The Post and the Vietnam Memorial

“The Post” is a gripping film detailing the release of “The Pentagon Papers” by the Washington Post (and the New York Times) which document years of lies by successive American governments justifying the presence of U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

I have little doubt that Katharine Graham, the owner of the Washington Post, and Ben Bradlee, the Editor, were accurately portrayed by Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks (at least as much as film drama can sustain), but the BIG STAR (in my opinion) was the The Pentagon Papers.

Briefly summarizing, The Pentagon Papers were a highly classified study commissioned by the Department of Defense that documented U.S. political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967.    Some 70,000 pages were secretly released to the New York Times and Washington Post by Daniel Ellsberg, an analyst at the Rand Corporation, for publication in 1971.

The Pentagon Papers revealed that most Americans were deceived by government leaders on the extent of the U.S. government’s role in Vietnam. Wikipedia quotes a 1996 article in The New York Times stating that the Pentagon Papers had demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration “systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress.”

As one who lived through the drama of the publication of these Papers, the overriding message of this drama was the fact that 58,000 kids died at the behest of government leaders who blatantly lied to them, their families and the American public.   Sure, Daniel Ellsberg and the press showed great courage in publishing these documents, but the real tragedy is the number of innocent kids trapped by forced conscription who paid the ultimate sacrifice for leaders who couldn’t level with the American public.

Vietnam Memorial

A few days ago, I had a chance to visit the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C.   It is a sobering reminder of how “John or Jane Doe” generally pay the price for misguided leadership – no matter how seemingly altruistic the cause.

Today, we are once again engaged in an increasingly vitriolic exercise in finger-pointing to determine the “truth.”   If history is any lesson, the “truth” is most elusive, but hopefully another 58,000 will not have to die for self-serving politicians on all sides of the political spectrum.

Before Sheila and I left D.C., we had a very pleasant dinner with our good friends Tim and Patricia.  Toward the end of a late evening we discussed the legacy of our generation.   Collectively, we generally agreed that we had let down future generations by not seizing the opportunity to create a better world.

If history serves as a lesson (or, perhaps, consolation to our aging generation), many others have also failed to leave the world a more peaceful and better place.  Sadly, I think we have lost our sense of perspective which only an immersion in history can restore.   Unfortunately, far too many people seem intent of rewriting history than drawing lessons from it.

“Truth can be stated in a thousand different ways, yet each one can be true.”
Swami Vivekananda