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Yet the articulate Taylor, who read French and German newspapers at breakfast, could make prophetic sense. Reporters remember him rejecting the idea of U.S. ground troops in South Viet Nam put to him for the hundredth time: "No, that was what the French did. The last thing we want is American boys from Maine and Georgia running through the jungles shooting at friend and enemy alike because they can't tell the difference."
Beneath the patina of the published papers, other images form from those turbulent days. Early on, there was the alert, trim Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara sitting at his huge Pershing desk, the believer of 1963, the man who thought it could be done and who kept saying "Things are getting better." Then, gray and pinched in 1967, trying to explain why he had become the first to turn publicly against the war. There was his tall, taut Assistant Secretary, John McNaughton, now dead, sweeping confident eyes across the map of the world and talking fast, very fast. Speaking ever so precisely of the potential of yet another of Saigon's revolving governments, the coatless Assistant Secretary of State William Bundy stretched out on his leather couch. Brooding over all loomed the peaked profile of Lyndon Johnson, secretive, holding his options open until the final moment, seemingly unwilling even to confide in himself what he would do next.
That it lacked the minutes of Johnson's mind was only one of the serious weaknesses in the Pentagon study. The papers were gathered mainly at the Pentagon by researchers who were given full cooperation but had to specify what they wanted to see; they could not browse freely through files of the Joint Chiefs. There were no minutes of National Security Council meetings or transcriptions of telephone calls. The Times was able to print only about 5% of the documents in its possession, and critics would certainly wonder if its long antiwar perspective had influenced, however unconsciously, its selection. Nonetheless, publication of the papers opened a wide window on what had been the largely invisible world of policymaking.
One vista revealed a U.S. Government far less interested in negotiations on either Laos or Viet Nam than its public stance indicated. In fact, the U.S. sought ways to avert international pressure for talks. It continually withheld from the American people a full disclosure of its increasing military moves against North Viet Nam, but often briefed Hanoi, Peking and Moscow on precisely what it intended. Moreover, the documents, while showing a stubborn allegiance to the domino theory of Viet Nam's critical significance despite CIA doubts, also reveal a shifting rationale for the massive U.S. commitment.
The most surprising specific disclosures of the Times's papers include: WAR AIMS. Both publicly and in a National Security memorandum in March 1964, President Johnson insisted that the central U.S. aim was to secure an