Pentagon Papers Whistleblower: Kennedy Resisted ‘Nuclear Cultist’ Joint Chiefs
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 Ellsberg, see the introduction to this series.
Chapter 5: Vietnam War a ‘foreign-instigated war,’ ‘not a civil war’
In this chapter of “Lied to Death,” Daniel Ellsberg continues to explore President John F. Kennedy’s involvement with the Vietnam War and other military conflicts in Asia, including his resistance to the use of nuclear weapons and ground troops, a topic also discussed in Chapter 4.
The whistleblower revealed that most of the military leadership advising Kennedy were inherited from President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In general, they strongly encouraged Kennedy to commit to the use of ground troops and sought opportunities to use nuclear weapons. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, in particular, who Ellsberg calls “nuclear cultists,” believed that only the use of nuclear weapons would prevent a defeat similar to the one U.S. forces suffered in Korea.
Ellsberg says Kennedy resisted escalation of both the Vietnam War (which he argues could have expanded if Kennedy had committed ground troops earlier, per the Joint Chiefs’ guidance), and America’s covert war in Laos. However, Kennedy resisted the military due to its mishandling of the “Bay of Pigs invasion,” a failed 1961 mission to overthrow Fidel Castro.
According to Ellsberg, the military also repeatedly urged Kennedy to carry out a massive bombing campaign with the aim of cutting off Vietnamese rebels in South Vietnam from Communist weapons and supplies. Ultimately, Ellsberg argues, this would have been impossible: The guerilla forces occupying South Vietnam at the time depended largely on makeshift weapons, many of which had been stolen from U.S. soldiers or adapted from their unexploded munitions.
Ellsberg compares Kennedy’s resistance to committing ground troops to the current conflict with Daesh (an Arabic acronym for the terrorist group commonly referred to as ISIS or ISIL). He says President Barack Obama is under considerable pressure from the military to commit more ground forces in Iraq and Syria. Similarly, Daesh forces often use makeshift weapons or munitions stolen from the U.S.
The whistleblower emphasizes that Kennedy felt forced to accede to some of the military’s demands because his leadership of the country was quite fragile. Although remembered today as a very popular president, Kennedy won by a tight margin, amid widespread electoral irregularities and possible fraud.
Ellsberg also notes that most Vietnamese people opposed war, whether or not they supported Communism. Foreign military intervention both created and greatly prolonged conflict:
It was not a civil war, it was a foreign-instigated war.
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.