“The Life and Times of Daniel Ellsberg.” What a marvelous subject! Does any other person’s life express more intensely the contradictions of American experience during the past fifty years?
Daniel Ellsberg. That young man with boundless promise who graduated third in his Harvard class of 1,147 in 1952, when America too seemed boundlessly promising. Ardent patriot and anticommunist, Ellsberg marched off in 1954 to become a model officer in the Marines. He next became a superstar theoretician of cold war tactics and strategy for the Pentagon, attaining the ultimate civil service grade of GS-18, equivalent to a major general, by age 33. Not content with planning wars for others to fight and defending the Vietnam War on college campuses, Ellsberg volunteered in 1965 to go to Vietnam, where he served almost two years on the team of Gen. Edward Lansdale, who had initiated US covert warfare there in 1954. In Vietnam, Ellsberg displayed such personal bravery in combat that some, like his present biographer, claim he must have been suicidal.
Daniel Ellsberg. The man who in 1971 revealed to the world the secret government that ruled by conspiracy and who thus lit the fuse that exploded the Nixon presidency. Pacifist and apostle of New Age lifestyle. Impassioned activist during seven national administrations, with dozens of arrests for civil disobedience against nuclearism and the American warfare state.
Daniel Ellsberg became 70 years old on April 7. As a birthday surprise, his son Michael unveiled a website containing celebration messages from hundreds of well-wishers. Many told how Ellsberg had inspired them, touching and transforming their lives. Almost all spoke of his “integrity,” “courage” or “passion,” and many used the word “hero,” in phrases like “a true American hero” and “THE hero of the 20th century.” Benedictine sister Joan Chittister wrote:
You don’t know me. You never will. But you have had a great deal to do with the shape of my life. I like to think that I have always believed in justice, honesty, and integrity the way you do. But it was you who showed me what it looked like, up close and dangerous.
When you released the Pentagon Papers, that very action ripped away the last bit of pseudo patriotism clouding my mind that made it impossible for me to recognize real patriotism, real faith, real integrity. I saw in you what it meant to live beyond self-interest. It was a turning point in my life that I’m still learning to honor.
Thank you for that act of genuine humanity. It raised the humanity of us all. Your life has been a gift to my own.