The documentary history of American policy in Vietnam compiled by researchers for the Department of Defense, known now as the Pentagon Papers, became public property in 1971 against the wishes of the United States government. This seems only proper when we consider that for seven years this government has been carrying on a war of annihilation in Indochina against the wishes of the people there, and now against the wishes of the American people, too. Those who made the Pentagon Papers public have laid out for general scrutiny the story of American war policy and have exposed the coldness of mind, the meanness of spirit, behind that policy.
As a sign that this country, born with thrilling phrases about freedom, has not been truly free, there was peril for those who informed the American people of the decisions that sent their sons to war. The New York Times was brought into court by the government, and while a Supreme Court decision saved it from an injunction to prevent publication, the possibility of later prosecution was left open. Such prosecution has indeed begun of Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo. It was they who defied the doctrine of secrecy, showing that true patriotism which asks dedication not to one's government, but to one's country and countrymen. Beacon Press, not nearly so wealthy or huge an enterprise as the New York Times, had the audacity to print the bulk of the Pentagon Papers, those which Senator Mike Gravel had in his possession and which he began to read into the record one dramatic night in Washington in the summer of 1971. Four massive volumes were required for this: a mountain of information for scholars and citizens. The volumes contain a thousand pages of documents, three thousand pages of narrative, and two hundred pages of public statements by government officials trying to explain American involvement in Vietnam.
Those of us who began to explore these pages soon realized that something more was needed. An index, of course, as a guide through the mass of material; and it has been provided here in this volume. But even more important, we could not leave the readers of the four volumes with the commentary of the Pentagon analysts as the last word. These analysts were all people who were working for the military bureaucracy—hardly independent researchers. Furthermore, they were operating under the constraints of a government harassed by the antiwar movement, watching the growing peace sentiments of the American population, and sensitive to any possible hint of criticism. And these researchers were writing their report for one of the engineers of the war—Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
Under these circumstances, it is not surprising to find that with all the weight of thousands of pages, there are serious omissions in the story, and also gross distortions. "Lies and lacunae" is how the two of us and Arnold Tovell of Beacon Press summarized the insufficiency of the Pentagon Papers, as we discussed them one evening. This volume of essays is the result of that assessment.
We decided to ask men and women who have devoted much of their lives to the Indochina war during these past years to read through the four volumes, and to comment on them. All the people we asked were critics of the war, and we feel no apologies are needed for this deliberate bias: four thousand pages from the Department of Defense are enough from the side of the government. As the volumes of the Gravel edition came off the press, we flew them to our authors, in New Hampshire, in California, in Paris, in Washington, D.C., and many other places—and then the essays began coming in.
A number of the commentators have spent years in Vietnam or Laos, as journalists, as scholars, or as field workers in the countryside. Others have written extensively about the war in Vietnam in books and articles. Most of the writers are Americans, but one is a Vietnamese and several are French, because we wanted to include the viewpoint of these people who have felt and suffered most from the policies of the United States, as well as to draw upon the prior French experience with the anticolonial revolution in Indochina. And, as we anticipated, some of those invited to contribute essays, including a number of Southeast Asians, devoted their time in this spring of 1972 to acting against the war, not writing.
We hope the essays will illuminate for the reader what is obscure in the Pentagon Papers, will suggest what is missing in the official story, will bring forward what is important and might be overlooked. Most of all, we hope they supply what the government documents lack, some sense of the human consequences of this war, so that now Americans will devote time and energy to stopping the unforgivable American assault on the land and people of Southeast Asia.
May 5, 1972
1. Nina S. Adams and her family have been living in Paris doing research this year and expect to move to Hong Kong in the near future. She edited, with Alfred McCoy, Laos: War and Revolution, which was published in 1970.
2. James Aronson was a founder and for many years editor of the radical newsweekly National Guardian, which he left in 1967 for a career in writing and teaching. He is the author of The Press and the Cold War and Deadline for the Media.
3. Fredric Branfman is the director of Project Air War in Washington, D.C. He was in Laos from 1967 to 1971 with International Voluntary Services and as a freelance journalist. Mr. Branfman studied at the University of Chicago and at Harvard.
4. Wilfred Burchett, born in Australia, has traveled throughout the world as a journalist for the Daily Express, the London Times, Le Soir, L'Humanite, the London Daily Worker, the Christian Science Monitor, the Toronto Star, and other newspapers. He was in Indochina at the beginning of the battle of Dien Bien Phu and has been a close observer of the war in Indochina for many years.
5. Gerard Chaliand is a French writer specializing in national liberation movements in the third world. His book Peasants of North Vietnam was written as the result of research in that country.
6. Noam Chomsky is Ward Professor of Linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the author of American Power and the New Mandarins, At War with Asia, and Problems of Freedom and Knowledge.
7. Philippe Devillers is the director of South East Asia Studies of Centre d'Étude des Relations Internationales in Paris. He was attached to General Leclerc's headquarters in Saigon during 1945-1946 and was for some time a senior correspondent for Le Monde. He is the author of What Mao Really Said and coauthor of End of a War: Indochina Nineteen Fifty-Four.
8. John W. Dower is an assistant professor of Japanese history at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. A member of the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars, he has lived in Japan and is the author of The Elements of Japanese Design. He is currently working on a book about postwar U.S.-China-Japan relations.
9. Richard B. Du Boff is an associate professor of economics at Bryn Mawr College, where he is a specialist in economic history and development. He coauthored with Edward S. Herman America's Vietnam Policy: The Strategy of Deception.
10. Walt Haney is a graduate student at the Center for Studies in Education and Development at Harvard. He spent two years in Laos with International Voluntary Services and one year with the Ministry of Education of the Royal Lao government. Mr. Haney prepared the Survey of Civilian Casualties Among Refugees from the Plain of Jars for the U.S. Senate subcommittee on refugees and escapees.
11. Gabriel Kolko is currently professor of history at York University in Toronto. Among his books are The Roots of American Foreign Policy, The Politics of War, and with Joyce Kolko, The Limits of Power.
12. Truong Buu Lam is now a visiting professor of history at the University of Hawaii. The author of Patterns of Vietnamese Response to Foreign Interventions: 1858-1900, he was for several years the director of the Institute of Historical Research in Saigon and concurrently taught at the University of Saigon.
13. Don Luce is now director of the Indochina Mobile Education Project. He was in Vietnam from 1958 to 1971 as an agriculturist, as director of International Voluntary Services, and as a research associate and journalist for the World Council of Churches. He is the author of Vietnam: The Unheard Voices and has translated and edited a volume of Vietnamese poetry We Promise One Another: Poems from an Asian War.
14. David G. Marr served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1959 to 1964. Now an assistant professor of Vietnamese studies at Cornell University and director of the Indochina Resource Center in Washington, D.C., he is the author of Vietnamese Anticolonialism.
15. Peter Dale Scott, a former Canadian diplomat, has taught political science. Now an associate professor of English at the University of California at Berkeley, he is a co-author of The Politics of Escalation in Vietnam and author of The War Conspiracy.
16. Howard Zinn is a historian and professor of political science at Boston University. Among his books are Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal and The Politics of History.