Neil Sheehan, Pentagon Papers reporter, Vietnam creator, dies

Neil Sheehan, a reporter and Pulitzer Prize profitable creator who broke the story of the Pentagon Papers for The New York Times, and who chronicled the deception on the coronary heart of the Vietnam War in his epic e-book concerning the battle, died Thursday. He was 84.

Sheehan died of problems from Parkinsons illness, mentioned his daughter Catherine Sheehan Bruno.

His account of the Vietnam War, ‘A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam’, took him 15 years to put in writing. The 1988 e-book received the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.

Sheehan served as a conflict correspondent for United Press International after which the Times within the early days of U.S. involvement within the Vietnam War within the Sixties. It was there that he developed a fascination with what he would name “our first war in vain” the place “people were dying for nothing.”

As a nationwide author for the Times primarily based in Washington, Sheehan was the primary to acquire the Pentagon Papers, an enormous historical past of U.S. involvement in Vietnam ordered up by the Defense Department. Daniel Ellsberg, a former advisor to the Defense Department who had beforehand leaked Vietnam-related paperwork to Sheehan, had allowed the reporter to see them.

The Times’ stories, which started in June 1971, uncovered widespread authorities deception about U.S. prospects for victory. Soon, The Washington Post additionally started publishing tales concerning the Pentagon Papers.

The paperwork regarded in excruciating element on the choices and techniques of the conflict. And they advised how involvement was constructed up steadily by political leaders and high navy brass who have been overconfident about U.S. prospects and misleading concerning the accomplishments in opposition to the North Vietnamese.

Sheehan revealed in a 2015 interview with the Times, which first appeared Thursday as a result of Sheehan requested that it not be revealed till after his demise, that Ellsberg didn’t give him the Pentagon Papers as is extensively believed. He had truly deceived his supply and brought them after Ellsberg advised him he may take a look at the papers however not have them.

Made “really quite angry” by what the papers revealed, Sheehan made up his thoughts “that this material is never again going in a government safe.”

Sheehan smuggled the paperwork out of the Massachusetts condo the place Ellsberg had stashed them, and illicitly copied 1000’s of pages and took them to the Times.

Ellsberg can be blindsided when excerpts of the papers have been revealed verbatim. But Sheehan mentioned he feared that Ellsberg’s recklessness would destroy the undertaking.

“You had to do what I did,” Sheehan mentioned. “I had decided: ‘This guy is just impossible. You can’t leave it in his hands. It’s too important and it’s too dangerous.’”

Soon after the preliminary tales have been revealed, the Nixon administration acquired an injunction arguing nationwide safety was at stake, and publication was stopped. The motion began a heated debate concerning the First Amendment that rapidly moved as much as the Supreme Court. On June 30, 1971, the courtroom dominated 6-3 in favor of permitting publication, and the Times and The Washington Post resumed publishing their tales.

The protection received the Times the Pulitzer Prize for public service.

The Nixon administration tried to discredit Ellsberg after the paperwork’ launch. Some of President Richard Nixon’s aides orchestrated a break-in on the Beverly Hills workplace of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist to seek out data that may discredit him.

When Sheehan and Ellsberg ran into one another in Manhattan in 1971, Ellsberg accused Sheehan of stealing the papers, simply as he had.

“No, Dan, I didn’t steal it,” Sheehan remembered saying within the interview revealed Thursday. “And neither did you. Those papers are the property of the people of the United States. They paid for them with their national treasure and the blood of their sons, and they have a right to it.’”

For leaking the Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg was charged with theft, conspiracy and violations of the Espionage Act, however his case led to a mistrial when proof surfaced about government-ordered wiretappings and break-ins.

After the publication of the Pentagon Papers tales, Sheehan grew to become more and more excited about attempting to seize the essence of the advanced and contradictory conflict, so he got down to write a e-book.

“The desire I had is that this book will help people come to grips with this war,” he mentioned in a 1988 interview that aired on C-SPAN. ”Vietnam might be a conflict in useless provided that we don’t draw knowledge from it.”

At the middle of his story, Sheehan put John Paul Vann, a charismatic lieutenant colonel within the Army who served as a senior adviser to South Vietnamese troops within the early Sixties, retired from the Army in frustration, then got here again to Vietnam and rejoined the battle as a civilian serving to direct operations.

Vann was satisfied the U.S. may have received the conflict if it had made higher choices. To Sheehan, Vann personified the U.S. delight, the assured angle and the fierce will to win the conflict — qualities that clouded the judgment of some on whether or not the conflict was winnable.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, advised an viewers at a 2017 screening of a Vietnam documentary that he by no means understood the total extent of the anger in opposition to the conflict till he learn “A Bright Shining Lie,” which confirmed him that each one the best way up the chain of command “people were just putting in gobbledygook information, and lives were being lost based on those lies and those distortions,” in line with a New York Times account.

Neil Sheehan was born Oct. 27, 1936, in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and grew up on a dairy farm. He graduated from Harvard, and labored as an Army journalist earlier than becoming a member of UPI.

Peter Arnett, who labored for The Associated Press in Vietnam, recalled that working with the enthusiastic Sheehan and different reporters in Vietnam amid threats of censorship and bodily abuse by authorities forces and different perils of warfare, drew the opponents collectively. “Our fraught experiences bound us together in a unity of purpose, and gave rise to close friendships that lasted through our lives,” Arnett mentioned.

After Sheehan left Vietnam, he labored for the Times in Washington as a Pentagon reporter and later on the White House, earlier than leaving the paper to put in writing his e-book.

Early within the analysis for “A Bright, Shining Lie,” Sheehan was concerned in a close to head-on automotive crash that broke a number of bones and put him out of motion for months, however author pals urged him to proceed his e-book undertaking.

He and his spouse, Susan, a author for The New Yorker who would later win a Pulitzer Prize, generally struggled to make sufficient cash to pay the household’s payments whereas he was engaged on the e-book. He mixed fellowships with occasional advances from his writer to get by.

Once Sheehan launched into the undertaking, the extraordinary and pushed author discovered it dominated his life.

“I was less obsessed than I was trapped in it,” he advised The Harvard Crimson in 2008. “I felt a great sense of being trapped.”

Sheehan wrote a number of different books about Vietnam, however none with the bold sweep of “A Bright Shining Lie.” He additionally wrote “A Fiery Peace in a Cold War” concerning the males who developed the intercontinental ballistic missile system.

Neil and Susan Sheehan had two daughters, Catherine Bruno, and Maria Gregory Sheehan, each of Washington and two grandsons, Nicholas Sheehan Bruno, 13, and Andrew Phillip Bruno, 11.

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