The history of the Pentagon papers was not unknown to me when I started reading this young adult non-fiction book by Steve Sheinkin, however I had never approached it from Daniel Ellsberg's perspective -- his point of view. I'd studied the Pentagon Papers in college, in a history of journalism class that honestly focused more on the NY Times and Washington Post than anything Ellsberg did.
Wow, not only did I learn quite a bit, but it really is demonstrative of how a change in POV can radically change how history is perceived.
Ellsberg is the hawk-political-analyst turned-dove who "leaked" the Pentagon Papers, a 1,000+ page study of the history of four American presidents' involvement in the Vietnam War, to newspapers around the US over a two-week period in 1971, before being arrested for leaking classified, top-secret government documents.
The contents of the study are never in question. It's a breathtakingly honest appraisal of the efforts to hush up or obfuscate American participation in the war and in fact, American efforts to prolong the war in order to safeguard four presidents from electoral negative opinion and getting voted out of office, i.e. no president wanted to be know as the one who pulled out and "lost the war."
What I had never heard was Ellsberg's side of how it happened, and that really opened my eyes. I had learned of it when I was a journalist, and studied the legal ramifications of the case against Ellsberg in college, but I had no idea the reporter who is credited with publishing the first installment of the Papers, Neil Sheehan, essentially stole the Papers from Ellsberg. Sheehan had a copy of the key to the apartment where Ellsberg was keeping them, but Sheehan took them without Ellsberg's permission on a weekend when Sheehan knew Ellsberg would be away, and made photocopies of them. Ellsberg was allowing Sheehan and colleagues to make notes as they read, not copy the Papers on a photocopier.
For some reason, that fact had been overlooked or glossed over in my previous dives into this case, and this time, it really stuck with me. I'm a former journalist, on a local scale, never national, but I'd have to think long and hard before essentially stealing something from a source. I'm not saying I wouldn't come to the same conclusion Sheehan and his editors at the NYT came to, that they needed to make copies of their own, but it would definitely have thrown me for an ethical spin, at least initially.
It has pre-reading activities that explore Containment and Domino Theories popular at the time; 14 discussion questions; 38 political terms with the pages the words appear, 6 geography terms, and 24 other general vocabulary terms, with pages; an examination of Lyndon Johnson's Gulf of Tonkin speech; examinations of Vietnam war songs and pictures; and other online sources of information (but check the links -- they're getting old by now and may no longer work).