A version of this op-ed appeared in print on August 1, 2010, on page WK8 of the New York edition.
IT was on a Sunday morning, June 13, 1971, that The Times published its first installment of the Pentagon Papers. Few readers may have been more excited than a circle of aspiring undergraduate journalists who’d worked at The Harvard Crimson. Though the identity of The Times’s source wouldn’t eke out for several days, we knew the whistle-blower had to be Daniel Ellsberg, an intense research fellow at M.I.T. and former Robert McNamara acolyte who’d become an antiwar activist around Boston. We recognized the papers’ contents, as reported in The Times, because we’d heard the war stories from the loquacious Ellsberg himself.
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What was often forgotten last week is that the Pentagon Papers had no game-changing news about that war either and also described events predating the then-current president.
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The papers’ punch was in the many inside details they added to the war’s chronicle over four previous administrations and, especially, in their shocking and irrefutable evidence that Nixon’s immediate predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, had systematically lied to the country about his intentions and the war’s progress.
Phi Beta Iota: The truth at any cost reduces all other costs. What is now happening is that ubiquitous transparency is becoming possible at the same time that the extrme right in Latin America is discovering that machine guns do not work against swarms. The US Government is full of decent people who are being led by dishonorable liars who are wielding their public power “out of control” and against the public interest. A general tax revolt and a concerted demand for electoral reform are logical next steps in the American story.