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‘Pentagon Papers’ Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg Explains Why We Go To War

Published in partnership with MintPress News.

MINNEAPOLIS — MintPress News is proud to host this 13-part audio conversation between famed whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and social justice activist Arn Menconi.

Menconi is the founder of SOS Outreach, a nonprofit which supports at-risk youth through outdoor adventures that encourage them to lead better lives. In May, he recorded “Lied to Death,” a series of interviews with Ellsberg about the lies and propaganda that fuel the American war machine.

Menconi wrote that these interviews are a “mixture of historical, political science and Dan’s sixty-year scholarly analysis as a former nuclear planner for Rand Corporation.” Many of the facts Ellsberg shares in future installments were revealed for the first time in these interviews after he obtained them through Freedom of Information Act requests.

Introduction: ‘This is the human condition’

In part one, Menconi asked a question about one of the major themes throughout the interviews: “Why do we go to war?”

In response, Ellsberg compared the U.S. military and other superpowers’ armies to two biker gangs which are eternally fighting for territory, much like the May shootout which occurred between two Texas biker gangs (although more recent reports suggest police may have triggered the violence).

You do not back down from a fight. You cannot lose territory, you cannot lose face. I’m not just saying this metaphorically. I’m saying this IS in the small what’s going on in the large. This battle for turf.

… This is the human condition.

Ellsberg also touched on the historic nuclear arms race and the concept of mutual assured destruction, and argued that America’s nuclear threats against the Soviet Union prolonged the Vietnam War by 20 years because it kept Soviet forces from joining the ground war in South Vietnam.

About Daniel Ellsberg

As sites like WikiLeaks and figures such as Edward Snowden continue to reveal uncomfortable truths about America’s endless wars for power and oil, one important figure stands apart as an inspiration to the whistleblowers of today: Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who leaked the “Pentagon Papers,” over 7,000 pages of top secret documents, in 1971.

A military veteran, Ellsberg began his career as a strategic analyst for the RAND Corporation, a massive U.S.-backed nonprofit, and worked directly for the government helping to craft policies around the potential use of nuclear weapons. In in the 1960s, he faced a crisis of conscience while working for the Department of Defense as an assistant to Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs John T. McNaughton, where his primary duty was to find a pretext to escalate the war in Vietnam.

Inspired by the example of anti-war activists and great thinkers like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., he realized he was willing to risk arrest in order to prevent more war. Lacking the technology of today’s whistleblowers, who can carry gigabytes of data in their pockets, he painstakingly photocopied some 7,000 pages of top secret documents which became the “Pentagon Papers,” first excerpted by The New York Times in June 1971.

The unique technological “fingerprint” left behind by the borrowed photocopier eventually led the government to Ellsberg, and he was charged with 12 felony counts, including theft, conspiracy, and violating the Espionage Act. He escaped jail time when evidence surfaced of the unethical tactics used by the government to collect evidence on him. The Times faced a government injunction and Beacon Press, a small nonprofit publisher associated with the Unitarian Universalist Church, struggled under years of expensive federal lawsuits after publishing a book containing the information Ellsberg leaked.

Ellsberg’s leaks exposed the corruption behind the war in Vietnam and had widespread ramifications for American foreign policy. Henry Kissinger, secretary of state at the time, famously referred to Ellsberg as “the most dangerous man in America.”

Ellsberg remains a sought-after expert on military and world affairs, and an outspoken support of whistleblowers from Edward Snowden to Chelsea Manning. In 2011, he told the Chelsea Manning Support Network that Manning was a “hero,” and added:

I wish I could say that our government has improved its treatment of whistleblowers in the 40 years since the Pentagon Papers. Instead we’re seeing an unprecedented campaign to crack down on public servants who reveal information that Congress and American citizens have a need to know.

File: An empty prison cell surrounded by bars in historic Robben Island prison, South Africa. (Flickr / Michael Coghlan)
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Daniel Ellsberg at the microphone with Medea Benjamin (Code Pink) on the left at the 2006 Independence Day Troops Home Fast Hunger Strike at The White House on July 3, 2006. (Wikimedia Commons / Elvert Barnes)
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Kit OConnell

Kit OConnell

Kit O’Connell is a gonzo journalist and radical troublemaker from Austin, Texas. He is the Associate Editor and Community Manager of Shadowproof. Kit's investigative journalism has appeared in Truthout, MintPress News and Occupy.com.