Most people are familiar with the criminal break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. Another illegal act involved breaking into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office. Daniel Ellsberg was the person who leaked what was later called the Pentagon Papers (Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force) to the Washington Post in June 1971. At the time that the information was leaked, the Nixon administration went to court to try to stop the Washington Post from publishing the papers. Only a portion of the report was leaked. The entire report was released in 2011.
The papers showed that generals and civilian members of two administrations had lied to the American people about how the war was going in Vietnam. They were presenting a false narrative that we were winning the war, when in fact they thought otherwise. They used either misleading, irrelevant or phony statistics while at the same time not revealing what was really happening.
The outcry in the country when the papers were released was significant. It helped strengthen the anti-war movement. Nixon was angry about the release of the papers. It is rumored, but has never been established, that Nixon ordered the break- in at Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office so they could find evidence to discredit him.
The Washington Post on December 9, released the Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War. This was déjà vu. It was also based on an internal governmental report of a war. The United States has been in Afghanistan since October 2001. More than one administration supported the war and administrations generally have given positive reports of how things are going. The Afghanistan papers indicate that the generals and political leaders privately thought otherwise. They have been using misleading, irrelevant or phony statistics to fool the public.
Yet there was little outcry. The excuse that there have been impeachment hearings doesn’t fly, since there have been clearly less important stories that have gotten significant press. For example, there has been significant reporting about Greta Thunberg receiving Time Magazine Person of the Year and the tweet storm between her and President Trump.
There are different theories as to why the Afghanistan papers have gotten so little press. One approach is that since the war has occurred during both Democratic and Republican administrations, it is in no one’s interest to make a big deal about this. The problem with this argument is that the Vietnam War also occurred during both Democratic and Republican administrations.
Another hypothesis is that there are significantly fewer United States troops in Afghanistan than were in Vietnam and now there is no draft. Yet issues concerning the military, such as the pardons by Trump involving Navy Seal Gallagher and two others, received significant coverage.
My theory is that we have become desensitized to lying by elected officials and others in power. Thus, when the Washington Post disclosed the report about the War in Afghanistan, the reaction was “So what, did you expect anything different?”
It is easy to point fingers at one individual as the Liar in Chief, but there is plenty of blame to go around. As long as the public is going to accept, and in some cases, reward such behavior, it is only going to continue. This skepticism is dangerous for our democracy. If it is acceptable to lie with impunity, then the fabric of society will disintegrate. It is time for people to tell those in power we want to hear the truth. If we catch you repeatedly lying there will be a cost.