Hundreds of commentators, thousands of bloggers, are already making comparisons between the Wikileaks Afghanistan documents and the Pentagon Papers Vietnam documents from 39 years, 11 months ago.
I was working in radio news, public affairs and arts broadcasting in Seattle (KRAB-FM) when the Pentagon Papers came out. My story, picked up by the fledgeling NPR, was crafted around interviewing stodgy guys dressed in suits, as they came out of what was then the largest building in Seattle, the Seafirst Building (now known as Safeco Plaza), carrying folded up newspapers under their arms. I asked them if they had read anything about the leaked documents, and if they had, I asked for impressions.
Shortly afterward, Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel first came to my attention, as he began reading from the Pentagon Papers on the Senate floor, during a filibuster.
A lot of people active in liberal and progressive politics now weren’t even alive in June, 1971, so this diary will make a few comparisons between the Pentagon Papers and their reception, and the emerging Wikileaks story. I’ll use Youtubes to do a lot of the illustrating.
Here’s a nifty mini-documentary on the Pentagon Papers, prepared by the New York Theatre Workshop early this year, for their production of the play, Top Secret:
The Supreme Court heard the case on June 26th, 1971. On June 29th, Sen. Mike Gravel (Dem – Alaska), read extensively from the Papers on the Senate floor. Here is his recollection, from a Democracy Now episode on July 2nd, 2007:
Gravel wasn’t alone in defending the actions of Ellsburg and others. But criticism of the leaks beyond the White House’s almost insane reaction crossed party lines, as many of the decisions revealed by the Papers involved key Democrats.
Here are two clips on Nixon’s reaction:
Haig’s prediction of a "gut fight among Democrats" didn’t come to pass.
The same day, Sen. Gravel began reading the Papers:
So many people are covering Wikileaks, one might get inundated. I guess that is a good thing, as just 48 hours ago many of us interested in this were complaining about the lack of followup on last Week’s Washington Post coverage of the explosion of useless spy agencies since 2001.
The best article I’ve read yet that compares the Pentagon Papers structurally to the so-far revealed Wikileaks material, is by New Yorker writer, Amy Davidson, just a few hours ago:
This stash will be compared to the Pentagon Papers, and in some ways that’s right—WikiLeaks, like Daniel Ellsberg, has been accused of ignoring the national interest. (An unfair charge, unless by “national interest” one means the political interests of a particular Administration.) But the Pentagon Papers were a synthetic analysis, a history of the war in Vietnam. WikiLeaks has given us research materials for a history of the war in Afghanistan. To make full use of them, we will, again, have to think hard about what we are trying to learn: Is it what we are doing, day to day, on the ground in Afghanistan, and how we could do it better? Or what we are doing in Afghanistan at all?
As with the Pentagon Papers, the White House is furious with the publication of the leaks:
To some extent, bloggers have already observed many times over that Wikileaks, in its ability to transcend national borders through the internet, is a deeper, more meaningful development in an already recognized and growing phenomenon, and that it represents something even more important:
In media history up to now, the press is free to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the laws of a given nation protect it. But Wikileaks is able to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the logic of the Internet permits it. This is new.
I’m not sure how comprehensively accurate that statement is. The late Spring Gaza flotillas were reported by a rather large, somewhat interlocking group of bloggers from dozens, perhaps scores of nations. Bloggers from Malaysia to Ireland to Alaska covered three flotilla groups or individual vessels, tracking and writing about them in real time, using public GPS shipping tracking tools, live-feed video, twitter, texting and cell phone cameras. All this was done right into the face of obvious and publicly declared attempts by one of the supposedly most vaunted electronic warfare military organizations on the planet. After the Israeli military destroyed or confiscated millions of dollars worth of personal computers, cell phones, cameras and video recorders, flash cards smuggled out of Israeli jails inside of human bodies emerged within days to counter the false IDF narrative.
Iranian resistors seem to be capable of working around internet restrictions erected by the Iranian government. Coverage of the BP oil spill, especially where it is now beginning to cross borders in the Gulf of Mexico, is somewhat trans-national.
Just as when the U.S. Government lashed back at those who showed them to be liars in the Pentagon Papers case, so now, the U.S. Government is just beginning to lash out at those who are showing contemporary policies and actions to be both clearly illegal and downright stupid. When the White House push-back gets mobilized this coming week, will a new Sen. Mike Gravel emerge, to challenge the imperiousness of the current president and his advisors?