Note: this article was written prior to the passing of Daniel Ellsberg on June 16, 2023.
Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, thus exposing the US Empire’s genocidal, ecocidal war on Southeast Asia, turned 92 on April 7.
Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February. Doctors have given him three to six months to live. Ellsberg has opted not to undergo chemotherapy, but will accept hospice care when needed.
In case you missed it – or didn’t – April 24-30, 2023 was Daniel Ellsberg Week, to honor him and celebrate his life and work, as well as to educate people and stimulate political action. Defense Nuclear War is publishing Ellsberg’s valediction, and he has expressed, “All the young activists rising up give me hope as I leave my life.”
Leaving these, perhaps, morbid sentiments behind, after his trial for leaking classified documents – 7,000 pages of them – Ellsberg continued his brave and historic activism. He avoided a 115 year prison sentence because
Tricky Dick’s “Plumbers” broke into his psychiatrist’s office, forcing Judge Matthew Byrne to declare his indictment under the Espionage Act a mistrial. Ellsberg stated that he would gladly have gone to prison if it shortened the Vietnam War. His efforts did, in fact, help bring down Nixon and end the war.
Ellsberg has been arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience actions almost 90 times. An expert on nuclear weapons from his top-secret work in the Marines and the Air Force- affiliated Rand Corporation, he has given hundreds of lectures on the threat of nuclear war, and taught courses on the nuclear arms race at Stanford and Harvard Medical School.
Two years ago he initiated one of his most audacious acts – still comforting the afflicted and discomfiting the comfortable in his 90’s – requesting that he be retried by the US under the Espionage Act. Ellsberg hopes the courts will take on the Act, which has unjustly harassed and imprisoned numerous people who took the risk of publicizing military secrets that should be public knowledge. The sharp increase in the past 15 years, in using the 1917 law intended for prosecuting spies, antiwar protesters and suffragettes, chills needed whistleblowing. So now Americans will know even less about our government, rendering us less able to know what to do.
Subsequent to my release from jail for blockading the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in August 1981, I met Dan Ellsberg at a big rally at the Concord Naval Weapons Station, where I, and my antinuclear, antiwar affinity group, were protesting against US arms shipments to murderous militias in Central America. I also hugged Alice Walker and listened to the beautiful and defiant voice of Joan Baez.
After a heartfelt talk with him, during which I told him about my activism since age 14, including successfully dodging becoming draft fodder for the Vietnam War, my concerns about unjustified US interventions, and fear of nuclear conflict, Dan gave me his personal phone number. He was my best and most empathetic mentor in political organizing for some years. He was a compassionate and unassuming man.
Daniel Ellsberg has been an inspiration to many whistleblowers, including Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and Julian Assange. In the tradition of Dan Ellsberg, we must support them and act to make sure that they, and all political prisoners, are free.
Sources: KPFA News April 2023; The Deceit and Conflict Be hind the Release of the Pentagon Papers, Ben Badlee, Jr., The New Yorker 4/8/21; Daniel Ellsberg Week, Defense Nuclear War @defensenuclearwar.org (with links to many articles and videos by and about Daniel Ellsberg); Why Daniel Ellsberg Wants the US to Prosecute Him Under the Espionage Act, John Swartz, The Intercept 6/1/21.
Barry Barnett is a political and environmental author and activist writing on the left coast of the US Empire. 100+ articles, political fantasy stories, poetry, and much satire/humor are free of charge to read at Patreon.com/BarryBarnett (feedback welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org, also may donate to support my work for as little as $1/month). Also past articles at counterpunch.org/archives, and bohemian.com/archives.