January 1, 1970Daniel Ellsberg sent America a heartfelt Thanksgiving greeting. On the eve of our national celebration of sharing good will with others, he was arrested, at age 70, outside President Bush’s Texas ranch in what Ellsberg estimated was his 70th civil disobedience action for peace.
I’ve known Dan Ellsberg for years. He’s likely lecturing his Texas jailers on Thoreau’s night in jail protesting the war with Mexico. And enlightening them on President Grant’s admission in his memoirs that as a young Army officer he was ordered to provoke an incident with Mexico to spark that war, an action Grant felt he should have protested.
More than any one else, Ellsberg lifted the lid on the hell of our own making in Vietnam. He did that by releasing to the news media, at the risk of being jailed for life, the Pentagon’s secret history of American military actions in Southeast Asia. Now he’s challenging others to come forward with the truth about our disastrous war in Iraq.
Most of us don’t know any more than what we read in the newspapers or see on TV. But some people are part of the inner workings of wars. Ellsberg has been speaking around the country urging patriots with such experience to level with the American people.
Perhaps Congressman Murtha had Ellsberg, a fellow Marine, in mind when he addressed the nation a few days ago and said the war in Iraq can’t be won militarily, that it is heedlessly destroying lives, and that it’s time to bring the troops home. Murtha is part of the inner circle in Congress that oversees military affairs.
Murtha compared Iraq with aspects of the war in Vietnam, citing information that was in the Pentagon Papers that Ellsberg made public. Murtha noted that Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara said in 1963 that U.S. troops would be out of Vietnam within two years. As a lowly Army private in Vietnam in 1963, I heard experienced soldiers doubt such pronouncements. The war went on for more than a decade. So much for Pentagon leaders’ grasp of how wars are going or, alternatively, their willingness to tell the truth.
There were people on military missions in Vietnam—Ellsberg was one of them—who knew that McNamara’s war was not going well and that there were secret plans to widen the war. Speaking at a New Jersey Peace Action gathering earlier this month, Ellsberg said his biggest regret was not speaking out sooner, rather than trying to quietly influence policy behind the Pentagon’s closed doors.
Before his arrest with about a dozen other protesters outside the Bush ranch, Ellsberg told the Associated Press why he was willingly going to jail, yet again. “Those of us who finally saw through the Vietnam war saw through this war, and all the actions that were necessary to end the Vietnam war will be necessary here,” he said. “I think the American people will get us out of this (war).”