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Home / Book Reviews / Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and The Pentagon Papers
Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and The Pentagon Papers
by Daniel Ellsberg
ISBN: 0670030309
Publisher: Viking Press
Publication Year: 2002
Publisher Price: $29.95
Cover Type: hardcover

"Here's the world. Here's those little cocksuckers [Vietnam]. Here's the United States. Here's Western Europe, that cocky little place that has caused so much devastation . . . . Here's the Soviet Union, here's the Mid-East . . . . Here's the silly Africans . . . And the not-quite-so-silly Latin Americans. Here we are, the United States. Here's what we're gonna do. We're gonna get through it. We're going to cream them. This is not anger. This is all business. This is not "petulance." That's all bullshit. I should have done it long ago. I just didn't follow my instincts.

I'll see that the United States does not lose. I'm putting it quite bluntly. I'll be quite precise. South Vietnam may lose. But the United States cannot lose . . . . For once, we've got to use the maximum power of this country . . . against this shit-ass little country: to win the war . . . ."

Richard Nixon, Oval Office Tape 05/04/1972. Quoted by Daniel Ellsberg in Secrets

”There were situations—Vietnam was an example—in which the US government, starting ignorant, did not, would not learn . . . . As Tran Ngoc Chau said to me in 1968, ‘You Americans feel you have been fighting this war for seven years. You have not.

You have been fighting it for one year, seven times.’”

-- Ellsberg, Secrets

Not so long ago, a great American warrior, thinker, and patriot did the unthinkable: he committed treason against the country he loved more than his own life by telling the truth about an unjust war.

His brilliant mind had followed his troubled heart deep into the thirty years’ labyrinth of deception, greed and bloody imperialism that embodied the West’s designs for Vietnam after World War II. He came up with the plan to distribute classified analyses of the Vietnam conflict to major newspapers in the US. He thought that if The People could see the truth about the war, they would end it.

He was right.

His name is Daniel Ellsberg, and Secretsis his remarkable and moving tale.

Perhaps no one man did more to end the Vietnam conflict than Ellsberg, an unlikely candidate for a so-called “traitor.” A former Marine infantry commander and dedicated Cold Warrior who had top-level civilian security clearances as a policy analyst, Ellsberg had volunteered in 1965 to serve two years in Vietnam as a combat observer in order to evaluate US success at “pacification.” A respected senior analyst with the Rand Corporation (from whom even Kissinger frequently stole insights and arguments), he had access to the best kept secrets of three Presidents.

In his memoir Secrets, Ellsberg gives a dignified yet poignant account of how his decade of soul-searching and fact-finding led him to the excruciating decision to steal almost 7000 top-secret documents and face the full-blown wrath of a vindictive and desperate Nixon administration. Hunted by the FBI, targeted for assassination by right-wing hitmen, facing at least 115 years in a federal prison, Ellsberg was never physically harmed, nor was he ever caught. Instead, he turned himself in and was later acquitted of all federal charges.

Secrets is so full of calm, clear-eyed honesty and courage that it seems as if Ellsberg’s words were translated from another language—as if he came from another culture, like a character from some ancient saga filled with true heroism and honor.

Of course, the ‘60’s have been successfully caricatured by conservative pundits as the fuzzy collective unconsciousness of cowards; a liberal nation’s deluded dream; a drugs and denim fashion statement accompanied by a great soundtrack. So successfully, in fact, has the ‘60’s legacy been distorted that perhaps Ellsberg’s world was and will forever remain foreign and inaccessible to a majority of Americans today.

But young or old, when you read how Ellsberg eluded a massive manhunt by hiding with historian Howard Zinn and with countless other Harvard grad students who willingly turned their homes, dorm rooms and apartments into “safe-houses”—in spite of the terrible legal consequences for doing so—you will wonder, with a lump in your throat and bitter tears in your eyes, will there ever be such honor and conscience again? Will anyone so high up in the rarified air of military decision-making ever admit to things like this:

Like so many others, I put personal loyalty to the President (and to my career, my access to inside information and influence, however I idealized my purposes) above all else. Above loyalty to the Constitution. Above obligation to truth, to fellow Americans, and to other human lives. It was the face-to-face example . . . of young Americans who were choosing to go to prison rather than to take part in a war they knew was wrong that awaked me to these higher loyalties.

Ellsberg’s memoir is such a timely book that I cannot help but wonder that once again he comes to help a fearful and conscience-stricken nation during a time of war—a war fought solely for the political and financial gain of a select few, yet fought and paid for by a great many. Patriots who are brilliant thinkers and elegant writers are rare, indeed, so do not miss what truly might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and read Secrets as soon as possible.

© Copyright 2002 by KNS Maré.