Published in partnership with MintPress News.
MINNEAPOLIS — MintPress News is proud to host “Lied to Death,” a 13-part audio conversation between famed whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and social justice activist Arn Menconi.
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.”
For more information on the interview and Daniel Ellsberg, see the introduction to this series.
Chapter 2: Looking beyond Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex
In the second chapter of his extended conversation with Arn Menconi, Daniel Ellsberg describes how, after his trial for leaking the Pentagon Papers, he began to realize that the Vietnam War was not an “aberration” but a representation of standard U.S. foreign policy.
“The big difference was the Vietnamese resisted us,” Ellsberg explained. He says learned more about the nature of the U.S. military-industrial complex as he dug deeper into the origins of the conflict.
On Jan. 17, 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower gave a famous farewell address which popularized the term “military-industrial complex,” but Ellsberg says the outgoing president had originally intended to refer to the “military-industrial-congressional complex,” only to drop the reference to Congress at the last minute. The whistleblower explains that allies of the military and nuclear scientists in Congress blocked Eisenhower’s efforts to create a nuclear test ban treaty with Russia, inspiring Eisenhower’s speech, which warned the American public to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”
Yet Ellsberg also warns that it is possible to overstate the importance of the U.S. military, because the military, Congress, and the various U.S. national security agencies all serve interests outside a sitting administration.
“[The] CIA particularly represents the views of the Wall Street investment firms and the multinational corporations that they invest in, and the law firms that represent those companies,” he said.
The United States claims to support democracy throughout the world, but, Ellsberg said: “That is false. That is a cover story.”
Instead, he explained that the U.S. supports whatever leaders will support the country’s covert foreign policy. In addition to carrying out assassinations and interfering in those countries’ elections, the U.S. forms “close relationships with their military which we achieve through a combination of training them … promoting the people we like, direct bribery, arms sales, arms grants — giving them toys in other words — and helping them against dissidents.”
If anyone comes to power that opposes U.S. interests, American forces can overthrow them, Ellsberg argues. Washington’s relationships with other nations are not democratic, he says, but imperial, as much as they were in the time of Sargon, the world’s first emperor, who Ellsberg introduced in Chapter 1 of this series. As a result, U.S. foreign policy has supported torturers and war crimes for over a century.
Key policies the U.S. supports on behalf of Wall Street include “holding down the wages and selling the local resources at very low value,” according to Ellsberg, who added that the governments which support these policies “could not stay in power in democratic elections, so we are against democracy in those countries.”
Even in places where the U.S. supports democracy, he says, such as Europe, Washington cooperates with the elite in those countries to discourage candidates that support real change. America’s leaders in the military-industrial complex believe “[w]e run [foreign countries] better than they would run themselves.”
But Washington is increasingly unable to run itself, Ellsberg notes, citing the nation’s rapidly failing infrastructure.
“Can we fix those things while maintaining the military investments …? Even we can’t do that,” he concluded.
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.
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 supporter 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.