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This week marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of the Pentagon Papers, the secret official story of the Vietnam War leaked by Daniel Ellsberg. The Pentagon papers revealed that several US presidents and senior government officials lied to the American people and Congress about the Vietnam War.
On the occasion of the anniversary of America’s most famous synopsis, we are broadcasting my 2015 Vermont Conversation interview with Daniel Ellsberg about war, conscience and whistleblowers.
Ellsberg is a former Marine who served in Vietnam and was an advisor to Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense under President Lyndon Johnson, during the Vietnam War.
When the New York Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers on June 13, 1971, the Nixon administration was desperate to stop publishing it. The Times appealed the case to the US Supreme Court, which ruled that the newspaper could publish the documents. The revelations of official secrets and lies led to a breakdown in American support for the war.
For leaking the Pentagon papers, Ellsberg was charged with theft, conspiracy, and violation of the Espionage Act, but his case was declared a misconduct when evidence emerged of government-ordered wiretapping of his phone and break-ins into his psychiatrist’s office.
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger described Ellsberg as “America’s most dangerous man”. But many consider Daniel Ellsberg a hero who risked his career and even personal freedom to expose his own government’s deception in waging the Vietnam War. “Daniel Ellsberg deserves praise for his heroism,” said Floyd Abrams, an attorney who represented the New York Times on the case.
Ellsberg is 90 years old today and remains active in the peace movement. Ellsberg and I discussed the lessons of the Vietnam War at a conference in Washington DC in 2015.
The legendary whistleblower told me that he wanted to be remembered with this simple epitaph: “He was a member of the anti-nuclear and anti-Vietnam protest movement.”
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