May 23, 2013
War Is Too Tragic for Weak Balance of Powers
Posted on Feb 26, 2012
By Dina Rasor, Truthout
Ellsberg was a Marine and a gung-ho, cold-war warrior analyst early in his career and landed a job in the Pentagon to analyze cables coming from hot spots around the world.
When President Johnson went to Congress to pass the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, he reported that North Vietnam had fired twice on US Navy ships in two “unprovoked” attacks. In fact, on August 2, 1964, our Navy ship had been checking North Vietnamese signals along their sea borders by breeching the borders and were fired upon. Two days later, another US ship claimed that it was being fired upon by North Vietnamese torpedoes, but it soon became clear that the radar operator was seeing ghost images on his screen.
The second attack happened on August 4, 1964, Ellsberg’s first day on the job in the Pentagon. As he describes in his excellent book, “Secrets,” he first thought that the second attack was real, but then reports keep coming in that the commander was unsure that they were really under attack. But the Johnson White House wanted an excuse to escalate the war, gave assurances that this second attack was real and insisted that the Congress needed to give Johnson a resolution to cover his retaliation. Ellsberg wrote, “By midnight on the fourth, or within a day or two, I knew that each one of these assurances were false.”
He described how the deception was passed on to the public and even the classified reports to the Congress:
Johnson was in election mode, running against Sen. Barry Goldwater, who wanted to escalate the war, and Johnson criticized him for war mongering. These Gulf of Tonkin incidences gave Johnson the excuse to escalate the war out of “necessity.”
Ellsberg told me one day over lunch that not blowing the whistle on the Gulf of Tonkin deception was one of the biggest mistakes of his life. He believes that he might have been able to expose the dishonesty and possibly thwart the rush to war, thus saving thousands of US and Vietnamese lives. But even though he was greatly disturbed by what he saw, it was his first week on the job and he felt that he was an insider, which made it harder to do the right thing:
Later in the 1960s, Ellsberg, at great risk to himself and his freedom, came around to the immensity of lies and loss of life due to this war and decided that, morally, he had to do something about it. His turning moment came when he saw young protesters willing to go to jail rather than be drafted into a war that they thought was immoral. He knew that the Pentagon Papers would tell the story of the deceptions, so he surreptitiously copied the classified history, tried to give it to some hesitant members of Congress and then finally realized that he had to give it to the press.
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