From the Backlist: Inside the Pentagon Papers

President Trump’s incessant threats to limit freedom of the press and the timely release of the Steven Spielberg-directed movie starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks (The Post) has shown a bright light on the past legal battles between the press and the president. In 2004, UPK published Inside the Pentagon Papers which addressed legal and moral issues that resonate today as debates continue over government secrecy and democracy’s requisite demand for truthfully informed citizens. In the process, the book also illustrated how a closer study of this signal event can illuminate questions of government responsibility in any era.

When Daniel Ellsberg leaked a secret government study about the Vietnam War to the press in 1971, he set off a chain of events that culminated in one of the most important First Amendment decisions in American legal history. That affair is now part of history, but the story behind the case has much to tell us about government secrecy and the public’s right to know.

Commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, “the Pentagon Papers” were assembled by a team of analysts who investigated every aspect of the war. Ellsberg, a member of the team, was horrified by the government’s public lies about the war-discrepancies with reality that were revealed by the report’s secret findings. His leak of the report to the New York Times and Washington Post triggered the Nixon administration’s heavy-handed attempt to halt publication of their stories, which in turn led to the Supreme Court’s ruling that Nixon’s actions violated the Constitution’s free speech guarantees.

Inside the Pentagon Papers reexamines what happened, why it mattered, and why it still has relevance today. Focusing on the “back story” of the Pentagon Papers and the resulting court cases, it draws upon a wealth of oral history and previously classified documents to show the consequences of leak and litigation both for the Vietnam War and for American history.

“ A wonderful and significant story. . . . The issues raised by the Pentagon Papers—presidential power, the role of the courts and the press, government secrecy—are all still with us,” Anthony Lewis wrote. “And this book throws fresh and important light on those issues.”

Included for the first time are transcripts of previously secret White House telephone tapes revealing the Nixon administration’s repressive strategies, as well as the government’s formal charges against the newspapers presented by Solicitor General Erwin Griswold to the Supreme Court. Coeditor John Prados’s point-by-point analysis of these charges demonstrates just how weak the government’s case was-and how they reflected Nixon’s paranoia more than legitimate national security issues.

A Book Revisited: When The Nazis Came to Skokie

In 1999 we published When the Nazis Came to Skokie: Freedom for the Speech We Hate, the third of six books written for UPK by Philippa Strum. The book was an immediate success and a standout in our Landmark Law Cases & American Society series. Recent events have thrust the book back into the spotlight and onto our list of best sellers.

When the Nazis Came to Skokie dramatically tells the story of a neo-Nazi group’s attempt in 1977 to hold a parade in Skokie, Illinois and analyzes its implications for the First Amendment.

In the Chicago suburb of Skokie, one out of every six Jewish citizens in the late 1970s was a survivor—or was directly related to a survivor—of the Holocaust. These victims of terror had resettled in America expecting to lead peaceful lives free from persecution. But their safe haven was shattered when a neo-Nazi group announced its intention to parade there in 1977. Philippa Strum’s dramatic retelling of the events in Skokie (and in the courts) shows why the case ignited such enormous controversy and challenged our understanding of and commitment to First Amendment values.

The debate was clear-cut: American Nazis claimed the right of free speech while their Jewish “targets” claimed the right to live without intimidation. The town, arguing that the march would assault the sensibilities of its citizens and spark violence, managed to win a court injunction against the marchers. In response, the American Civil Liberties Union took the case and successfully defended the Nazis’ right to free speech.

Skokie had all the elements of a difficult case: a clash of absolutes, prior restraint of speech, and heated public sentiment. In recreating it, Strum presents a detailed account and analysis of the legal proceedings as well as finely delineated portraits of the protagonists: Frank Collin, National Socialist Party of America leader and the son of a Jewish Holocaust survivor; Skokie community leader Sol Goldstein, a Holocaust survivor who planned a counterdemonstration against the Nazis; Skokie mayor Albert Smith, who wanted only to protect his townspeople; and ACLU attorney David Goldberger, caught in the ironic position of being a Jew defending the rights of Nazis against fellow Jews. While the ACLU did win the case, it was a costly victory-30,000 of its members left the organization. And in the end, ironically, the Nazis never did march in Skokie.

Forcefully argued, Strum’s book shows that freedom of speech must be defended even when the beneficiaries of that defense are far from admirable individuals. It raises both constitutional and moral issues critical to our understanding of free speech and carries important lessons for current controversies over hate speech on college campuses, inviting readers to think more carefully about what the First Amendment really means.

When an academic reviewer offered his evaluation of the manuscript he didn’t hold back.

“I started reading, and it is so well done that I just kept reading,” the reviewer wrote. “In sum, it is a gem of a book, and ought to be a best-seller as well as a prize-winner for the Press and the series.”