restricted access Daniel Ellsberg: Secrets
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ThehistoryoftheVietnam-eraanti-warmovementhasbeenwrittenin layers,oftenthroughautobiography.InSecrets,DanielEllsbergaddsan important,compellingcontribution.Itsfocus,notunsurprisingly,ison whatEllsbergsawanddidduringthesixtiesandearlyseventies,though bits and pieces of what others were doing can be glimpsed throughout. After nearly thirty years, the whole story is finally getting out. Apart from that history, Ellsberg’s valuable book offers a portrait rarely sketched, especially by a critic, of the defense-policy, think-tank insider. Indeed, Ellsberg had been such an insider that he never questions the breed, or how he became one. He went to Harvard, got a Ph.D. (game theory), lectured to Professor Kissinger’s class on “The Political Benefits of Madness” (a tact Kissinger endorsed), and voilà, the insider was born. Ellsberg joined the economics department of the RAND Corporation , a California defense-consulting firm that harbored one of the fewextantcopiesoftheMcNamara-orderedstudyoftheVietnamWar that came to be known as the Pentagon Papers. A copy went to RAND because of Ellsberg’s urging, and the well-founded fear that the study might be destroyed, or left inaccessible forever from the prying eyes of historians. Daniel Ellsberg: Secrets 150 151 Ellsbergpaintsthismalecultureofsecrecyandexclusivityvividly. He was forsaking many things when he gave the Pentagon Papers (he authored a section on President Kennedy’s decision making of 1961) to the press. Most of all, he was giving up, forever, his membership in the elite world of insiders, those who run the government, especially its foreign policy. Unfortunately, this book is almost too pertinent today, given the Bush administration’s penchant for secrecy in all things. It is difficult to imagine Donald Rumsfeld ordering a comprehensive study of America’s involvement in the Middle East generally and various countries specifically. One can only fear that the blunders made and lies told will be kept from public view, because they won’t be recorded, and no one in the Bush orbit will grow too sick at what is being done to defect and tell all. Ellsbergdidbecomesickofwhathehadbeenseeing,anddoing,in Vietnam. Sick enough that he describes what can be only considered a breakdown at an anti-war conference he attended, sobbing for over an hour in a bathroom, deciding then to cast his “whole vote” to stop what he concluded was an “immoral” war. His establishment credentials were hard to ignore, or belittle: a former officer in the Marines, a defense department specialist on nuclear weapons first, and then the Vietnam conflict second, one of the few men in the room who had actually been in Vietnam during the early stages of American involvement, a respected analyst, someone praised by Henry Kissinger after Kissinger began working for Richard Nixon.KissingereventuallycalledEllsbergthe“mostdangerous”man in America. Ellsberg’s conversion to the anti-war movement was assisted by a woman, Patricia Marx, the toy heiress, who eventually became his second wife. She led him from the elite inner circles of government to 152 elite inner circles of the anti-war movement. Ellsberg does not playdown ,orplay-up,herinfluence.Indeed,thismemoirisdecidedlymore anintellectualexercisethananemotionalone.GotoTomWells’saptly titled biography of Ellsberg, Wild Man, published in 2001, for that side. Ellsberg, in Secrets, wants to be taken seriously again. He can be maddeningly self-centered in his depictions, but this is somewhat forgivable in a memoir. The publication of the Pentagon Papers did help to bring about the end of the war, but it also brought about other beneficial changes Ellsberg doesn’t mention. For one, it changed journalism for a decade or more, leading newspapers to becometruepapersofrecordbyprintinglengthydocumentsthemselves , rather than summaries. The Pentagon Papers were followed by trial transcripts, congressional hearings, and the Watergate tapes. RobertMcNamaraprovideduswithhistoricalanalysisintheform of the Pentagon Papers, but Richard Nixon gave us history in the makingintheformofhistapingsystem .ThePentagonPapershastenedthe war’s end, but Nixon’s own taping did him in and, subsequently, the war. Though Ellsberg, too, credits overmuch our withdrawal from the war, rather than the Vietnamese winning it. Ellsberg himself, in a most touching way, believes deeply that the truth will set you free. He wanted the true history of the war to come, out and felt then Congress and the public would do the right thing. Evidently, he still believes that lessons learned from history will make our leaders act correctly, and behave accordingly – in the case of the Vietnam War, to see its folly. That, if nothing else, makes him a patriot. Though, the reason the folly continued was not because it was right or wrong, but because both Johnson and Nixon wanted to demonstrate Cold War determination, rather than good sense. It wasn’t micro reasons ;itwasmacroreasons.AndtheywouldsacrificeyoungAmericans to do so. 153 Ellsberg...