Zinn: The Pentagon Papers
The Pentagon Papers
HOWARD ZINN, having previously sworn, resumed the stand.
DIRECT EXAMINATION CONTINUED BY MS. RIDOLFI:
Q. Howard, could you discuss — as briefly as you can — I guess, what our history is in Vietnam according to the Pentagon Papers and your studies.
MR. BARRY: I object, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Well, Miss Ridolfi, you indicated informally to me this was in some way connected with [the case]. So, would you establish that first?
Paperback edition of The Pentagon Papers. New York Times, 1971. You can read the full text of the Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition online.
MS. RIDOLFI: Yes. The publication of the Pentagon Papers, as other defendants have already mentioned, were very, very important in confirming the truth of what we had known before. [indecipherable] coming from the Pentagon it meant a great deal to us, and we would like Howard to tell the jury and tell folks just what — you know, briefly outline — what that was, what our history had been and how it influenced us.
MR. BARRY: I press my objection, Your Honor, on a number of grounds. First of all, I don’t think the witness is in any position to testify as to what influenced any particular defendant in this case. Also, the Pentagon Papers speak for themselves. Beyond that, they are incredibly voluminous and any short capsule characterization of what they contain I don’t think is particularly helpful.
MS. RIDOLFI: I’m not trying to say —
THE COURT: The second part of the objection doesn’t bother me so much as the first. How could this witness testify —
MS. RIDOLFI: That’s what I was going to say. I’m not trying to say that Howard knows what influenced me, but his expertise on the Pentagon Papers — and the Pentagon Papers were, you know, the impact of that had a great deal of influence on myself and the other defendants, and — Howard can testify what is in those papers.
MR. GOOD: And books that he wrote.
MS. RIDOLFI: And also covers the books that he has written.
MS. GOOD: That we read.
MR. BARRY: Your Honor, I had understood that the witness is going to be testifying as to how, basically influences and motivation, but as to testifying in the form of characterizing the Pentagon Papers — what they show, what they don’t show — I think goes far beyond the scope of any of your prior rulings.
I mean, that gets us into a number of issues that do not really bear directly on this case.
THE COURT: Wait a minute. Will it be tied up in some way?
MS. RIDOLFI: Definitely, Your Honor.
Related Links: The Pentagon Papers Case
» TIME magazine: Pentagon Papers, Case Dismissed
“I HAVE decided to declare a mistrial and grant the motion to dismiss.” With these 13 terse words, Judge William Matthew Byrne Jr. ended one of the most extraordinary legal — and in many ways, illegal — proceedings in the history of American justice.
» The National Archives: The Pentagon Papers – Secrets, Lies and Audiotape
Listen to the audio and read transcripts of President Nixon’s first recorded phone conversations on June 13, 14 and 15, 1971, after publication of the Pentagon Papers began.
» The National Archives: The Pentagon Papers – Secrets, Lies and Audiotape
Listen to streaming audio of the oral argument before the Supreme Court in the Pentagon Papers case.
THE COURT: All right, let’s do it this way. Ladies and gentlemen, I am going to permit the testimony here over the objection of the government because of what Miss Ridolfi has just told us. Keep in mind, however, that it is for that limited purpose and we are not concerned with the Pentagon Papers per se here.
As I understand, Judge Byrne and a good jury out there (in Los Angeles) is having enough problems with it.
But, at any rate, for the limited purpose that Miss Ridolfi just succinctly stated, I will allow it, subject to it being stricken.
THE WITNESS, MR. ZINN: Well, the Pentagon Papers are an official history of American policy in Vietnam, and it is true, it is hard to sum up. I didn’t think I would agree with you, but I think Mr. Barry is right. It is hard to sum up.
I will try to say what I think is important and then what people reading the Pentagon Papers might find important in them. The Pentagon Papers disclose the facts about the Vietnam War which to some extent were known already, but known only to a very, very small section of the American public, known to those people who read a lot of books about Vietnam, who were specialists in the field, who had a very special access to certain material about the Vietnam War.
But the general public did not know most of the material that was disclosed in the Pentagon Papers.
For instance, what you find in the Pentagon Papers is that from the very beginning of the postwar period, that is, from the end of World War II on, American policy in Vietnam was hypocritical. It’s a strong word to use, but I think that is an accurate assessment, because what you find in the Pentagon Papers is that in 1945, World War II is coming to an end and there was a great question about what will happen to Vietnam because Vietnam has been under the control of the French by that time for about 80 years, ever since the 19th century.
Vietnam was a colony ruled by the French. But now the war is over and the Japanese have been defeated, the Germans have been defeated, and Roosevelt and Churchill meet in the middle of the Atlantic in 1941 and they produced something called the Atlantic Charter.
In the Atlantic Charter, Roosevelt and Churchill said when this war is over, those people who were controlled by foreign powers are going to be free. That’s what the charter said. It was a promise of freedom to people who are run by colonial powers. So when 1945 came, the people of Vietnam said to the world that “we are going to take the Atlantic Charter, what Roosevelt and Churchill said, at face value. We want our freedom from the French.”
The trouble was at that particular point, the United States, with England, with France, with Nationalist China, because Chiang Kai-shek was in power in China, all four of those governments collaborated to give Vietnam back to the French because the French were out of it as a result of the war. There had been an independent movement that grew up in Vietnam during World War II [led by] Ho Chi Minh.
Ho Chi Minh was two things. He was a Communist and he was a Nationalist. He wanted independence and he led this great movement of people. Some of them were Communists. Most of them were not. But they all wanted independence from France. Ho Chi Minh wrote — and this is in the Pentagon Papers — Ho Chi Minh wrote many letters to Harry Truman. Roosevelt died in the spring of ’45. Truman took his place, and Ho Chi Minh, at the end of 1945, wrote — I counted in the Pentagon Papers 14 communications from Ho Chi Minh to President Truman — saying, “Remember the pledge of the Atlantic Charter. You promised us our independence. We want it now. Keep the French out.”
According to the Pentagon Papers, not one of those communications was answered.
That told the story. The United States set out, starting in 1945 slowly, but more and more firmly, to put the French back into power in Vietnam, and the British collaborated.
And so the French came back in 1945, and they faced this independence movement; and in the Pentagon Papers, one of the remarkable things that appears [is] a document which is the Declaration of Independence that Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnam and independence movement drew up in 1945.
When we defeated the Japanese and the Germans, and the Japanese had got out of Indochina, and these people in Vietnam thought they would be free now — they thought maybe that would keep the French out, too — they drew up this Declaration of Independence and had a tremendous celebration in Hanoi. A hundred thousand people gathered in Hanoi [for a] huge celebration, and they read this Declaration of Independence, and it read: “All men are created equal. There are certain inalienable rights: life, liberty [and] the pursuit of happiness.”
Well, those are the words of the American Declaration of Independence. Now, Ho Chi Minh and his people took from the American Declaration of Independence and they took from the French Declaration of Rights from the French Revolution, and they created a new declaration of their own.
But the French were put back by the United States and England, and then the war started … The French bombarded Haiphong Harbor. They killed 8,000 civilians in that bombardment. It was a sudden surprise bombardment of Haiphong Harbor.
The war started between the Vietnamese Independence Movement and the French. And that war lasted from 1946 to 1954.
This is another very important thing in the Pentagon Papers. It shows what the United States did in that war. Because here was the United States, which supposedly stood for the self-determination of nations, which supposedly stood for liberty. We didn’t want other countries to overrun other countries or control other countries, we said. Here were the French trying to control Vietnam and fighting a war against the Vietnamese to control Vietnam. And the United States helped the French from the beginning to the end of that war. They helped them more and more until by the end of the war, by 1954, the United States was supplying 80 percent of the money that the French were using to finance their war. The French couldn’t have done it without the United States.
THE WITNESS: With all of this, with all of this aid, the French were not able to defeat Ho Chi Minh or the Vietnamese Independence Movement. And the Pentagon Papers make clear why. Because the Pentagon Papers point out that Ho Chi Minh was a popular, respected, beloved figure all over Vietnam.
To Americans, it was hard to understand that somebody could be a Communist … and that the people in the country would like him, that he would be popular. But in Vietnam, this was true. Ho Chi Minh was a Communist; and at the same time he was a leader of the Nationalist Movement and he was popular. People told stories about him, how kind he was and how intelligent he was.
His movement believed in changing conditions in Vietnam so that the people who didn’t have any money in Vietnam or didn’t have any land would be able to have a bit of land, that the wealth of Vietnam would be shared, that the French would not be able to make all that money from the rubber plantations in Vietnam that they were making. That’s what Ho Chi Minh stood for and that’s one of reasons he was popular. The French were fighting against a movement that had its roots in the countryside.
So with all the American aid, the French lost Dien Bien Phu in the spring of 1954. Big battle. The French lost the war. And they came to Geneva, and that’s when the Geneva Agreement was signed. Everybody got together in Geneva, and they made a peace agreement — at least they thought it was a peace agreement — to end the war … The Geneva Agreement just said that, well, we’ll allow two years and then there’ll be an election all through Vietnam; and in the meantime, Ho Chi Minh and his group, they’ll stay in the north and the French will stay for a while in the south. And that would be it. There would be no more colonial power in Vietnam.
Here’s where in the Pentagon Papers the story also becomes very clear, and that is that the United States at this point made a very important decision. The United States decided, we are not going to let this independence movement take over in Vietnam; if the French are getting out, we are going to go in. And that’s exactly what happened.
The United States went into Vietnam in 1954. They went in through the man that they put in office in Vietnam, and who became the head of state in Vietnam, a man named Mr. Diem… The Americans wanted him in power. He became our man in Saigon.
From 1954 to 1956, the United States built up Diem, built up his power, gave him money, gave him arms; and the elections that were supposed to take place didn’t take place because Diem refused to have elections take place. And the United States went along with Diem. No elections. We’re going to build up South Vietnam into a fortress, and the Pentagon Papers carry this in full. And they tell how Diem, between 1954 and 1963, made South Vietnam into a police state.
When critics of the Vietnam policy had said Vietnam is creating a police state, a dictatorship in South Vietnam, the government of the United States denied this. The government of the United States said, “No, Diem is our friend. Diem is a member of the free world. We said he’s a member of the free world; therefore, he’s okay. Diem stands for democracy.”
What’s the proof? “The proof is he’s our friend. We’re helping him.”
That’s what the United States was saying. But the Pentagon Papers disclosed in their interoffice memos to one another, that the United States officials were admitting to one another [that] Diem is losing the confidence of the people. He is putting a lot of people in jail.
And you may remember, and the Pentagon Papers talk about this, that in 1963 the opposition to Diem in Saigon became very great. He was putting too many people in jail. He was shoving down too many newspapers. He was cutting down too many freedoms. He was not distributing lands to the peasants.
The Buddhists were beginning to protest against him, and he sent out his police, and these police fired into the monasteries. They killed monks. They imprisoned thousands of Buddhists. They shut down the Buddhist temples, and these police, according to the Pentagon Papers, were trained by the United States.
And so Diem was getting unpopular. And then the Pentagon Papers has a long section in which it tells how Mr. Diem, who we had put in power in 1956, was toppled from his seat of power in 1963 in a sudden military takeover of the Saigon Regime and was executed, and how the United States’ officials were in Saigon, who had helped put Diem in power in 1954, helped plan his removal in 1963.
Henry Cabot Lodge, our ambassador in Saigon, worked secretly with the generals in Saigon, who were planning to overthrow Mr. Diem; and one week before the overthrow , Diem, who thinks Lodge is his friend, invites Lodge to spend a weekend with him and have some fun. They spend the pleasant weekend together, one week before Diem is going to be removed and is going to be killed.
This is why the Pentagon Papers had such an impact when they first came out and people began reading them, because these disclosures [about] all of this double dealing of the American government, things that the government had always denied, now were coming out. Wow. All this[about a] government that we had supported, which was so corrupt, which was so bad, and then which we overthrew because it couldn’t maintain support.
So the Pentagon Papers tell us that in 1964/65: The United States made another crucial decision … to move large numbers of American troops into Vietnam and large numbers of American bombers into Vietnam.
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That’s when the great bombardment begins, 1964, the Gulf of Tonkin. Another thing referred to in the Pentagon Papers [is] where the word is sent out to the American public that they have shot at us. They fired at us in the Gulf of Tonkin, which is right off the coast of Vietnam. What nerve they have. Vietnamese firing at American ships a few miles off their shore.
The American public was given the impression that they had done something terrible, and therefore, they deserved to be bombed.
But as it came out, not just in the Pentagon Papers, even before the Pentagon Papers, but the Pentagon Papers confirmed it, turned out to be a lot of doubt, a lot of doubt that what the United States government claimed [had] happened in the Gulf of Tonkin had happened.
At that time, as it turned out, the United States government had lied about what happened in the Gulf of Tonkin, that the shots that were supposed to have been fired at our destroyers [on August 4, 1964] were not fired, that the members of the crew of the American naval vessels said that no shots were fired.
We started to bomb North Vietnam in ’64. It became very heavy in ’65. In 1965, we sent almost 200,000 troops into Vietnam. The next year, 200,000 more, and the next year another 100,000. So that by 1968, we had 500,000 troops in Vietnam. We were bombing the South, bombing the North, bombing Laos — an enormous military operation.
The Pentagon Papers tells us all this in great detail.
Then something interesting takes place in the spring of 1968… We are bombing Vietnam more heavily than Germany and Japan were bombed in World War II, an enormous number of people have been killed in Vietnam. Oh, many Americans, but many, many more Vietnamese.
In 1968, or the beginning of that year, the Tet Offensive takes place. The National Liberation Front, the great offensive in South Vietnam which drives back American Forces, even gets into Saigon itself, so much into Saigon that it reaches the American Embassy and they are fighting inside the American Embassy in Saigon. They have so much support, these guerrillas, these NLF, what we call the Viet Cong, have so much support among the people of Saigon that the United States has to send B-52s to bomb the outskirts of Saigon, and many sections of Saigon are bombed by American B-52s in early 1968 in a desperate attempt to hold back this offensive.
Well, at this point General Westmoreland asked Lyndon Johnson for 200,000 more men on top of the 500,000 men. In one of the volumes of the Pentagon Papers, it tells how Johnson now has to decide: Should he send 200,000 more men to Vietnam on top of that 500,000? He decides [to do] what most presidents seem to do in a time of crisis: They set up committees to study the question.
He appoints a new secretary of defense, Clark Clifford, and McNamara, the old secretary of defense is going out.
He said to Clark Clifford, “I want you to take charge of this new investigation and I want to you to report back to me on what I should do now about this request for 200,000 men.”
Then, the Pentagon Papers show, these committees surveyed the situation and they come back and they report to Clark Clifford, and then to Johnson, and they say, “Two hundred thousand more men is not going to do it. We can’t do it. We can’t win. These people are — It doesn’t seem that we can defeat them.”
You see, there has been a lot of material in the Pentagon Papers which the high officials of this country knew about, which they did not tell the public and which said that the morale of the Viet Cong was very strong, that they were very popular and that the morale on the side of the Saigon government, on our side, was very low.
All of our officials kept wondering why is their morale so high. Why do they feel they have so much to fight for and why does our side not feel it has very much to fight for?
Well, in 1968 this little study group came out and said that we can’t beat them with 200,000 more men. So we better not do it. That was one reason they gave for not sending 200,000 men. The other reason they gave was this — and this is very important — they said, we cannot do it because the American people won’t stand for it.
They said, and this is in the little memo that they sent up to the president, they said there is too much opposition growing in this country to the war, too many people have protested, too many people have resisted the draft. Black people have resisted in the cities. In 1967 and 1968, there was a lot of trouble in this country. This is an unpopular war. We had better not go ahead.
Now, this is a tremendously important disclosure in the Pentagon Papers because up to this point the government had been acting as if the antiwar movement did not have any effect on it at all. What the Pentagon Papers brought out was that the protest of people against the war was having an effect, not a tremendous effect, maybe, but some effect, enough of an effect to make Johnson decide he was not going to send 200,000 more men. He was going to start moving in the other direction. He was going to leave the presidency, and he was going to start peace talks in Paris.
That may not be a tremendous achievement, but it’s an achievement. The reason, it seems to me, this is so important for anyone reading the Pentagon Papers is that it suggests that the high policymakers who hold in their hands the lives of young Americans, [those who] decide which young people are going to stay alive and which of them are going to die at the age of 20, 21 and 23, that these high policy makers, who don’t seem to be affected by elections and votes, because they promise one thing and then they do something else when they are elected, those high policymakers are affected by protest movements.
Therefore, it seems to me [that] anybody reading those Pentagon Papers and understanding that, might very well come to the conclusion [that] if lives are going to be saved, if important policy decisions are going to be changed to help the American people to stop war, then maybe those protests, yes, the kind of protest that they talk about right there in the Papers, civil disobedience — and they mention civil disobedience in the Pentagon Papers, they use that phrase, civil disobedience — had an effect on the decision makers of this country when they made that decision in 1968 to begin turning the other way.
Well, all of these things, or maybe most of these things had been said by people in books, in articles, in speeches, and at teach-ins and meetings all over the country. But for the first time when [the Pentagon Papers] came out in 1971, for the first time those same things were being said now, revealed by the American government, not voluntarily, the government was still trying to hide it. The government still didn’t want those papers to come out. But they were out and now the public could see them.
So this about sums up pretty much what I have to say about the Pentagon Papers.
Q: Did the Pentagon Papers reveal what the United States’ interest was in Vietnam, why were we so interested in that country?
A: There is a section of the Pentagon Papers that talked about why the United States is in Vietnam. At one point it says, there is a memo that is written to the French ambassador in 1947 from Washington, and the memo says that we must not, we must not let the other side win. We must not let the other side win. We must not let the guerrillas — at that time it was the Viet Minh, the Ho Chi Minh — we must not let them win in Vietnam because we don’t want any country that is dominated by the Kremlin to be there in Asia.
They talk about the wealth of Southeast Asia. This starts way back. It starts in 1941 when Secretary of State Hull is worried about the Japanese moving into that area, and he says we can’t afford to let the Japanese move into that area. He doesn’t say we don’t want the Japanese to move into that area because we want the Vietnamese to be free. He says no, we don’t want the Japanese to move into that area because that is a very valuable area for us. It commands strategic routes.
Furthermore, in that area there is lots of tin, of rubber, lots of oil. That’s in 1941. Then in 1947, ’48, ’49 and 1950, there is a whole series of memoranda in the Pentagon Papers in which different high officials discuss the importance of Vietnam to the United States. What they say again and again, and it almost comes as a chorus: tin, rubber, oil. Not that Vietnam has all those things, but Indonesia has those things. Malaysia has those things, and we want that.
This is a very important disclosure in the Pentagon Papers, because the public had been led to believe that we were fighting in Vietnam for freedom or to save America from attack. By whom? It wasn’t clear. After Vietnam would fall, San Francisco would fall. Really, there was all this speculation about why we are fighting in Vietnam. How when they talk to themselves those high officials don’t talk about freedom. They don’t talk about defending America from attack. They talk about tin, rubber and oil.
So when this comes out in an official memorandum, this is very, very important. I suppose if you had to say what do the Pentagon Papers show [that] the high officials of the United States — when they are not talking to the public, when they are talking to one another — what do they think is the reason the United States is in Vietnam, the answer would have to be, it seems, that we are interested In the wealth of this area. In other words, that we are interested in what empires have been interested in all through history; why England was interested in Asia and the Near East and Africa, why Germany and Russia and Japan, why all the other great countries of the world, were interested in exploiting Africa and Latin America and Asia — the wealth of these areas.
Here was the United States, which a lot of people thought was pure and innocent, didn’t have any of those motives, here was the United States with the same motives as the British Empire and all the other empires in world history. That is why the Pentagon Papers are very revealing and very important and may be very influential over the years.