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USA: Daniel Ellsberg - Celebrating Fifty Years of an Individuals Courage in an Era of Apathy

Wednesday 16 June 2021, by siawi3


Celebrating Fifty Years of an Individuals Courage in an Era of Apathy

June 14, 2021

’Where Have You Gone, Daniel Ellsberg?’ Nowhere. Now 90, hes been here all along, still calling out our government’s bullshit.

Photo: Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers figure, holds up a copy of The Senate Watergate Report as he appears as a panelist at a conference on the Central Intelligence Agency and covert activities on Friday, Sept. 13, 1974 in Washington. (AP Photo/Henry Griffin)

By Maj. Danny Sjursen / AntiWar

He hasnt gone anywhere, actually. Hes been here all along poking small holes of decency in sick system, for five-plus decades. At 90, Dan Ellsberg is with us still, and still calling bullshit on a government that couldnt act right if it tried, to a citizenry that couldnt care less. Most of it, anyway; reminding me, at least here at the 50th anniversary of the Pentagon Papers publication, and just a month after Dan just dared the Justice Department to indict him for dropping yet another classified truth bomb about US nuclear lunacy of the indefatigable Tom Joads climactic speech from The Grapes of Wrath:

Ill be aroun in the dark. Ill be everywhere-wherever you look. Wherever there is a fight so hungry people can eat, Ill be there. Wherever there is a cop beatin up a guy, Ill be thereIll be in the way kids laugh when theyre hungry and they know suppers ready. An when our folk eat the stuff they raise an live in the houses they build why, Ill be there.

If that seems a bit much, a touch hyperbolic, ask yourself: why is it that there are so few Dan Ellsbergs, and so many war-profiting spin-masters, walking around not just Washington, but Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Wichita, Kansas?

One wonders, on such commemorative occasions amidst two decades-worth of ongoing wars now so (deliberately) abstract as to be almost invisible whats appropriate (or left) to say about the whole thing.

My colleague, onetime muse, and dare I say friend, Andrew Bacevich was in Vietnam when Ellsberg detonated his tortured truth bomb on a then (relatively) more engaged public. That said, Bacevich in standard self-deprecating style admitted in a recent New York Times column that as newly-minted army lieutenant fresh out of West Point, he hadnt given the Pentagon Papers story much thought. No doubt he had more pressing matters to mull over: like dodging bombs and bullets, whilst maintaining some semblance of good order and discipline in one small unit of a big army which was all-but coming apart there at the tail end of a long war that ought never been fought.

Sometimes talking to Andrew is jarring in its own right. Hes four years older than my father, hailing from a whole other spatial and temporal world. Knowing the words to obscure Lovin Spoonful songs made me like comedian John Mulaney an off-putting, strange child. It made Andrew a normal teenager. Normally, wed otherwise have little in common probably have no occasion to know, or know of, each other. Yet as fate would have it, we share alma maters, combat stints in worthless wars, and personal paths to eventual doubt and dissent. And just as Andrew once hardly heard the whistles blown about his hopeless war, Id barely bothered to catch the Cassandra-calls about my own adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Until it was too late.

Photo: Daniel Ellsberg.

I think about Bacevich who I began reading during my senior year at the academy sometimes, when I worry if my own military past might poison the well of my two sons future career choices, or on sleepless nights spent wondering whether fighting the antiwar fight is a futile endeavor. After all, that first Bacevich book I read carried the fitting subtitle: How Americans Are Seduced By War. Well, I sure was; seduced, that is, way back in 2005, and probably long before on account of captivating tales told by Greatest Generation grandfathers, and a few too many John Waynes flicks watched once our family finally clawed its way to cable-TV (TBS military marathons!)middle class-status.

Frankly, Im underselling my own level of intellectual awareness which makes matters all the worse. As kind of a classic double-kid, I secretly read my tail off by night, whilst pretending popularity by day. More informed than most would be an understatement. As such, I knew all about Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers long before being accepted to West Point probably prior to my first real kiss. Thing is, it never stuck the crucial conclusions, the real ramifications, I mean. I doubt they ever had a chance. Militarism, the fetishization of all things martial and violent, is supremely subtle in our society. It seeps in sooner than we think, often before were conscious of the concept.

If youll forgive the brief foray into pessimism and minor-masochism the latter, the birthright of my mothers vaguely Irish Catholic people this discomfiting visceral and experiential knowledge (and how common it seems for a certain sort of citizen), when combined with Americas present post-draft, obligations-free military-service culture, is enough to engender a defeatism of sorts. Toss in a (confusingly-youthful)-curmudgeons take on the navel-gazing narcissistic nature of digital tech and social media, and the gloom gathers.

Still, there stands Daniel Ellsberg and others like him; living and breathing correctives to any temptation towards apathy. Yet, Ive sensed the fear of that collective passivity in even some of Ellsbergs recent remarks which should sound activist alarm bells from Miami to Mendocino.

In an interview profile in The Nation this past March, Ellsberg admitted he worries that despite some 20-years of almost absurdly obvious failure in the Afghanistan War during which America repeated many of the mistakes and atrocities of the Vietnam debacle and laments the comparative lack of widespread public opposition to Washingtons current conflicts. Consider his disturbing and concise summary lament on the post-9/11 era:

If the Pentagon Papers of Afghanistan come out, you could change place names and officials names, it wouldnt make any difference. Same story. And we were lied into a war with Iraq. And Trump could have gotten us into a war with Iran. If you look at Obama in Libya, he wasnt even willing to use the War Powers Act to inform Congress. It was just war from the air.

Were seeing near-zero curiosity in the American public as to how many Afghans have been killed in this war in the last 20 years. Not an estimate, no hearings. How about Iraq? There are estimates about 10 to 20 times that of the government estimates. The American people dont care.

Incidentally, the Pentagon Papers of Afghanistan did come out in the Washington Post in fact, and only 15 months earlier. Heck, that was even the title of my analysis column solicited by The Nation We Have Just Been Handed the Pentagon Papers of Our Generation. But Ellsbergs basically right the story seemed big, but ultimately lacked real surprise or staying power. This bombshell proved a dud a minor embarrassment for a military and government that bare blinks at the negligible annoyance. Certainly the revelation of the should-have-been-obvious We didnt have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking, confessed Afghan War Czar Lieutenant General Douglas Lute didnt galvanize any major public outcry or produce a policy pivot. In fact, a dozen American service-members and who knows how many locals have died in the admitted Afghan War hopelessness in the subsequent 19 months.

Hope is hardly lost, and we should hardly quit the good-fight even if it were but it does make one feel merely an anti-militarism mosquito nibbling a military-industrial complex monstrosity.

Which also raises a rather serious question: when the next Ellsberg releases the next version of The Pentagon Papers will anyone even notice?

[Coda: Consider the query itself an open invitation to be proved welcomely wrong]

Danny Sjursen is a retired U.S. Army officer and contributing editor at