Newly Released Vietnam War Files

On July 14, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee released more than 1, 000 pages of previously classified testimony and transcripts from heretofore  secret, closed 1967 and 1968 meetings and hearings dealing primarily with the Vietnam War.

The Committee chair, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), said the panel released the material because it sheds “light on an important period of American history and all of its lessons. It is incredible to read through these papers and hear the voices of many of the Senate’s giants wrestling with Vietnam and all its complexity at a time when many of us, including some of us on the Foreign Relations Committee today, were serving as young officers in Vietnam living out those very same questions in a personal way.”

Most of the discussions during the closed sessions focused on the war, including the circumstances surrounding the August 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident and the subsequent Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave President Johnson the authority to use force in Vietnam and which led to the massive American troop commitment beginning in 1965

The Foreign Relations Committee staff, after investigating the incident, prepared a report accusing then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (above ) of misleading the committee in testimony by claiming unequivocally that American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin were the victims of unprovoked attacks by North Vietnamese torpedo boats.

Some Senators, including Albert Gore Sr. of Tennessee, were outraged with what they saw as McNamara’s willful deceit.  “If this country has been misled, if this committee, this Congress, has been misled by pretext into a war in which thousands of young men have died, and many more thousands have been crippled for life, and out of which their country has lost prestige, moral position in the world, ” Gore said, “the consequences are very great.”

Among the other topics covered in the papers are the Pueblo incident, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the impact of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the soaring economic costs of the Vietnam War.

The volume was put together by Donald A. Ritchie of the Senate Historical Office. The transcripts and other papers were declassified through general procedures and reviewed by the Department of State, the Pentagon, CIA, and National Security Agency. A link to the testimony and transcripts is available at the committee’s home page .

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