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Perspective

Revelations echo, yet they shock us less

On June 13, 1971, The New York Times published the first of several articles drawn from a secret history of the Vietnam war that had been compiled by the Pentagon, a 47-volume study that came to be known as the Pentagon Papers. After three days of stories detailing the lies and tragic missteps of four administrations of both parties, Attorney General John Mitchell convinced a federal judge to sign an order blocking the newspaper from publishing the stories.

The public reaction was quick and loud. Soon The Washington Post picked up the story after getting its own copy of the secret study, and then 20 other papers published articles based on parts of the study they had obtained. Anti-war demonstrators took to the streets and members of Congress demanded an investigation. The Pentagon Papers added fuel to the fiery demands for the war's end, which finally came four years later, after 58,220 American troops had died.

Last week, The Washington Post published a series of articles it labeled The Afghanistan Papers, detailing what lay behind the 18-year military slog in Afghanistan that has become the longest armed conflict in U.S. history. The stories were based on more than 2,000 pages of documents compiled for a secret federal study of what caused the war effort's failures.

The Post got the records only after a three-year fight under the Freedom of Information Act. It's no surprise that the government tried to stop their release; they reveal that three administrations had uncertain objectives, implemented flawed strategies and repeatedly lied, apparently to conceal from U.S. citizens and the rest of the world how badly the war effort was going.

America has spent a trillion dollars in the Afghan fight; 2,300 U.S. troops have died and more than 20,000 were wounded in action. At least 150,000 Afghans have died, of whom...

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