John Colson: Hit and Run
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado
This country is known for commemorating anniversaries of matters both monumental and trivial – think August 6, the day we dropped the bomb on Hiroshima in 1945, versus Oct. 16, which has been National Bosses Day since 1958.
Of course, days of national shame, such as Aug. 6, don’t get nearly the same hoopla and publicity as, say, Dec. 7, which was the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. It’s a lot easier to commemorate the heroic deaths of sailors and soldiers caught napping by our evil enemies than to celebrate the unleashing of a miniature Armageddon upon unsuspecting civilians.
Yes, we have many holidays in our calendar, but I think we could use one more, and this column is the opening of a campaign to get it done.
The holiday I seek would be called Pentagon Papers Day, and it would fall on June 13, the day in 1971 that the New York Times began publishing a series of articles on the study leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, former Pentagon analyst whose conscience forced him to reveal government secrets that he, himself, had worked on.
Or, if June 13 is taken or otherwise unsuitable, we could hold the annual celebrations of whistleblowers and truth-telling on June 29. That’s the day, also in 1971, that then U.S. Senator Mike Gravel, a Democrat from Alaska, used the bully pulpit of his senate Subcommittee on Public Buildings and Grounds to read the Pentagon Papers into the public record. In doing so, he ensured that the matter would be publicly debated, even as President Richard Nixon’s henchmen strove to quash publication of the documents based on excuses of national security.
As far as I can tell [from a quick perusal of the calendar hanging on a nearby wall], neither of those days are dedicated to any other celebration. And both are coming up fast, so somebody had better move quickly to get the holiday declared.
Actually, I don’t expect to get this done this year. But by June, 2011, the 40th anniversary of the day our government was exposed in its lies and corruption, I hope to get my way.
Now, if somebody could only tell me whom to call first to get the ball rolling, I’ll get started tomorrow.
In the meantime, a little history.
Some of you might be wondering why Sen. Gravel chose to read the Pentagon Papers into the record of the Public Building and Grounds subcommittee, which is not only a minor actor on the capital state, it had absolutely nothing to do with the Vietnam War, which was the subject of the Pentagon Papers.
The PP, as I shall call them for convenience, was the government’s own telling, in several thousand pages, of the sordid tale of our involvement in Vietnam from 1945 through 1967.
Among other things, the PP revealed how broadly the country was misled [lied to] by its elected leaders and their minions, stretching all the way back to President Harry Truman.
For instance, the PP showed that Prsident Lyndon Johnson had decided to send in ground troops well before the 1964 presidential election campaign, despite the fact that he repeatedly promised during that campaign that he would not send our boys over to fight in Vietnam.
But, back to Gravel, he was given the papers by Ellsberg and was unsure how to handle them, knowing he could be charged with treason for revealing them to the public. But senators can say just about anything on the floor of the U.S. Senate without risking prosecution, so he came up with a scheme in which a fellow senator to request a public building in that senator’s home district. Cravel politely rejected the request, saying the government had no money, and produced the PP as evidence of where all the federal money was going – Vietnam.
Much of this is laid out in a 2006 documentary of a ceremony held by Beacon Press, a Boston-based publishing wing of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, which published the PP in book form and incurred the wrath and legal persecution of Nixon’s administration. The documentary used to be available through DemocracyNow.org, left-wing journalist Amy Goodman’s TV and radio news outlet.
But the important thing is that we do not forget about the PP, or about the men who made the documents public. We need people with that kind of courage, people on the inside, right now. We need to know more about decisions to let BP off the hook for environmental reviews that might have prevented the disastrous leak in the Gulf of Mexico. We need to know more about government plans to launch attacks against Iran. We need to know more about the Obama administration’s commitment, or lack thereof, to fulfill promised made in the 2008 presidential race.
We need to know more. And there are people who can make that happen. They just have to stand up and shout out.
Perhaps a Pentagon Papers holiday will help them do it.
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