary of Defense for Interna-
tional Security Affairs. He was a key fig-
ure in the escalation of the war and ap-
pears again and again in the Pentagon
In November, 1964, McNaughton wrote
a memo outlining "U.S. aims" in Viet-
nam. He listed four aims in all, but at
the very top of ,his list he placed:
(a) To protect U.S. reputation as a
In case anyone might think that the
order in which he listed the "aims" was
accidental, McNaughton re-emphasized
his meaning the following March. In a
new memo, he once again listed "U.S.
aims." But this time he specified the
relative importance to be attached to
each, expressed in percentages.
This list, as it appears in the Penta-
gon papers, begins: "70%-to avoid a
humiliating defeat (to our reputation as
a guarantor)." The wish "to keep South
Vietnam (and adjacent) territory from
Chinese hands" gets a meager 20 percent
rating. And the supposedly pivotal, cen-
tral aim, "to permit the people of South
Vietnam to enjoy a better, freer way of
life," gets a whopping, grand - total
weight of 10 percent.
McNaughton then added another aim,
not percentage-rated: to avoid "unac-
ceptable taint from the methods used,"
And, McNaughton explained carefully,
our aim was NOT-to 'help a friend,' al-
though it would be hard to stay in if
We needn't belabor the point. Vietnam
is. (as revolutionary socialists have said
all along) important to Washington be-
cause it is related to the fortunes of
the American Empire in general. Or-to
use Mr. Sheehan's more polite phrase-
"to the position of the United States
in the world."
The defeat of the United States in
Vietnam will threaten the hegemoony of
American imperialism throughout the
Third World. In so doing, it will under-
mine the overall role of the U.S. as a
world policeman for the capitalist social
This then was how the United States
entered the Vietnam war . . . via the
Imperial Road In.
TOMORROW: The imperial road out
(Editor's note: Writer Bruce Levine is a
University graduate and a former Daily
editorial page editor. He wilt attend grad-
uate school in history in the fail. T h i a
article is reprinted from the . July, 1971
edition of Workers' Power.)
420 Maynard Street, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Edited and managed by students at the
University of Michigan
Editorials printed in The Michigan Daily express the individual
opinions of the author. This must be noted in all reprints
Tuesday, July 13, 1971 NIGHT EDITOR: JONATHAN MILLER