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Top Military Brass Knew In Advance Vietnam War Would Fail, Daniel Ellsberg Reveals

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 3: U.S. colonels knew the war on Vietnam would fail before it began

In the third chapter of the interview, Menconi asks Ellsberg to explain more about the origins of the war in Vietnam and how it led to Ellsberg’s eventual decision to leak the “Pentagon Papers.”

The whistleblower explained that the war in Vietnam began as a covert war, with Kennedy in the 1950s publicly claiming only to be sending “advisers” to the region who would not participate directly in combat, although it’s clear they did participate directly in several parts of the conflict.

Today America seems to be using the same strategy on a global scale. From Iraq and Syria, where our military advisers try to train “moderate” rebels and local forces to fight ISIS, to Africa where ‘AFRICOM’ advisers are embedded in dozens’ of countries’ armed forces, the U.S. is involved in over 100 regional conflicts.

Ellsberg became involved in studying the brewing conflict in Vietnam in 1958 when he was loaned from the RAND corporation to the military’s pacific command, where he was asked to familiarize himself with all major U.S. war plans. A few years later, in 1961, Ellsberg traveled to Vietnam personally as part of a “limited war task force.” With the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Defense Department pushing for nuclear war, President John F. Kennedy created the task force to seek alternatives.

However, even as the military advised Kennedy to commit thousands of ground troops to fight on behalf of South Vietnam, privately the military brass on the task force doubted the effectiveness of the plan:

The colonels I was speaking to gave the impression that even American ground troops would be very unpromising. They would make more of a difference than advisors but unless they were in very large numbers they would not be able to beat the Viet Cong, and probably not even then. In other words, our prospects were not better than the French prospects had been. That was the conclusion that Kennedy personally came to ten years earlier, that we should not replace the French.

Nonetheless, Kennedy continued to increase the number of troops on the ground in Vietnam throughout the remainder of his presidency, setting the stage for Johnson to further escalate the conflict into a full ground war when he assumed the role of Commander-in-Chief after the Kennedy assassination.

Ellsberg also revealed that before becoming a whistleblower by leaking the Pentagon Papers in 1971, he spoke out against the Vietnam War internally within the Pentagon. He also came to the attention of Robert Kennedy when the U.S. senator ran for president in the 1968 election and offered the whistleblower an advisory role on his campaign.

Although Ellsberg turned down the position so that he could freely advise all candidates, Ellsberg said that, when they met in 1967, “He was the first person I’d seen in Washington who seemed passionate about getting out of Vietnam, an urgency of doing it.”

A year later, “Bobby” Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan on June 5, 1968 after winning the California primary.

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.

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