How Spielberg Skims The Surface
The Post. Have you seen it yet?
It's a great movie for a news junkie like me. And freedom of the press is a timely topic, as is women making their voices heard.
But like most Hollywood movies based on true events, a lot of the story gets left out.
The Spielberg movie starring Meyrl Streep and Tom Hanks tells the story of The Post's Katharine Graham's decision about whether to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971. She knew she could face prison and financial ruin.
The New York Times had already scooped The Post, but a federal injunction barred the newspaper from continuing to publish the top secret documents proving four U.S. presidents had lied about the U.S. policy in Vietnam.
Rarely in those times did a woman own and run a newspaper, but for dramatic appeal, the movie makes Katharine appear inexperienced and weak-kneed. To be sure, she was a well-known society woman, but Katharine had been running the company for eight years by 1971.
She'd had keen interest in the news business from a young age and worked as a journalist in San Francisco before becoming a wife and mother.
A more important and major fact glossed over in the movie, is that the Pentagon Papers were not the first evidence that the government was lying about the Vietnam War. The soldiers on the ground were some of the first to make these accusations, and the major news sources did not make it a priority to investigate.
In 1966, three soldiers, U.S. Army Privates David Samas and Dennis Mora, and Private First Class James A. Johnson refused orders to ship out to Vietnam saying:
“We have been in the army long enough to know that we are not the only G.I.’s who feel as we do. Large numbers of men in the service do not understand this war or are against it.
No one uses the word ‘winning’ anymore because in Vietnam it has no meaning. Our officers just talk about five or ten more years of war with at least half-million of our boys thrown into the grinder.”
They came to be known as The Fort Hood Three, and they stood firm even as they faced court marital and went to prison.
Released from military prison three years later, Samas, Mora and Johnson found little had changed in Vietnam. But hundreds of their comrades, active-duty service members had joined the anti-war movement by the late 1960's.
During the Vietnam war years, 1966 and 1971, more than five-hundred thousand U.S. military servicemen deserted the armed forces. In unprecedented numbers, entire units refused to go into battle. Soldiers and veterans published more than 200 underground anti-war newspapers presenting abundant evidence of government deceit.
One mainstream journalist talked to hundreds of U.S. troops in Vietnam and became convinced the government was lying about the war. He wrote to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman J. William Fulbright.
Fulbright launched hearings in February 1966 that included retired generals and respected foreign policy men. CBS television interrupted regular programming to air these hearings live, and the nation tuned in. People started to see through the screen of deception.
Until... CBS caved to pressure from President Lyndon Johnson. Also, the network, didn't want to lose money by preempting afternoon soap operas, cementing the decision to stop
broadcasting the hearings. That was five years before Katherine Graham came under heat from Defense Secretary Robert McNamara over the Pentagon Papers.
The Post is getting great reviews, and I recommend it as good entertainment that raises issues very relevant today. Of course, we can't depend on Hollywood movies to teach history, but I am now inspired to watch the documentary film about Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, for a more complete understanding. Click below to watch the trailer.
I also recommend a recent book on the subject for teens, Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War written by acclaimed author Steve Sheinkin.
The book received five starred reviews, and according to Kirkus Reviews, the book's "lively, detailed prose rooted in a tremendous amount of research, fully documented. . . Easily the best study of the Vietnam War available for teen readers.”
In addition, if you know a history teacher, let them know about this role playing activity that helps students understand the issues that led to the Vietnam War.
Next up, I'm hoping to see Murder on the Orient Express for some escapist entertainment.
I'm fascinated to discover little-known history, stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
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