Analogies Emerge Between WikiLeaks’ Afghan War Docs and The Pentagon Papers


“The documents matter, for much the same reason that televised images of the Vietnam War or the civil rights struggle mattered. They will make many people feel in their bones what they merely knew, or perhaps didn’t know at all, before. This, in turn, will darken-indeed, already has darkened-the debate.” James Traub-Foreign Policy

WikiLeaks published 76,000 United States documents of the war in Afghanistan last Sunday. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said on Thursday that the leak can jeopardize our troops by revealing their strategies on the battlefield. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U. S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, has ramped up this criticism and framed his words in moral terms.

“Mr. Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is, they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.” This is part of Mike Mullen’s statement at a Pentagon news conference on Thursday.

Julian Assange
On Friday Julian Assange provided a strong rebuttal to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ criticism of his WikiLeaks’ Afghan war doc publication on the internet. Assange said that Gates has overseen the killings of thousands of children and adults (in Afghanistan and Iraq).

“Secretary Gates could have used his time, as other nations have done, to announce a broad inquiry into these killings. He could have announced specific investigations into the deaths we have exposed. He could have apologized to the Afghani people.

But he did none of these things. He decided to treat these issues and the countries affected by them with contempt. Instead of explaining how he would address these issues, he decided to announce how he would suppress them. This behavior is unacceptable. We will not be suppressed.”

Julian Assange is simply defending the release of the documents in that the truth is coming out about the Afghan conflict. There are many specific accounts of civilian casualties, where shells miss their target and hit innocent bystanders. So the ‘blood of non-combatants’ is on whose hands? If Assange helps to stop the war, then maybe more lives will be saved. And don’t the American people have a right to know how the war is being conducted by their government.

Daniel Ellsberg
Daniel Ellsberg leaked a top secret history of Vietnam, known as The Pentagon Papers, to the New York Times. The publishing began on June 13, 1971 and was a major victory for First Amendment Rights. Ellsberg perceived Vietnam as a wrongful war. Acting on conscience alone, he broke the law for a higher cause, peace.

A secret history of the Vietnam War (1945-1967), commissioned by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, was completed by 1968. Daniel Ellsberg had converted from a hawk to a dove by this time, and with a steady conscience, began to smuggle documents from Rand and Xerox them. This took a considerable amount of time; Daniel started the Xeroxing in 1969 and did not complete the copying until the early summer of 1971. One might compare this with the suspected leaker of Afghan documents, Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is thought to have taken six-months to copy thousands of files onto compact discs.

One can easily draw other parallels between The Pentagon Papers and the WikiLeaks’ Afghan war documents. Ellsberg himself has pointed out that both documents reveal their respective wars as stalemates. Other similarities are that there is nothing in the way of statistics or information that would suggest we were, or are getting any closer to winning these wars.

In the case of Vietnam it only showed that the enemy was getting stronger, even though we put in more troops, committed more equipment, and shelled out more money. The same is true for Afghanistan, where it is apparent that the Taliban is only getting stronger. That is, to extend this analogy, the more troops and resources we commit, the stronger the Taliban gets. Strength translates to weakness is a paradoxical foible of war (if I might wax philosophic).

Some important differences are manifested also between these two major leaks of a U.S. operation of war. The Pentagon Papers were more high-level analysis about policy and what would be an effective way to conduct the war. Or what would be an effective political strategy? WikiLeaks more resembles an arbitrary collection of facts and data, a daily diary of Afghanistan from 2004-2009.

Back to similarities. I remember how, during the Vietnam War, our government was always propping up the South Vietnamese government and claiming they were on the road to fighting the Vietcong on their own. Nixon called this Vietnamization. Our government and our media reported that they were getting stronger, when actually just the opposite was occurring. Part of the weakness of the south was due to the fact that many of the villagers were in cahoots with the Vietcong.

Similarly, in Afghanistan we consider Pakistan to be one of our great allies in the struggle to reduce the strength of the Taliban, in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. But now we are hearing that the Pakistani spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, is working with the Taliban in Afghanistan in plots to undermine the U.S. The ISI is helping the Taliban to get stronger, not weaker.

It is good for the American people to read this information from the WikiLinks documents. Now they can see for themselves that we are not really making any progress in Afghanistan. A similar epiphany can be ascertained when we think back on how the Pentagon Papers exposed twenty-six years of lies in Vietnam, when a day where an end to the bombing and killing would never come.

It is the ‘right thing’ that these Afghanistan war documents are published on WikiLeaks. At one time there was a question whether the Ellsberg leaks would continue being published. For fifteen days The New York Times halted running the Papers on order from the government. On June 30, 1971 the Supreme Court ruled the injunctions were unconstitutional, and the presses resumed.

This was a major victory for First Amendment Rights. Americans have the right to know how their government is conducting a war. When we know that the Taliban is only getting stronger and that Pakistan is helping the Taliban get there, we realize the futility of this war. The same holds true from forty years ago.

LBJ kept saying “we seek no wider war,” when that is exactly what we were doing, widening the war as far as the eye could see. I’m thankful for Daniel Ellsberg, and now I’m glad for Julian Assange. Both wars never worked out right.

Sources for my article:

1. Talking Points: On WikiLeaks and its place (, 2. Pentagon Papers (Wikipedia) 3. WikiLeaks founder ‘disappointed’ by Gates’ remarks ( 4. Pakistan Aids Insurgency in Afghanistan, Reports Assert (The New York Times), 5. Army Broadens Inquiry Into WikiLeaks Disclosure (The New York Times), 6. What They Said: The WikiLeaks Leaks (The Wall Street Journal), 7. More on Mullen, Twitter, and the Ethics of WikiLeaks (The Atlantic), WikiLeaks boss may have ‘blood on his hands’ (ABC News) and Daniel Ellsberg’s WikiLeaks wish list (The Washington Post).

Pentagon Papers

WikiLeaks Q & A with Daniel Ellsberg, the man behind the Pentagon Papers-The Christian Science MONITOR