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April 7: Daniel Ellsberg

Lawrence Bush
April 7, 2010

ellsbergDaniel Ellsberg, who blew the whistle on the Vietnam War by releasing the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and other newspapers in 1971, was born on this day in 1931. Ellsberg was a former Marine and military analyst with the Rand Corporation who was deeply affected by a War Resistance League conference speech by Randy Kehler, who was about to be imprisoned for draft resistance. “It wasn’t what he said, exactly, that changed my worldview,” Ellsberg later explained. “It was the example he was setting with his life. How his words in general showed that he was a stellar American, and that he was going to jail as a very deliberate choice ‚ because he thought it was the right thing to do.” The Pentagon Papers revealed that U.S. government leaders had no expectation of winning the war but were cynically willing to tolerate high casualties, both Vietnamese and American, in order not change course. As a result of Ellsberg’s whistle-blowing, President Richard Nixon began a campaign of dirty tricks against him and others on the president’s “Enemies List,” eventually leading to the Watergate break-in and Nixon’s resignation.

“Nobel Peace Prize, my ass! If Henry Kiss-of-Death deserves it, so do I.” —Bill Horowitz (songwriter)

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.