50th anniversary of the Pentagon Papers

Anna Callahan, Copy Editor

June 13 this year marks the 50th anniversary of the publishing of the Pentagon Papers. 

The Pentagon Papers were a series of articles published in the New York Times about a top-secret study about the US military and political involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. The war in Vietnam raged on and brought over 500,000 US troops to war by 1968.

A military analyst by the name of Daniel Ellsburg came to oppose the war and as a result, photocopied the study he worked on and sent it to the New York Times.

Daniel Ellsberg poses with a copy of “It was all a lie” by Stuart Stevens in 2020. Ellsberg is credited with leaking the Pentagon Papers to reporters. (Christopher Michel/CC BY 2.0)

The official title of the study was the “Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force.” It was a top-secret document that used classified information from the Department of Defense, State Department, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The report ended up containing 47 volumes with 3,000 pages of writing and 4,000 pages of supporting documents.

Some of the more damaging things in the report were that John F Kennedy’s administration helped overthrow and assassinate South Vietnamese President, Ngo Dinh Diem, in 1963.

The report also contradicted many government statements that the bombing in North Vietnam was having a large impact on the enemy’s will to fight.

According to PBS, as more articles were published Nixon’s administration went to court to have The Times ordered to stop publishing because it was becoming detrimental to national security. 

However, a 6-3 decision from the Supreme Court said that the government had no right to stop The Times from publishing. This case is now considered a landmark First Amendment decision.

History.com wrote, “Though an incomplete version of the Pentagon Papers was published in book form later in 1971, the study remained officially classified until June 2011, when the U.S. government released all 7,000 pages to the public in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of its leakage to the press.”

The entirety of the Pentagon Papers are available to the public now. The National Archives have published the entire document to be read online.