Bringing the secrets of the Pentagon to the University of Puget Sound
By Keely Coxwell
“Chelsea Manning and Snowden are my personal heros,” Daniel Ellsberg said.
On Thursday, Oct. 5, students, faculty members and members from the community filled every pew and stood in the back of Kilworth Memorial Chapel to listen to Daniel Ellsberg’s lecture, “SECRETS: From the Pentagon Papers to Snowden and Beyond.”
“I was surprised that so many people were there,” Thomas Aquilina ‘19 said. “I went in blind; I didn’t know anything about Daniel Ellsberg or the Pentagon Papers before the lecture.”
According to Ellsberg’s website, he “worked on the top secret McNamara study of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam which later came to be known as the Pentagon Papers.” In 1971 he sent all 7,000 pages of the study to New York Times, the Washington Post and 17 other newspapers, according to his website.
Ellsberg was arrested for leaking these documents but his conviction was dismissed in 1973 on grounds of governmental misconduct against him. According to the University of Puget Sound website, the leaking of the Pentagon Papers “led to the end of the Vietnam War and the resignation of President Richard Nixon.”
The Pentagon Papers weren’t the only secrets Ellsberg was exposed to: “The first night as a full time employee at the Pentagon in 1964 … I had asked ‘if your war for general nuclear war are carried out as planned … how many people will be killed in the Soviet Union and China?” Ellsberg said.
Ellsberg was not expecting to get an answer to this question, but he did.
“The answer was in the form of a chart … with on the vertical axis millions of dead and on the horizontal axis months, from zero to six months showing that there would be increasing casualties from fallout, dust and debris that it coated with radioactive activity,” Ellsberg said.
This chart showed that the “immediate deaths was 275 million and that rose for six months to 325 million,” Ellsberg said. Ellsberg then asked how many would die altogether; in the end the total deaths would be 600 million people and even this number is low because it does not include how many people would die if Russia retaliated.
“My life’s work is to keep this kind of plan from ever being carried out,” Ellsberg said.
Ellsberg spoke of the horrible truths about what could happen in a nuclear war.
“I thought I was seeing how the world was going to end,” Ellsberg said.
Besides the hundreds of millions that would die from the explosion, Ellsberg talked about what would happen in the event of a nuclear winter. A nuclear winter would be caused by the firestorms that result from hundreds of nuclear bombs being dropped.
“The smoke goes very high and stays [in the atmosphere] for over a decade and reduces sunlight to the point that all harvests are killed,” Ellsberg said. “This wouldn’t cause extinction … probably some humans would survive. But it will kill 98 percent of the people on Earth.”
“That’s terrifying. The fact that one decision could kill the vast majority of people is horrible,” Kayla Southwick ‘19 said.
“It makes me feel more aware of the power that President Trump has,” Aquilina said. “I don’t think that a single person should have the power to potentially kill 98 percent of the world. That is too much power to have.”
“The one nuclear-capable country that can’t cause a nuclear winter is North Korea. They don’t have enough nuclear warheads. They could kill 2 billion people,” Ellsberg said. “But if we went to war with Russia, everyone would go, including all of the animals.”
Ellsberg discusses the tensions between the United States and North Korea.
“We have a president right now who doesn’t sound deterred from the fact that North Korea has 10 nuclear warheads,” Ellsberg said. “We have leaked a plan to kill Kim Jong Un but who is to say that at the time of his death there isn’t a plan set in place to shoot off all nuclear weapons in retaliation.”
“It was a lot of doomsday and that the end of the world is coming,” Southwick said.
Despite the serious topics discussed, Ellsberg made time for some jokes. “Some of the students I had dinner with did not know what the RAND corporation was, which is okay; you’re not missing anything,” Ellsberg said to a laughing audience. The RAND corporation was the first think tank of the Pentagon that did research into public interest in national security.
According to his website, Ellsberg is the author of three books: “Papers on the War” (1971), “Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers” (2002), and “Risk, Ambiguity and Decision” (2001). In December 2006 he was awarded the 2006 Right Livelihood Award “for putting peace and truth first, at considerable personal risk, and dedicating his life to inspiring others to follow his example.”
“We should try to change things and make a difference. Change the mindset that we are military first and making sure that we have enough nuclear power to destroy everyone else,” Southwick said. “The military power the US has greatly outweighs all other countries and I don’t see why we need that.”
Ellsberg ended the lecture on a more hopeful note, saying, “one person can make a difference.”