The Pentagon Papers: The Secret History of the Vietnam War- Neil Sheehan, Hedrick Smith, E. W. Kenworthy, Fox Butterfield and James L. Greenfield
The names of the 58,000 Americans who died in the Vietnam War that are found on the memorial in Washington, D.C., are a reminder of a conflict deemed by many to be the worst the United States has ever been involved in. The withdrawal of U.S. forces in March, 1973, brought a sigh of relief to the American public which had long grown tired of a war with no end in sight. The dark truth which we now know is that we did not by any means accomplish the mission. And the mighty American war machine failed to secure a victory. I have met many veterans of the war and have an uncle who served. What I recall most about all of them is that they do not speak of their experiences while in combat. I know the memories are there and for some of them, they were unable to leave parts of the war behind. Today we call it PTSD, but back then you simply found a way to move forward in life. But why were they in Vietnam to being with? Was the domino effect really a threat to the United States?
On May 11, 1973, Daniel Ellsberg found himself the talk of the town as charges pending against him for espionage were dismissed by U.S. District Judge William Byrne. He had been indicted for leaking what became known as The Pentagon Papers, the subject of this book and the topic of the movie The Post starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. The New York Times, after several battles in court, was finally allowed to move forward with its plan to publish The Pentagon Papers and contained in the pages of this book are the documents that the U.S. Government tried in earnest to hide from the American public under the guise of “national security”. Ironically, the facts that are revealed in this book have absolutely nothing to do with national security but rather several presidential administrations that failed to find a workable solution to Indochina.
The late Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara (1916-2009) has been called the architect of the war and was loathed by many because of it. However, the title is misleading and in some ways unfair. The war had many architects either by wishful thinking, uncontrolled ego or naiveté. What is truly ironic is that as the war waged on, McNamara became a strong voice of dissent. And in spite of what we have been led to believe, our existence in Indochina began many years before 1965. The story of U.S. involvement in Vietnam is a long tale, filled with hard truths, false truths, deception and ultimately failure. But this is how it happened and why.
The papers are divided into several sections which correspond to a different aspect of the conflict. The administrations of Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson are examined to understand what each cabinet did and did not do as it grappled with the growing headache. Step-by-step Southeast Asia opens up as black hole as more advisors are committed, instability rages in South Vietnam and war hawks finally get their wish as the United States jumped nearly feet first into a jungle conflict that proved to be nothing short of disastrous. Rolling Thunder, troop deployments and South Vietnamese politics are just some of the issues that antagonized Washington for nearly a decade.
If you served in Vietnam, I forewarn you that the book might anger you in many ways. For others, this is a critical source of information in order to understand the war from a behind the scenes view. We are often told that the military fights to protect the country and our freedoms that we take for granted. But did a nation over 13,000 miles from U.S. soil really pose a threat to the most powerful nation on earth at the time? And what would we have accomplished if we had in fact won the conflict? Perhaps Vietnam would have become a second Korea, partitioned between a communist controlled North-Vietnam and a U.S. controlled South-Vietnam. Following the U.S. withdrawal, Saigon fell and the North achieved its goal of reunification. Today the war is a distant memory for young Vietnamese but for the older generation, many painful memories remain. The figures in the book are long gone but their actions will stay with us and the Vietnam war will always be a regrettable example of U.S. foreign policy gone wrong.
Five Presidents: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford-Clint Hill with Lisa McCubbin
The 20th Century was filled with some of the most earth-shattering events the world has ever seen. The home video shot by Abraham Zapruder that recorded the assassination of John F. Kennedy stands as one of the most important pieces of motion picture ever captured. During that film, as former Firs Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy reaches to the trunk of the car to retrieve a portion of JFK’s skull, a secret service agent can be seen leaping on the trunk of the car as the motorcade sped down the Stemmons Freeway en route to Parkland Hospital. The agent, Clint Hill stands out in the film as only one of two agents to make any major movement to help the fatally wounded Kennedy and Gov. John Connally. Hill would go on to serve three more presidents and today is a best-selling author with several books published about his time working in the United States Secret Service.
Teaming up with Lisa McCubbin, who worked with Hill on his first book, ‘Mrs. Kennedy and Me’ and subsequent memoir ‘Five Days In November’, Hill recounts his experiences during a career that stretched over five administrations, beginning with the legendary Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. The secret service of today is far advanced from the days of Eisenhower’s administration and as Hill shows us, the secret service was still developing as the agency tasked with the daily protection of the commander-in-chief. As Eisenhower’s administration comes to an end, a new president takes office and his administration would change Hill’s life forever. Primarily assigned to guard Mrs. Kennedy, she and Hill become close friends and as fate would have it, he was included in the motorcade on November 22, 1963. The murder of JFK and the swearing-in of Lyndon Johnson are still surreal and continue to capture the public’s attention as more books are published about that day.
Moving on to Johnson’s administration, we see the stark contrast between the two presidents. But Hill allows us to see the private side of LBJ, not often seen or discussed in books or magazines. He would stay with Johnson throughout the remainder of his term until the top office in the land was assumed by Richard M. Nixon. Nixon’s presidency and the events that followed would shock not only Hill but the entire nation. The Vietnam War and Watergate scandal permanently marked Nixon’s time in office and his resignation is the only one to have ever occurred by a sitting U.S. President. The prior resignation of then Vice-President Spiro Agnew began to erode the already crumbling confidence in the U.S. government. And by the time that Gerald Ford took office, things had reached the point where the nation was threatening to become unhinged. Regardless of their personal shortcomings or questionable judgment calls, Hill stood by each one and recalls his time with each and remarks fondly and gracefully on the proud career he left behind.
This book is not a “smoking gun” about JFK’s murder nor is it a gossip column. It is a memoir by a remarkable person who had an even more remarkable career. His life was and is extraordinary by far and in the book an entire cast of characters make an appearance such as Arnold Palmer, Frank Sinatra and even Elvis Presley. Assassinations and attempted assassinations, infant deaths, racial tension, war and social change are relived as Hill’s memory comes alive. And as he Hill points out, not many agents have worked in as many details as himself making his story all the more valuable as a piece of history recounting America’s most dangerous moments.