This essay understands what it meant and what it means to read The Pentagon Papers in a few related ways. First, when it appeared in 1971, there were at least three different versions of the Papers available. Because, in other words, the reader had to choose between versions from the very start, The Pentagon Papers had to be read both as a text and as a textual event. Second, although the Papers are often remembered as an unmediated document dump, the whole was, in fact, a highly mediated and intensely narrative document, an effort to present the incoherent story—the violence—of Vietnam as a coherent discourse. As a result, they not only demand but also assume interpretation. Finally, the fact that Leslie Gelb, the Department of Defense editor of the Papers, officially introduced its more than seven thousand pages with a pointed reference to Moby‐Dick encourages us to look for and to understand how something unexpectedly novelistic supports and maybe subverts the documentary force of The Pentagon Papers.

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