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Daniel Ellsberg

May 13, 2024

DANIEL ELLSBERG’S LEGACY

  Once in a while, someone with courage and a conscience rises from obscurity to change the course of history. Daniel Ellsberg was one of those people. After serving in the United States Marine Corps, he became an analyst at the Rand Corporation. While there, he helped write a report on the Vietnam War, commissioned by Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense. Completed in 1968, the report delivered a damning indictment of American involvement in that conflict, revealing decades of lying to the American people and even to Congressional leaders regarding why we were fighting, what we were actually doing there, and how the war was going for the United States and our allies in Vietnam. Rather than taking heed of this message, two successive administrations shrouded the report in secrecy while continuing to pursue a failed military strategy. Dismayed by this disregard of the reality we faced in Vietnam, Mr. Ellsberg leaked the top secret study to the news media, convinced that the American people deserved to know the truth about the war. He hoped that by doing so our leaders would be held accountable for their decisions, and the war that was ravaging Vietnam and taking the lives of countless innocent civilians could sooner be brought to an end. The report, soon dubbed the “Pentagon Papers,” had a profound effect on popular opinion and our representatives in Congress; they later cut off funding for the Vietnam War and enacted legislation to reign in a President’s authority to wage war without Congressional approval.

  Mr. Ellsberg knew his whistle blowing would end his career as a government consultant, and likely result in a long prison sentence as well. But he did it anyway, out of concern for his country that had blundered its way into futile military adventure half way around the world. The Nixon Administration went into overdrive in a ham fisted attempt to silence him and punish him for speaking out. First they sued to keep the Pentagon Papers from being published at all, only to lose in a landmark Supreme Court decision establishing a very high bar for prior restraint of the news media by court order. Next, they labelled Ellsberg “the most dangerous man in America”, and attacked him with an array of legal and illegal strategies in an effort to destroy his reputation and lock him up for espionage. The attempt backfired; the judge threw out the case due to numerous irregularities and illegal acts of the overzealous men doing the President’s bidding. President Nixon eventually resigned in lieu of being impeached and convicted for various crimes associated with the Watergate Scandal.

  Ellsberg spent the rest of his life serving the people as a tireless advocate for peace and reconciliation, a defender of first amendment rights, and a champion for nuclear disarmament. Drawing on his expertise as a strategic nuclear analyst at the Rand Corporation, he warned the nation and the world of the existential threat that our nuclear weapons policy posed to all humanity, a policy he condemned as being immoral and insane. He will long be remembered as a true American patriot who had the courage to speak truth to power, whatever the consequences, in his quest to uphold the ideals upon which our nation was founded. His legacy will be a clarion call for each of us to further this mission, doing our small part to speak out against evil, defend our Constitutional rights, and petition for peace.

  To honor Mr. Ellsberg’s life work and promote his lasting legacy, the Seattle Chapter 92 of Veterans for Peace, with the permission of the Ellsberg family, has been renamed Veterans for Peace Daniel Ellsberg Chapter 92, Seattle.