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Learning from Past Disasters, Preventing Future Ones

[Daniel’s foreword to Flirting With Disaster: Why Accidents Are Rarely Accidental by Marc Gerstein, with Michael Ellsberg.]

I have participated in several major organizational catastrophes. The most well known of them is the Vietnam War. I was aware on my first visit to Vietnam in 1961 that the situation there – a failing neocolonial regime we had installed as a successor to French rule – was a sure loser in which we should not become further involved. Yet a few years later, I found myself participating as a high-level staffer in a policy process that lied both the public and Congress into a war that, unbeknownst to me at the time, experts inside the government accurately predicted would lead to catastrophe. Continue Reading

Draft Speech for Secretary McNamara

(Written by Daniel Ellsberg, July 22, 1965. Discussed in Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, pp. 88-97. )

It is the intent of the United States Government, reaffirmed on many occasions, to do whatever is necessary to help South Vietnam preserve its independence.

I have just returned from a trip to South Vietnam, with Ambassador Lodge and General Wheeler, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to help us determine what is, now necessary.. It was our purpose to review the force level planned for South Vietnam, the number of U.S. troops to be assigned there, the equipment required, the expected consumption of munitions and other products. We had the opportunity for full. discussions with Ambassador Taylor, with General Westmoreland and other senior U.S. Commanders, and with Premier Ky and members of the GVN, all of whom gave us their latest appreciation of the requirements for moving toward our mutual objectives in SVN.

Our discussions confirmed, in considerably more detail, the situation as I described it for the press just before leaving: that the Viet Cong have continued to increase their forces in South Vietnam, importantly through continued infiltration of troops, leadership, and now, regular North Vietnamese combat units; that the level and intensity of operation during the summer has increased, as we predicted it would; and that we can expect further increases in Viet Cong operations because of the likely commitment of forces not yet committed to combat. As the President had already stated, we left for SVN with the knowledge that our findings might well show an increased American response on the ground in SVN to be necessary: which, in turn, would require steps to insure that our reserves of men and equipment in the U.S. remained adequate for any and all emergencies. We returned with the convictions shared also by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Westmoreland and other senior. U.S. Commanders, that these steps were indeed urgently required.

We shall be adding, in the near future, combat and support troops totaling about 100,000 to those already within SVN. Our forces there will defend their own bases; they will assist in providing security in neighboring areas; and they will be available for more active combat missions when the Vietnamese Government and General Westmoreland agree that such active missions are needed, as they surely will be. To offset these additional deployments and to reconstitute the central reserve, we shall be calling up some reserve units, increasing our draft calls and extending some tours of duty. Continue Reading

Additional Endnotes for “Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers”

Chapter 1: The Tonkin Gulf: August 1964
Chapter 3: The Road to Escalation
Chapter 8: Travels with Vann
Chapter 9: Losing Hope
Chapter 12: Jaundice
Chapter 13: The Power of Truth
Chapter 14: Campaign ’68
Chapter 15: To the Hotel Pierre
Chapter 16: The Morality of a Continuing War
Chapter 18: Extrication
Chapter 19: Murder and the Lying Machine
Chapter 22: Capitol Hill
Chapter 23: Leaving Rand
Chapter 24: Kissinger
Chapter 25: Congress
Chapter 26: To the New York Times
Chapter 28: Approaching June 13
Chapter 29: Going Underground
Chapter 31: The Road to Watergate

Chapter 1: The Tonkin Gulf: August 1964

“insisted they could not be considered U.S. provocations:” In an executive session of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Wayne Morse suggested that our destroyers might actually have been associated with the “South Vietnamese” raids, and that anyway, the North Vietnamese might reasonably have believed this. (His suspicion, it turned out, had been stimulated by a call from someone in the Pentagon-not me, I regret to say-someone “in uniform” who told him that what the Administration was saying about the situation did not include all the facts. He suggested that the Senator question the Administration on the location of the Maddox and on its true mission; if all the facts were known, they would reveal that the U.S. was playing a provocative role in the Tonkin Gulf).

Secretary McNamara responded: “First, our Navy played absolutely no part in, was not associated with, was not aware of, any South Vietnamese actions, if there were any. I want to make that very clear to you. . . . The Maddox was operating in international waters, was carrying out a routine patrol of the type we carry out all over the world. It was not informed of, was not aware of, had no evidence of, and so far as I know today has no knowledge of any South Vietnamese actions in connection with the two islands that Senator Morse referred to. . . . I say this flatly; this is the fact.” (Austin, 68).

There was a certain kind of truth to this. There were indeed no “South Vietnamese” actions against North Vietnam. The actions were American. But McNamara’s briefing of the Senators went beyond simply obscuring this. On August 3, and again on August 6, he knowingly misidentified the operations that preceded the August 2 attack (and again, the night before the alleged second attack, of which the Senators were told nothing). He said “that whatever action had taken place against these North Vietnamese islands had been part of an anti-infiltration operation being conducted by a fleet of coastal patrol junks the US had helped South Vietnam to organize in December 1961. . . . As part of that, as I reported to you earlier this week [August 3] we understand that the South Vietnamese sea force carried out patrol action around these islands and actually shelled the parts they felt were associated with this infiltration. . . . Our ships had absolutely no knowledge of it, were not connected with it.”

In contrast, Captain Herrick of the Maddox cabled on August 3: “Evaluation of info from various sources indicates DRV considers [my] patrol directly involved with 34-A ops. DRV considers U.S. ships present as enemies because of these ops and have already indicated their readiness to treat us in that category.”

Herrick had been listening to Hanoi radio and to intercepts of North Vietnamese messages about the raids the night of August 3-4 (i.e., just before the second alleged attack on his ship). Two Swift boats (the Norwegian-made CIA patrol boats) had bombarded a radar installation on Cape Vinh Son, while two others attacked a neighboring security post in Rhon River estuary. One was pursued for an hour by a NVN patrol craft. It was the first naval bombardment of the North Vietnamese mainland.

Herrick had earlier requested termination of his patrol, for the reason given in his cable. The Seventh Fleet commander had made the same proposal, to terminate it on the evening of August 4 (before the alleged attack) to avoid any entanglement with the 34A operations. But Admiral Moorer, Commander of the Pacific Fleet, ordered the patrol lengthened by two days, though it was to stay north of a certain latitude to avoid “interference with 34-A ops.” Moorer also hoped, after August 2, that “The above patrol will. . . . (B) Possibly draw [North Vietnamese naval patrol boats] to northward away from area of 34A ops.”

I don’t recall exactly when I first saw this cable. In In Retrospect, McNamara claims he didn’t know at the time that Herrick was well aware of the 34A operations and that his testimony to the contrary was “honest but wrong.” This might be true, for this one detail. But he certainly knew-even I did at the time-that all other aspects of the statement above, about Navy ignorance of and lack of coordination with 34A were false. This applies above all to his statements then and in his 1995 book about the “South Vietnamese actions.” Over thirty after the events, McNamara was still speaking in In Retrospect of “CIA support for South Vietnamese covert operations against North Vietnam, code-named Plan 34A…The CIA supported the South Vietnamese 34A operations, and MACV maintained close contact with them…” (129). I must repeat: as he knows, these were 100% US operations, utilizing some South Vietnamese personnel along with (as he acknowledges) foreign mercenary crews, totally planned and controlled by the US, through MACV, CIA and CINCPAC; some people in the GVN had very limited knowledge of the operations, but no hand in planning or managing them.

I can only speculate why Secretary McNamara, unusually candid about many things in his memoir, feels a need to maintain this particular cover story so long after the true facts have been revealed by others. He does criticize President Johnson for using the Tonkin Gulf Resolution later as sufficient authorization for escalation that the Congress did not mean to authorize at that time. Apparently what he does not wish to acknowledge even at this late date is that at the time he was supporting the Administration request for authority to commence direct use of force if and as the President might see fit in the future, the US was already, at that time executing acts of war against North Vietnam, without the knowledge or consent of Congress.

Another motive that may be at work is that Robert McNamara, in his various books, is strikingly unwilling to acknowledge that he personally ever knowingly misled or lied to Congress or the public. (He does admit, and deplore in retrospect, that the President chose to mislead or conceal intentions and programs at times; but he never acknowledges the obvious fact that he himself , in his service to the President, frequently participated in these deceptions.) Thus, in this same passage as above, he says that Senator Morse had been present when “Dean, Bus, and I briefed senators on 34A,” referring to August 3 briefings (137). He never described to the Senators the actual 34A operations; he described instead, deceptively, the South Vietnamese anti-infiltration junk operation, an entirely different program, which actually was run by the South Vietnamese with US “support.” His assertion to the Senators and others that the July 31st raid was part of this program was knowingly false; as was his statement that there was no such activity on August 3rd, hence that the alleged second attack was “unprovoked.” The effect of his persistence in protecting the Administration and himself personally from charges of deception (or in the above instance, of what Senator Morse was ready to call “aggression”) is to continue to muddy the historical record and to thwart, in important respects, the process of historical understanding and national self-awareness that, I don’t doubt at all, he sincerely wishes to further.

Chapter 3: The Road to Escalation

“I didn’t say anything to John, and the situation never arose:” Later in Saigon,General Lansdale told me he believed he had been fired by McNamara under circumstances such as those McNaughton feared. He said in the fall of 1963, McNamara had told him to come with him to the White House for a meeting with the President. With McNamara the only other one present, Kennedy had told Lansdale he was ready to send Lansdale back to Vietnam. Lansdale had hoped for an assignment like that ever since Kennedy’s Inauguration.

Just a few months earlier in Vietnam, forces under the influence of President Diem’s brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, had raided Buddhist pagodas and arrested many monks involved in the anti-government Struggle Movement that had been launched that spring with a series of dramatic immolations. A controversial cable, cleared hastily in Washington over a weekend, had directed Ambassador Lodge to respond encouragingly to South Vietnamese generals who had inquired about US attitudes toward a military coup. Diem should be pressed to send Nhu and his wife out of the country, the cable said. If Diem refused to separate himself from Nhu, then the US was ready to contemplate that Diem himself must go.

Lodge had been skeptical that Diem would ever get rid of Nhu, but it had been suggested to President Kennedy-by Rufus Phillips, a member of Lansdale’s team in the fifties and now in charge of AID support to the strategic hamlet program-that if there was any man who could persuade him, that was Ed Lansdale. (Unlike most American officials who dealt with Diem, Lansdale truly liked him.) So McNamara was asked to bring his assistant over to the Oval Office.

Lansdale told me that President Kennedy said he wanted him to go over to try to influence Diem to send Nhu out of the country, along with his wife, the hugely unpopular Madame Nhu. He asked if Lansdale was willing to go with that mission. Lansdale said yes. Then Kennedy said to him, “But if that didn’t work out, or I changed my mind and decided that we had to get rid of Diem himself, would you be able to go along with that?”

As Lansdale told me the story, Kennedy did not use the words “kill” or “assassinate” in connection with Diem, but Lansdale said he was in no doubt that this was what was being discussed. Lansdale didn’t make clear to me, nor perhaps was he entirely clear himself, whether Kennedy was proposing that Lansdale actually be in charge of carrying out the elimination of Diem. As I understood him, Kennedy was asking him, as a minimum, whether he could be involved directly in a policy that might come to involve the elimination of Diem. Would it involve him in personal anguish, more than he could accept or than the President would wish to inflict on him? More specifically, could he be counted on to be loyal, not to obstruct it or to tell about it (or to warn Diem!), not to resign or withdraw visibly if the policy moved in that direction?

Telling me the story, Lansdale relived the incident. He hesitated, his face got troubled, he shook his head slowly and sadly as he said, “No, Mr. President, I couldn’t do that. Diem is my friend.” It was clear as he said that, he told me, that he would not be going to Vietnam. The expression on his face as he shook his head was not that of someone reproving the President for an untoward suggestion but that of someone who felt he had no choice but to relinquish an opportunity he had wanted for years.

The President seemed to understand his response and didn’t say anything unfriendly or express disappointment. But the discussion was over. In McNamara’s limousine on the way back to the Pentagon the Secretary was furious. He hadn’t gotten on with Lansdale for a long time and this was the last straw. He said to Lansdale, “You don’t talk to the President of the United States that way. When he asks you to do something, you don’t tell him you won’t do it.” Undoubtedly he felt personally embarrassed at having brought Lansdale over to the Oval Office. Lansdale said that McNamara never spoke to him again. Shortly after that Lansdale was fired by McNamara. He found a job with the Food for Peace program. On November 2, 1963, he was clearing out his desk in the Pentagon when he got the word that Diem and Nhu had been killed.

Chapter 8: Travels with Vann
109 “Within a week or two of arriving I had met them all:” Frank Scotton (later my house-mate), Ev Bumgardner of USIA, and Special Forces captain Phil Werbiski (later killed on a secret mission in Cambodia) were among my first guides in the countryside. Some young Foreign Service political officers—Dick Holbrooke, Frank Wisner, Dave Engel, Vlad Lehovich—and the anthropologist Gerry Hickey were especially knowledgeable. All of these in the latter group spoke Vietnamese.
113 “Ramsey was a prisoner of the VC for more than seven years:” He was a tall man, and he spent much of that time confined in small bamboo cages.
Chapter 9: Losing Hope

“Forty-ninth Regiment of the Twenty-fifth division:” I told the group that I had talked to the adviser to the regiment, in the headquarters under the bridge, and he told me, “This is the worst regiment in the Vietnamese Army,” which was quite an extreme statement to make. But it might have been true, because, I said, it was generally believed (I was quoting Vann) that the 25th and the 5th were the two worst divisions in ARVN. That last remark led Ambassador Porter, after the meeting, to request Westmoreland to conduct a study of these two divisions. The subsequent study by MACV focused-rather pedantically, I thought-on my statement that these were literally the two worst divisions in Vietnam. The study concluded that this appraisal was correct. (As usual, John had spoken carefully). It said that the only chance for progress in these divisions, and hence for progress in III Corps, was for the commanders to be replaced.

It recommended that Westmoreland, or if necessary Lodge, should request that change at the highest GVN levels. But Westmoreland rejected that course, on the grounds, first, that it was or might be counterproductive or infeasible; and second that it was unnecessary. That was in April. In June, or two months after the MACV study had recommended their removal, the commanders of both divisions were promoted from colonel to general. They remained in command a year and a half later, though the commander of the 25th went on sick leave in late 1967 after the VC overran the province capital of Hau Nghia.

Chapter 12: Jaundice

“This is a secretary of state?”: Later that talk, when I felt I had gained his confidence, I asked him a question that had been suggested to me by Bud Southard, a CIA analyst who had done a highly-classified study of the crisis earlier and had a feeling that some crucial things were missing from the written record. Had Bobby himself passed on a direct threat on the missiles from the President to the Russians at the climax of the crisis, just before Khrushchev began dismantling them on Sunday morning?

I asked him if there was a time-limit for removal of the missiles by Khrushchev. (Whether you called it a threat or a warning or a statement of fact, that would define it in diplomatic terms as an ultimatum.) Yes, Bobby said: “I told him he had 48 hours.”

This had never come on in public and wasn’t even in the secret record. (Much later an equally sensitive matter came out-that Bobby had in effect offered a secret deal on our missiles in Turkey, which would be removed if the Soviet missiles left Cuba.) The next day I decided I needed to pin down some details and I called his office from the Pentagon. He came on the phone and I told him I wanted to follow up what he had told me the day before about his talk with Dobrynin. He said, “No, I don’t want to talk about that. I shouldn’t have told you about that.”

I said, “I understand. My report is going to be highly classified, but I won’t put any of this in my report at all. I just wanted to make sure I understood you myself.”

He said, “No, you don’t understand. I don’t want to talk about this any more, even with you.”

I said, “Ah, right. Thank you.” The phone clicked.

Chapter 13: The Power of Truth

“The figures on enemy strength:” After Steadman’s memo about the leaks, Don Stewart, chief security investigator in the Pentagon, was asked by the FBI to work on finding the source. After reading in the Wall Street Journal about the hundred FBI agents pursuing the source of leaks, I spent some anxious nights, expecting at any moment the arrival of agents at my door. They never arrived.

In a later article—post-Pentagon Papers—Jack Anderson says that Stewart pretty quickly narrowed the list of suspects behind the leaks to me. In a memo to J. Edgar Hoover on March 29, Stewart specifically identified me as the source and urged my prosecution, along with Sheehan, under the espionage act. A top Clifford aide “told him the Secretary and the Press are getting along fine and this could upset relations.

This attitude was relayed to the CIA whose secrets had been compromised, but somehow a CIA official got the mistaken impression that the Pentagon wanted to kill the investigation of both cases, not just the probe of Sheehan. The CIA thereafter informed the Justice Department it had no interest in pursuing the investigation. So the Justice Department advised the FBI to drop the investigation of both Sheehan and me. “Thus the dovish Ellsberg was left without so much as a question raised in his record, free to spring his great leak three years later.”

Chapter 14: Campaign ’68

“But neither of them made it possible for most people to know that:” Two people who did know it were Presidents Johnson and Thieu; so they both, covertly, gave critical help to Nixon. Johnson, toward the end of the campaign, was reading intercepts of Nixon’s assurances to Thieu, through intermediaries, that the Thieu regime would get greater support from Nixon than from Humphrey, and that therefore Thieu should refuse, before the election, to go to Paris for negotiations, thereby probably ensuring the defeat of Humphrey and the election of Nixon. (See note for p. 227, below.)

Johnson regarded this as criminal, even “treasonable,” interference-which it very arguably was-in a diplomatic process by a private individual for domestic political gain. (Presidents regard diplomacy for domestic political gain as their own exclusive prerogative.) Yet, though Johnson could almost surely have swung the by-then-close election to Humphrey s simply by revealing the evidence on this, he chose not to do so.

Almost surely one ingredient in this decision was that he believed, in effect, what Nixon’s representatives were telling Thieu: that Thieu would get stronger support from Nixon than from Humphrey. And Johnson preferred to have his policy vindicated by someone who would continue it, hopefully successfully, even a Republican, than to elect a successor from his own administration who would abandon it. (See Gardner, 492-516; Witcover, 396-444, and Bundy, 35-48.)

Chapter 15: To the Hotel Pierre
227 “while dropping a higher total tonnage than before:” In the last ten months of 1968 the Johnson Administration dropped more bombs on Indochina than in the previous four years together (1.7 million tons, compared to 1.5 million tons since 1964.) Nixon continued at the rate of about 1 million tons—half the total bomb tonnage of World War II—each year, for four years.
227 “to urge Thieu to end his refusal to join the Paris talks:” A new definition for chutzpah. Nixon’s agents, John Mitchell in particular, had secretly been urging Thieu daily for weeks to refuse to join any negotiations before the election, with promise of strong support by Nixon after his victory, which this stance by Thieu would ensure. According to William Bundy, who was following this episode at the time as Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, “Thieu emerged from it convinced that Nixon owed him a great political debt. On this the testimony of his closest adviser, Nguyen Tien Hung, was categorical: Thieu not only believed in 1968 that such a debt had been created, but attached great weight to it throughout his association with Nixon.” (Bundy, 48.) Or, as my friend Tran Ngoc Chau told me Thieu said to him in early 1969: “I elected Nixon.” But none of this was known publicly at the time, LBJ having chosen not to reveal it.

“An indelible impression was created:” The article was evidently in press before the appointment was made; Kissinger’s observation about Nixon at RAND on November 8 is pretty strong evidence that he had no advance inkling of the offer, or even hopes for it. Bill Bundy, who became managing editor of Foreign Affairs a year later, says “Legend at the magazine had it that Kissinger tried at the last minute to withdraw the article lest it embarrass him with Nixon. However, the editor, Hamilton Fish Armstrong, refused to consider this, arguing that it was extraordinarily timely and important and that readers would understand its unofficial status” (Bundy, 552n).

Actually, the article and its timing served Nixon’s purposes wonderfully well, precisely because readers and media pundits drew the opposite impression, namely that it was a quasi- official statement (as if it had been written, and approved by the President, after Kissinger’s appointment or while he was in the White House). Not just for months but for years (and to a considerable extent, to this day) this impression bought Nixon the benefit of the doubt on his Vietnam policy from liberals and moderate doves, in their belief that Kissinger had not changed his views or priorities from those he had expressed privately over the previous year, and that Nixon evidently agreed with them.


“But it was a secret:” Was Henry Kissinger himself ever sincere in proposing that the US limit its objectives to procuring a “decent interval” before a Communist flag flew over Saigon? I suspect that he was, for most of 1968 (and perhaps earlier). But for all practical purposes he secretly jettisoned any such notion when he went to work for Nixon, to whom it was unthinkable. Kissinger became the enthusiastic manager of Nixon’s secret plan to preclude indefinitely-in part by secret threats and demonstrations of Nixon’s willingness to escalate-any such Communist takeover.

Kissinger did not, however, inform his liberal friends in universities and the media, with whom he remained in private contact, that he had shifted gears. So until the invasion of Cambodia, Nixon got the benefit of the mistaken belief that he had accepted Kissinger’s previous plan for a disguised withdrawal.

Did Kissinger himself retain a private attachment to the notion of a “decent interval” as an aim? Did he differ from the President, in other words, in continuing to find this acceptable? Mort Halperin, who worked directly for him in the White House as his deputy in the first half of 1969, tells me that this is not an operationally meaningful question. “Henry Kissinger had one absolute working principle,” he says. “Find out what President Nixon wanted, and then recommend it to him.”

If the President didn’t seem to know what he wanted, initially, Halperin says, Kissinger would suggest various ideas until he sense presidential interest in or attraction to one of them. Then he would recommend that. To ask whether, after that point, Kissinger “had” a private opinion that was contrary to what he believed his boss wanted is not, Halperin believes, really meaningful: and certainly not ascertainable. There was a practical aspect to this. To have acted or even thought otherwise would have been to lose private access to the President.


“But he came up with another, more telling criticism:” What makes this of interest is that Nixon’s secret plan—as discussed later—the strategy he actually followed in 1969 and later, was above all a threat strategy, of a sort I hadn’t focused on in my study, either as a separate option or in any of the sub-options. It was at the same time a “win” strategy: not in the still-current Rusk-JCS sense that I was ruling out here, but in a modified sense, a “moderate win,” that Hanoi would unquestionably have regarded as defeat for its own and the NLF’s goals, and which they were prepared to fight forever and make any amount of sacrifice to avert

Chapter 16: The Morality of a Continuing War
(Portions of this chapter are adapted from the introduction to Ellsberg’s book Papers on the War, New York, Simon, 1972.)
251 “killing more than six thousand civilians”: See McAlister, 287. Thirty years ago, the portion of an official cable of December 17, 1946 (then classified “secret,”) commenting on this French “incident,” was withheld from declassification—i.e. censored—in the official 1971 Government Printing Office declassified version of the McNamara Study: See PP, GPO ed., vol. 8, 88. The withheld, censored portion contains the still-classified estimate in the original that the French had killed 6,000 civilians in their devastating bombardment, a French estimate which is standard in histories, though some recent accounts are lower. That white space on page 88 of an official 1971 publication dealing with events of 1946 is an eloquent reflection of the pains our security officers were still taking to protect American consciousness from unpleasant realities of twenty-five years earlier, when our war was beginning.

“‘Although the French in Indochina have made far-reaching paper concessions:'” In the summer of 1971, the twenty-fifth year of the Indochina War, I was about to leave Cambridge for a court appearance in Los Angeles, when someone mentioned to me that John Carter Vincent was living in retirement in Cambridge. I called his number and his wife invited me to come over right away, on my way to the airport. She and her husband met me at the door of their large house in Cambridge and greeted me very warmly. They brought me into a sitting room filled with Asian antiquities and hangings from their long service in the Orient.

Vincent was one of the most distinguished of the Foreign Service officers who was forced into early retirement for having been as foresighted and candid about the course of the Chinese civil war as he had earlier been about the prospects of the French colonial reconquest. I stayed as long as I could, risking my flight, to express my thanks for a performance of official truth-telling that had helped me to arrive where I was that day: on my way to arraignment, for sharing with the public, among other things, his own, still-classified early forecast to Acheson. I told him of the unforgettable impression it had made on me; it was something I particularly wanted other Americans to see. I asked him if he actually remembered the report he had made. He said, “Oh, yes, I remember it very well. I said, ‘Guerrilla warfare may continue…” He paused. “What did I say? Ten years? Fifteen years?”

“You said: ‘Indefinitely.'”

I had to leave. His wife had left the room for a moment, and she met me at the door and pressed into my hand a slip of paper, then hugged me goodbye. They both waved me off as I left in the taxi. I unfolded the strip of paper. She had written out for me a one-line quotation in French: it said, “The only weapon we have left is not to forget.


“‘We have not urged the French to negotiate with Ho Chi Minh:'” This extremely illuminating discussion is worth reading in full. Regrettably, it is not included in either the Beacon or Bantam editions of the Pentagon Papers; Books 8, 9, and 10 of the GPO edition remain essential for many documents of the 1945-60 period such as this one.

The month I read this, the chance of including Ho Chi Minh in a political solution had just expired. Ho died in August 1969 (just after rejecting a secret ultimatum by President Nixon that projected the permanent exclusion of Communists or their associates in the struggle against the French and the Americans from sharing governmental power in Saigon). To the day of his death-and probably beyond-he remained by far the most popular and respected figure in every part of Vietnam. Walt Rostow, for one, disputed this in an interview for the movie Hearts and Mindsreleased in 1974. He was shown asserting that “By the late Fifties, Ho Chi Minh couldn’t be elected dogcatcher in Vietnam.” That judgment was followed in the film by my own, responding to his: “Ho Chi Minh, dead, could defeat any candidate we ever backed in Vietnam.” That remained a good bet.


“Since at least the late 1940s:” Tran Ngoc Chau, recounting his experience as Viet Minh guerrilla and officer from 1945 to 1950, told me recently that it was precisely American support to the French in the earliest days that convinced many Vietnamese they must accept Communist leadership of the resistance, in order to get Soviet (and later Chinese) help. Chau said that if they had been fighting the French alone, they would not have needed outside help so urgently, and they would have preferred other leadership. Many Vietnamese who supported the Viet Minh and later the NLF were not at all unaware of the shortcomings and costs of Communist leadership and probable rule. But confronting the wealth of the United States standing behind France, they simply saw no alternative path to independence, which they judged to be worth the cost. I commented that that seemed a rather sophisticated argument to ascribe to peasants, or even intellectuals in the cities. How would they have known of the stance of the U.S. at the time? (I didn’t know it, as an American, till twenty years later).

“The Viet Minh told them,” he said. It was what he himself had been told as a regimental political officer, and what he had passed on. Given the reality of this message, Chau points out, the US acquired an ineradicable taint in Vietnamese eyes, of which later Americans were scarcely aware, as the allies and crucial supporters of French colonial efforts. Later American support of a nominally “independent” regime in Saigon, actually an American creation and creature, did nothing to change this image, which was a fatal handicap in later efforts to contain the reconstituted Vietnamese independence movement.

But there was a tragic element in what he was telling me. I had heard that note once before. In the midst of my reading in 1969, I had asked Hoang Van Chi whether he felt North Vietnam, his native region, would be better off today if Ho Chi Minh had not headed the revolution. He had been an official of the Viet Minh during the war against the French. He said, “Yes,” right away. That didn’t surprise me, since he was a strong anti-communist. I asked him to go into more detail, just how it would have been better, expecting him to start out from his well-known criticisms of the communist land reform campaign and authoritarian controls. He said, “My country would not have been divided and destroyed.”

He went on: “If Ho Chi Minh had not headed the liberation someone else would have, not a Communist. If one other than a Communist had headed the liberation movement against the French, the United States would never have supported the French with money, weapons, planes, and napalm, and many of my countrymen would not have died. Moreover, the liberation would have applied to the entire country.”


“In terms of the UN Charter, and of our own avowed ideals:” Our role had defied every principle of self-determination from the beginning, and violated our international assurances at Geneva since 1954. In the technical language of Nuremberg-American language ratified by the UN in 1951-it was a “crime against peace.” “Crimes against peace; namely, planning, preparation, initiation, or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements, or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing” (Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal, 1945); see Quincy Wright, The Role of International Law (New York, 1961), 108; and see Richard Falk, ed., Vietnam and International Law, 2 vols. (Princeton, 1967, 69).

Moreover, the air attacks on North Vietnam from 1965 to 1973 appear to meet every legal test of “aggression,” or illegal use of armed force in international relations (Wright, 59-65). Even before that, however, the U.S. Government, gave a unilateral “international assurance”-in binding fashion-that it would “refrain from the threat or use of force to disturb” the Geneva Accords of July 21, 1954, which called for nationwide elections-i.e., throughout Vietnam, which was regarded by all as one nation-in July, 1956 (PP, Gravel ed., vol. 1, 570-72). As the Pentagon papers reveal unequivocally, we proceeded to supply arms and to pay the entire budget of an army and police force devoted to repressing by force every element in “South Vietnam” that favored the honoring of the Accords, from 1954 to the present; while a regime totally dependent on our arms and money refused even to discuss the implementation of the Accords.


“I didn’t expect him to say more over the phone:” Just as well, since he learned years later that his phone—along with 16 others of NSC staffers and journalists—was being tapped at this time by the FBI, on orders of the White House. The program of illegal wiretaps (they were not court-ordered, and in fact, on Hoover’s orders, all records of them were kept out of the Bureau’s official record-keeping) had been triggered by a story by William Beecher in the New York Times describing the secret bombing of Cambodia (see Secrets, pp. 260, 330-331).

Those involved in the taps, requested by Kissinger for the President, might feel some vindication at my account of my discussions with Halperin, except that it should be noted that he was not talking to a journalist-years of tapping all his phone calls uncovered no unauthorized disclosures to journalists or other outsiders—but to someone with a Top Secret clearance who had worked on Vietnam policy as a consultant in the White House that same year. In fact, it was precisely because I myself had drafted a list of Vietnam Options for the President that he was able, and felt free, to allude to a policy choice as concisely and cryptically as he did.


“In this, we learned years later, Halperin was mistaken:” Unknown to Halperin at this time, and hence to me, the threat had been renewed as an ultimatum, with a near-term deadline of November 1. As we spoke, planning was underway to carry it out. Neither of us learned of this for several years. During that time I was acting on the understanding of Nixon’s strategy that I gained in this conversation and others with Halperin over the next few months, which seemed to be borne out by events. It turned out, in fact, to have been fully accurate, except for much of 1969 when Nixon and Kissinger turned out to have been even more ambitious, aggressive, and unrealistic than either of us-or anyone else-had imagined).

Chapter 18: Extrication



“Fear of that particular penalty:” Nearly all such officials preserve the hope of serving officially in future administrations, in their own parties or even under the opposing party, whether as officials, ambassadors, members or chairmen of panels, or at least as consultants, with access to officials and to privileged information. They protect their credentials as “responsible” candidates for such trust and service literally to their dying day.

Maintaining their availability for future positions of trust is perfectly compatible with being publicly critical of particular current policies, especially of the opposition party, so long as this observes certain limits. There must be no serious criticism of the past policies of administrations in which they served, and especially of presidents from their own parties. No revelation of secrets, no embarrassing quotations. Above all, no imputation that a president or other high official lied or broke the law, or acted in a morally questionable manner, or acted in matters of war and peace for reasons of political self-interest.

I knew what I was doing to my future employability when I came to violate all these constraints. And by the same token, I could understand the reserve of current officials or those who still wanted to preserve their official access and influence and prospects of future careers, even though I had concluded that such restraint was incompatible with acting effectively to end our involvement. But the degree of self-censorship even late in life, in post-retirement memoirs by former officials, remains striking.

Chapter 19: Murder and the Lying Machine

“The diary of Nixon chief of staff:” H. R. Haldeman’s diary (published in 1994):

September 2, 1969, at Camp David:

most of the predinner and a good part of after was devoted to the Green Beret case. A real PR problem for the P [President] and Administration. Army plans to go ahead with court-martial which will bring out a lot of secret activity, but worse it will give great fodder to the antiwar types, which is just what we don’t need as school opens.

September 25, 1969:

K [Kissinger] feels he finally has the Green Beret problem under control. The CIA has been ordered to refuse to let their men testify as witnesses. [CIA Director Richard] Helms really dragged his feet, but finally gave in. Now [Secretary of Defense Melvin] Laird has to get [Army Secretary Stanley] Resor to cancel the trial for lack of case. Will be hard to do, but should have been done months ago, the publicity, especially TV, is really damaging. Laird could have closed it up, and said he was doing so, but didn’t, in face of Resor determination to go ahead.

September 29, 1969: “K got his Green Beret trial turned off, with Resor dropping the charges because no CIA witnesses.”

288 “singling out these particular soldiers for a kind of killing that was ‘not uncommon:'” In the lower left-hand corner of the front page of another paper that same day was a little AP item that an Army lieutenant named “Rusty” Calley was facing a court-martial for the alleged killing of a number of Vietnamese civilians in a hamlet named My Lai. It was the first notice of this incident, well before Seymour Hersh broke open the story. A year and a half later, in the spring of 1971, in what polls indicated was one of the most popular actions he ever took, President Nixon shortened Calley’s court-martial sentence and released him from the stockade to serve his remaining time under house arrest. (As Lt. Calley was later to put it, about his own actions at My Lai and his feelings about them, “It was no big deal.”)
293 “I knew some Democrats who wouldn’t thank me for this”: White House tapes from June, 1971 show that Hubert Humphrey was quoted to Nixon as saying, a propos of the possible source of the publication of the Pentagon Papers: “No good Democrat could have done this.” That quickly eliminated many of the possible suspects who had access to copies. What can I say? It comes down to the test of what it means to be a good Democrat.
Chapter 22: Capitol Hill
325 “a resolution to be introduced shortly”: On November 13, two days before the second Moratorium demonstration, this resolution was introduced in the House with twenty-eight co-sponsors. In introducing it, Don Fraser and Ben Rosenthal, both members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, emphasized-taking the words from my memo-that there was a clear contradiction between the President’s description of his “plan for an orderly, scheduled timetable of complete withdrawal of U.S. ground combat forces” and his numerous references to three factors upon which the rate of withdrawal would be conditioned: progress in Paris, enemy activity in South Vietnam, and improvement in the South Vietnamese forces. “These factors are clearly quite outside our control, and render meaningless references to a fixed timetable.” In contrast, as their press release began, their resolution called for “withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam on a fixed schedule to be determined only by factors within United States control.”
Chapter 23: Leaving Rand
330 “But that probably lay a year and a half to two years in the future:” At this point—indeed, for five more years—I was ignorant of the November 1969 Ultimatum and the Duck Hook plans, so I had no thought at all at the beginning of 1970 that Nixon might escalate on his own initiative (to carry out prior threats, and to press Hanoi to meet his demands) in the absence of North Vietnamese escalation. In other words, I didn’t foresee the invasion of Cambodia in April, any more than anyone else.
333 “I said, ‘Oh, forget it:'” It turned out to be lucky that neither the Senate nor the New York Times, or any of the other papers, offered so much as a dime for the copying, which cost me all my savings. Dean Griswold, Nixon’s Solicitor-General who argued the case for the injunctions before the Supreme Court, later said that the main investigative requirement he laid on the FBI was to try to find any evidence that I had been compensated or benefited in any way by the papers.

“I expected the FBI to call any day:” On April 28, 1970, the FBI went to Harry Rowan with a report that I’d given the Pentagon Papers to Fulbright. Whatever his personal reaction to this report, Harry told them, “That wouldn’t be a security breach; Fulbright is entitled to have them.” He went on to report that I would be giving up my clearances anyway, now that I was going to MIT.

Harry didn’t tell me about this interview, since the FBI investigation was ongoing. But in fact, the FBI terminated their investigation at this point, because of risk of “embarrassment to the Bureau” by crossing Fulbright. (Evidence of all this was later withheld, improperly, during my trial, until the last week, when the raw FBI reports, found in Howard Hunt’s White House safe, were turned over to me.) I knew nothing of this, while I continued to work part-time for RAND and continued copying the Pentagon Papers up until September. I had indeed given the Papers to Fulbright, by this time, but it remained unclear what, if anything he would do with them.


“The word he used for the impression the chief executive made on him was ‘insane:'” Interestingly, it was less than twenty-four hours after I heard this from Mathias that President Nixon left the White House alone with his valet, Manolo Sanchez, at 4:30 AM Sunday morning, to hold discussions at the Lincoln Memorial with some of the hundred thousand students who were pouring into the city to protest his invasion. Several of these were reported in the Washington Post the next day to have received the impression from his comments to them, which centered on surfing in California and football teams, that the President seemed out of his mind.

Anthony Summers, in his recent book The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon (New York: Penguin, 2000, 361-368) reports a number of observers who were highly concerned about the President’s mental stability, precisely during this episode, but also on other occasions. (Oddly, Summers does not draw a connection between Nixon’s mental state during this crisis, in which he was observably upset and depressed by the public reaction to his invasion, and Summers’ own revelation of Nixon’s reliance on Dilantin, a highly active drug intended to prevent seizures but “prescribed” to him for depression by a rich funder, not a doctor.)

Chapter 24: Kissinger
344 “It wasn’t a tactic I was recommending:” I would wish that this went without saying; but over the years various writers, hearing only the (ironic) titles of my lectures have supposed that I had endorsed this strategy, an infuriatingly mistaken inference. In the fifties, with memories of World II still fresh, associating the tactic with Hitler assured I would be understood as stigmatizing it to the ultimate extent. That seemed not to be true ten years later. Yes, the strategy could work, in the short-run. That was why we had to recognize that it might be picked up by a sufficiently crazy and desperate adversary: not the sort of leader I would ever wish on the US (or foresaw for us, as of 1959). But even from a pragmatic point of view, even for Hitlers—I point out in my paper—it worked only until it failed, catastrophically.

“Hitler’s tactic, as such, was in the mind of the top White House advisor:” Some have inferred that Nixon actually got the idea of the tactic of unpredictability from me, via Kissinger. That disquieting thought occurred to me, too, when I first saw the phrase “Madman Theory” in Haldeman’s memoirs, until I noted that Nixon was using it in 1968, well before he had begun a relationship with Rockefeller’s man Kissinger.

Nor for that matter did Kissinger need stimulus from me for the basic idea. He had repeatedly endorsed the practice of deliberate ambiguity and unpredictability in connection with first-use nuclear threats in his early writings and his first book, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, published in 1957 two years before my lecture on the “uses of madness.” It was also a theme of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles in his strategy of “brinkmanship” during the Eisenhower-Nixon era. (Understandably, neither of them, extolling this tactic for the US, stigmatized it by using the word “madness” or associating it with Hitler.) No doubt this notion of Kissinger’s was part of what Nixon admired in Kissinger’s book, and what may have attracted him to Kissinger as an assistant, just as conversely it was what I and some others at RAND most deplored in the nuclear policies of Dulles, Nixon, and Kissinger.


“Cambodia was undertaken for very complicated reasons:” I guessed, from leaks that had come out, that he meant that Nixon’s decision to send American troops into Cambodia, which the Joint Chiefs had not proposed, had a mix of domestic political motives and diplomatic coercive aims that went beyond narrow military benefits. Nixon reportedly was furious at Congress for turning down both Haynsworth and Carswell for the Supreme Court, and he was in a mood to “show them who was boss” by a display of Executive initiative: invading a neutral country! And he wanted to demonstrate to Hanoi, China and the Soviet Union his unpredictability, his willingness to escalate beyond the bounds of what LBJ had been willing to do, even the bounds of rationality, that he wouldn’t be held back by domestic constraints: the “madman theory” Kissinger had recalled in his opening comments in front of me and Lloyd Shearer.

No doubt that combination of motives looked unprecedented, sui generis, to Nixon and Kissinger; yet it was a mixture of domestic and external motives very similar to the brew that yielded the Tonkin Gulf incidents six years earlier, during the campaign against Goldwater. Each official in a position like Kissinger’s—high enough to know the bearing of domestic political considerations and also the president’s private strategy—thought that, unlike their predecessors, the president had very special considerations in mind that called for this particular judgment and escalation: reasons that they were hiding from the public.

What they didn’t know was how similar these reasons were to the ones that had moved their predecessors to similar actions. They were ignorant because those predecessors had hidden these reasons from them as members of the public. Thus each person in those offices thought his predecessors had made wrong decisions for stupid ideological and geopolitical reasons, where he was making the same decisions for quite different, very clever, subtle and complicated reasons, including domestic political calculations. And so, year after year, the war went on.

Chapter 25: Congress

“He had often shown great concern:” In Fulbright: A Biography (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995) Randall B. Woods quotes from an Apri1 1, 1971 memo from Jones to Fulbright:

I am very leery about Dan Ellsberg and believe that we should keep him at arm’s length. I have repeatedly warned him about not getting the Committee’s name involved in any way in his efforts to do something with the material he wants to get out, but I fear that for his own purposes sometime he may let it be known that he has supplied the Committee with a copy (605).

In the end, when I finally did make my first public statement on coming out of hiding for arraignment, I had someone call Fulbright to tell him that I felt I did have to reveal that I had first given the study to him. I wanted to give him warning, so that he could prepare his explanation to his Committee. He responded that he didn’t mind at all my revealing that. On the contrary, he said he admired greatly what I had done and felt it would be very useful to the country.


“he wouldn’t feel inhibited any longer about scheduling hearings and calling witnesses:” This situation did come about when the newspapers published the Papers later that year: i.e. Fulbright and other Committee chairmen were relieved of the responsibility of revealing the documents themselves. In fact, after the newspaper publication, the Administration finally yielded to the Congressional demand for a copy of the study and delivered a set of the classified documents, which had to be read by Congresspersons themselves in a special, secured room. Soon after, they turned over a somewhat censored, unclassified version to Congress and the public, which could readily have been used in open hearings. And immediately after the newspaper publication, both Majority Leader Senator Mansfield and Senator Fulbright were quoted as saying that hearings should be held promptly.

Meanwhile, President Nixon was hunting for a conservative chairman—perhaps Representative Hebert, chair of the House Armed Service Committee—to hold hostile hearings on the release of the Papers, with the intention of attacking me as a witness and through other testimony. Yet no hearings at all occurred. This is still a puzzle to me (as well as a great disappointment at the time.) The Hebert hearings (we now learn from the Nixon tapes) were postponed at the Administration request till after the US-promoted reelection of Thieu in Vietnam, but then (for reasons not yet revealed) they were never held. Nor did Fulbright ever schedule the hearings I wanted.


“I really did sympathize with his position as a presidential candidate:” I never felt critical of McGovern for his choice, given his candidacy. I got over my disappointment almost immediately when he told me, and I later campaigned energetically for him during the break in my trial in 1972.

Nevertheless, I was not happy with his later explanation of his decision, after the Papers were published, and his accounts of our conversation. In press conferences a few months later, just after the Times began publication, McGovern gave a very different description of our interaction (see below), one which could be said to be almost the opposite of reality. In an oral history years later, he reiterated and elaborated this false version of events. See Nixon: An Oral History of His Presidency, Gerald S. Strober and Deborah Hart Strober (New York: HarperCollins, 1996):

George McGovern: Ellsberg came to me with those papers; he had first gone to Fulbright and wanted him to release them. He said, “No; that’s against the law. I can’t do it.” Then Ellsberg came to me and I told him pretty much the same thing. I said, “Why don’t you do it?” He said, “I could be prosecuted.” So I said, “I am supposed to be prosecuted? I have been against the war. You were for the war; you were one of the architects of our policy. Why shouldn’t you take the risk if you feel strongly about it? Why don’t you take the risk of going to jail? Why do you ask a U.S. senator? I’m sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and I’ve told young people who were against the war that if they can’t fight, they should be prepared to go to jail. We are a society of laws, and I am not going to recommend amnesty until the war is over. As long as the war is on-and it is the law of the land-you either have to go or be willing to go to jail. I feel the same way about this: if these papers are as rich a lode as you say they are, then you probably have some obligation to think through whether it is worth breaking the law to release them. If it is, then you should be prepared to go to jail. But I am not going to tell young people all over this country that they should obey the law and then break it myself.’ He was very disappointed and—I think—somewhat indignant about it, but I turned him down the same day as Fulbright did. A few days later, he released the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times” (200-201).

Not a word of this is true.


“‘This is the language of torturers:'” It was the first time that I had heard that precise description of the bombing that had now been going on for six years, with some intermissions: the torture of a society. I had actually raised the question, in a seminar discussion of “coercive diplomacy” at the Council on Foreign Relations a few months earlier, of how best to name distinctively this particular form of coercion, in which actual pain and destruction was being imposed. How to distinguish it from the coercion in crises like the Cuban Missile Crisis in which there were verbal threats and demonstrative maneuvers but no actual shots were fired (except for the downing of a U-2)? To lump these two processes together as simply coercion could be misleading; in fact, I suggested that the officials, much the same ones in the Missile Crisis and the onset of the Rolling Thunder bombing campaign against North Vietnam, had been insufficiently conscious of this difference between the two situations.

Out of my interest in bargaining theory, I asked for suggested terms that would convey the specific process in which, to reinforce the effect of continuing threats, some threats had begun to be carried out. No one at the seminar-all men who had taken part in such crises-came up with anything. All this came back to me as I heard Patricia’s reaction. Specifically, I recalled, no one had mentioned the word, “torture.” Or, “terrorism”-another term that now came into my mind, as even more apt than “torture.” We were, after all, focusing on American policies. We were all former or current American officials, and those were words we had never thought of associating with actions by Americans. With officials like us. With ourselves. Perhaps it was easier for Patricia to solve the verbal riddle that had stumped me and my smart colleagues; she was the first person to read these Papers who was not in some degree incriminated herself by them.

Chapter 26: To the New York Times

“there was no way to assure that documents with headings like these wouldn’t ring an alarm bell:” My concern turned out to have had some basis, perhaps especially in the Square where many of the copiers were Harvard students. Many years later, John Kenneth Galbraith told me that when the New York Times had started publishing the Papers in June of 1971 he had urged his son to read them, with a good deal of excitement. (He was also a little apprehensive, he told me, that his own cables from Saigon, which he had visited in 1961 and 1962 at President Kennedy’s request, would turn up in this series and that they might not read quite as well as he liked to remember them.) His son, who was a senior at Harvard at the time, had looked at the pages of documents in the Times and said, “Oh, yes, I’ve read all those already.”

Galbraith said, “That’s impossible! These are all classified documents; they’ve never been released.” His son told him that he had a Harvard friend working at Gnomen Copy in the Square who had been copying them one night a few months earlier. He had read a few pages and decided they looked so interesting that he had made an extra copy of the whole order—and some subsequent batch—for himself and his friends. They were stored in the basement of Quincy House, where Galbraith’s son had read them. At least Harvard students weren’t likely, in 1971, to summon the police.

372 “Others went to friends’ attics or basements”: It was because Patricia had urged me to make these copies, and then spread them around, that we were later able to distribute so many chunks of the Papers to different newspapers.
Chapter 28: Approaching June 13

“I thought it certainly would deserve a Pulitzer Prize:” As Austin interviewed many others and searched archives and available records exhaustively, he kept in touch with me about his findings and, especially, his ongoing hypotheses about the course of events. I’ve never seen a journalist–and rarely an historian–so thorough in laying out the questions at issue, alternative hypotheses, points of evidence that might bear on these, and plans for acquiring critical evidence. He was like a highly professional trial lawyer, or a natural scientist. And in the end, to my real astonishment, all this effort paid off. He did what I had said I didn’t believe he could do.

Although virtually all evidence regarding a second attack was negative, there remained the fact of top secret cables of intercepted North Vietnamese radio transmissions which McNamara had read aloud during his congressional testimony. These supposedly described the second North Vietnamese attack on our destroyers. This remained really the only substantial evidence of any attack on August 4. The problem was that the details seemed to correspond more to the previous attack on August 2. The cables themselves had never been submitted in evidence and remained classified. But Austin, astonishingly, was able to determine that because of misfiling in the Pentagon the cables that McNamara had presented did in fact come from the earlier August 2 incident. It was one of the most impressive journalistic coups I’ve ever seen.

Chapter 29: Going Underground

“I said I wasn’t going to speculate on that:” Long before the publication of the Papers I had decided that if, at a certain point, it seemed very likely that there would be an indictment and prosecution, I would reveal myself as the sole source. I wanted to be able to say this as emphatically as possible and with convincing detail, thus doing as much as I could to take the legal pressure off those who would otherwise be suspected of complicity with me, whether on the basis of their friendship with me, their antiwar views, or their role in producing the Papers. If I kept silent or took the Fifth Amendment, I wouldn’t be able to comment on the role of others and I would leave them under suspicion.

On the other hand, I always thought there was some possibility that the Administration would choose, for some political reason, not to prosecute, even if they felt privately confident that they knew the source of the leak. This seemed to have happened with my leaks in March 1968, for reasons I didn’t know. I didn’t yet understand the weakness, or non-existence, of a legal foundation for prosecution, though by this time I’d gotten some inkling of this possibility. If, for some reason, they didn’t want to indict me, I didn’t want to force their hand into doing so by acknowledging my role. I wanted to leave them the out, or the cover, of saying they couldn’t be sure of the source. (It turns out that White House Domestic Counsel John Erlichman, a lawyer, was at that time strongly advising President Nixon not to prosecute me, on political grounds; he felt the trial would simply give me more prominence and a platform for my views against the war.)

In fact, absent any revelations by the newspapers or the Congressmen to whom I had given the Papers, or by me or any of those who had helped me copy or distribute them, the Justice Department would have had a very hard job of proving in court, or even demonstrating to a grand jury, that I was in fact the source, or even that I had copied the documents. My fingerprints on the originals of the documents in my safe proved nothing; I had authorized access to those and had been reading them for my research. Had they called me before a grand jury (unlikely, since I was from the first the principal suspect) I would have told them the truth, but they couldn’t know that in advance.

Thus, Sidney Zion’s assertion that I had given the Papers to the Times, long before any arrest order had been issued for me, was highly relevant to the problem the Justice Department faced as to how to proceed. His statement was hearsay, but a clear signal to the investigators that some on the newspaper were talking (to Zion, initially) and that a grand jury should be able to get credible testimony. (Eventually, the warrant for my arrest was based not on evidence from inside any of the newspapers but on affidavits from my former wife and some others in LA).

Zion’s action, as he more or less admitted, was really his way of getting back at the Times for firing him earlier. Almost immediately he faced great attack from the journalistic community for revealing a source merely, as he himself acknowledged, to satisfy his ego. He defended himself against the charge, at the time and for years thereafter, on the grounds that he “knew” that his revelation would have no bearing on the legal proceedings and that, for various reasons, I wouldn’t mind it. These claims were self-serving and, in both cases, mistaken. But since I was in position to go into hiding at the time he made his announcement and did manage to elude the FBI, I wasn’t, at the time, particularly concerned about Zion’s initiative. I had been expecting some such revelation by someone sooner or later.

What I had not been expecting were the revelations from the Congressmen who soon joined him. After all, that was only Sid Zion on the Barry Gray show, repeating hearsay or speculation. It was considerably more startling, and unsettling, for me to be watching the national news on television a night or so later, in a hotel room where we were staying under assumed names, and see Senator George McGovern announcing to a press conference he had called in the Capitol that he had been offered the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg in his Senate office several months earlier. He said that he had declined to accept them, because he could not be party to breaking the law (see note for p. 363, above), but that he had urged me to take them to the New York Times. Evidently, the Senator said, I had followed his suggestion.

I didn’t wait for the rest of the discussion. I raced down the hall to the elevator, ran out of the hotel, which was on the banks of the Charles River, and found a pay phone on a side street a block away. I didn’t want to call from the hotel, leaving a record of a call to McGovern, whose phone might also be tapped by this time. In a rage, I dialed the private office number McGovern had given me months before, identified myself, and demanded to talk to his chief of staff. “What the fuck is going on there?!” I said in a fury to the high-level staffer who took the phone. The press conference was still going on as we spoke, apparently in the hall outside the office. “What do you guys think you’re doing? McGovern swore to me that he would never, never reveal my name.”

“Sorry, sorry,” the aide said, “but it’s gone beyond that.” Meaning what? Apparently, beyond the value of his assurance. “It’s gotten too big. It’s out of control.” As a news story, that was for sure. Starting about June 15, a few days earlier, with the federal request for an injunction, various aspects of the Pentagon Papers story occupied at least the first fifteen minutes of the half-hour national news on all three networks every evening for the next thirty days.

But McGovern was adding hard news to this coverage. He was the first person to give first-hand testimony linking me to the unauthorized distribution of the Papers, and a clear circumstantial link to their receipt by the Times. As I learned later, the FBI a year earlier had learned that I had copied the documents and given them to Senator Fulbright, but they had backed off even from further investigation, let alone pursuing an indictment, in the sole context of my having supplied them to a senator (see note for p. 334, above). In the wake of the newspaper publication and the government’s request for injunctions, it was a new world. Senator McGovern’s announcement that I had copied the study and offered it to him (he didn’t mention that he had initially accepted it, or that at his suggestion I had given parts of the classified study to his assistant) was more than enough basis for the Justice Department to proceed, if they wanted to.

What may have been beyond McGovern’s control was his own ability to bring himself to stand aside from that news current. He was, after all, running for the presidency. The same, ironically, applied to Representative McCloskey, the other person to whom I’d given a large batch of the Papers to release. He had already planned to offer himself as a symbolic rival to Nixon for the Republican nomination on the issue of the war. After he was quoted as having been offered the Papers by me, he too spoke to the press crowding outside his office. Again, I watched him, live on the news, announcing that he had received the Papers from me. Unlike McGovern, McCloskey sounded very supportive of what I had done. But as I saw it, watching this, he was still nailing down the effects of McGovern’s revelation on the calculations of the Justice Department. I went through the same drill, racing down to the outdoors pay phone to shout at the staff member who answered the call while this session was still going on.

(Former) Senator Goodell, who joined my defense team soon after, explained to me when I described with considerable indignation the behavior of his former colleagues: “Dan, when you’re running for president and you have a chance to get on the national evening news, there’s no way, no way, you’re going to turn that opportunity down.” It was an unfortunate coincidence for me that that applied to two of the three Congressmen to whom I gave the Papers.

Chapter 31: The Road to Watergate
440 “‘Obtain Ellsberg’s files from him psychiatric analysis:” I received, on discovery near the end of my trial, a copy of the 1971 Time cover article on me, taken from a White House safe. The label on the cover is addressed to Howard Hunt. His own markings with a pen are on the margins. Around the paragraph that mentions that I had gone to a psychoanalyst in Beverly Hills, there is a heavy circle. It marked the moment when that item caught the attention of the first Plumber, and the fate of the Nixon Administration was sealed.


(Outtake by Daniel Ellsberg from Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers; it fits in between pp. 408 and 409. Part of this outtake was adapted from Ellsberg’s 1972 book Papers on the War)

After entering the Post Office Building, Charlie Nesson, Leonard Boudin, Patricia and I took the elevator to the eleventh-floor offices of the U.S. Attorney, Herbert F. Travers, Jr. Apparently, I wasn’t even under arrest yet. They were going along with the script that I was surrendering to the U.S. Attorney, right on the schedule my lawyers had promised. (We had arrived at the Square at almost exactly ten o’clock). I introduced myself to Travers and said that I was appearing in response to the arrest warrant. FBI agents in the office placed me under arrest and took me to the U.S. Marshal’s office for photographs and fingerprinting. Patricia and my lawyers went off to the courtroom where I would be appearing for arraignment.

It was the first time I’d ever been arrested. (The next time, for an action of civil disobedience, was five years later, at the Pentagon. Since then I’ve gone through this process between sixty and seventy times.) The first time I’d stood for a mug shot. But I was an old hand at being fingerprinted. I’d given my prints in the Marine Corps, and every time I got a new clearance, at RAND, the Defense Department, the State Department. (1)

When I’d cleaned off my fingers, we went up a flight to the courtroom on the 12th floor, with two Federal Marshals holding my arms tightly (in lieu of handcuffs).(2) With Patricia in the spectator section, I sat behind a brass rail while Leonard Boudin debated Assistant U.S. Attorney Lawrence P. Cohen over bail. Cohen said that the “severity of the crime as measured by the punishment”‘—a possible 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine—justified setting bail at $100,000. He argued that was further required because I had eluded the FBI over the weekend instead of turning myself in immediately on issuance of the warrant. “This suggests the defendant has the resources to remain in hiding and frustrate this court.”

Boudin asked in contrast that I be released on my own recognizance. Magistrate Princi expressed a concern that if the defendant was proved guilty of being insensitive to laws protecting secret documents, then “might he not be also insensitive to his obligation to appear if he found things were not going as he anticipated.” Boudin’s answer was to read a long list of my accomplishments and former positions, including special assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense and special assistant to the United States Ambassador to Vietnam, as evidence of my reliability. Of course, that recital seemed to cut two ways. Recent events leading to my seat at the moment behind the brass rail might suggest that my reliability, from some points of view, was not what it had once been. Furthermore, my lawyer was not entirely candid when he went on to say that the reason I had waited until today to surrender was to avoid the “Roman holiday” atmosphere that sometimes surrounded major FBI arrests. If that had been my objective, it would not have seemed very successful in view of the scene in the Square below. But the magistrate seemed, after all, to be searching for a reason not to have to set bail for me. He asked my lawyers if they would be responsible for my later appearances.

That wasn’t the kind of stance I wanted to take. I didn’t want to hide behind lawyers. And in explaining my actions or talking about the war or the contents of the Papers, I didn’t want my public statements from now on to be framed by lawyers, or to have that appearance. From the beginning, I had Leonard Boudin’s agreement that I would be my own spokesperson, on all matters that weren’t legal technicalities. Other lawyers, less in tune with our politics and unconcerned about political objectives in the trial, would have wanted to clamp a lid on me and might have demanded to be the sole channel for communications to the press. I could never have accepted that. But the issue never arose with Boudin and Nesson, or the others who joined our defense team.

My lawyers understood that this was a continuous political action from my point of view, with political objectives. That was true not only of the initial actions and my public statements but of key aspects of the conduct of my legal defense in the trial. I had to be free to talk to the press and the public and to be the judge of what I wanted to communicate. This was one of those moments. One of my main themes was to encourage officials and former officials to acknowledge their personal responsibility for their actions, even in the face of superior orders. And on this day, I was trying to ram home at every possible opportunity that I bore sole responsibility for the actions that had brought me here, not shared with any former colleagues. Before my lawyers could respond to the magistrate’s suggestion that they might be responsible for me, I stood up and asked permission to address the court. I said, “Your honor, no one here can take responsibility for me. I am responsible for myself, for my own actions. I ask that my own responsibility for my appearance be accepted.”

I was just trying to make the point. I didn’t expect it to be accepted. I had already assumed I would have to spend time in jail while bail was being arranged, and I suspected that my intervention now to reject the magistrate’s alternative made that even more likely. But Princi said, “I am going to take you at your word. I am going to put you on $50,000 bail without surety.” Releasing me on this “personal recognizance bond” meant I didn’t have to put up any cash or bond, though I would be liable for the full amount if I missed any court appearances. He also ordered that my passport be turned over to the court. He said, “You’re going to walk out and be free.” It was a nice beginning to our two years of court proceedings. Princi set July 15 for a hearing on my removal to Los Angeles, where the case was expected to be tried.

Patricia and I left the courtroom and went down to face a bank of cameras and reporters in the midst of the crowd still filling Post Office Square. I urged everyone to read the documents for themselves, and repeated my hope that the disclosures would help free ourselves from the war. Someone asked if I had any regrets. I said certainly not. I said I was very pleased with the way the newspapers had defended the First Amendment. “As a matter of fact, it’s been a long time since I had as much hope for the institutions of this country. When I see how the press and the courts have responded to their responsibilities to defend these rights, I am very happy about that as an American citizen.”

As I finished speaking to the crowd of press outside the Post Office Building, a New York Times reporter identified himself and asked if he could speak to me separately. I had a moment’s hesitation, remembering Lloyd Shearer’s warning about giving exclusives, that seeming to favor one outlet over another would make other journalists angry. But the Times did seem to have a special claim in my case, even though many of the nineteen papers that had followed their lead were also represented in this throng. The reporter ended his story about Monday’s events:

“After having consented somewhat reluctantly to the interview, [Ellsberg] discussed his motives for publicizing the documents. ‘I have wanted for about two years to try to raise the issue of personal responsibility and accountability of officials,’ he said, ‘not to punish but to make current officials conscious of their responsibility.’ He took pains to dispute press reports that he was racked by guilt over his role in Vietnam, where he was connected with the pacification program.

“‘The simple fact is that I never felt tortured by guilt by anything I did in Vietnam,’ he asserted. ‘The kind of thing I do blame myself for is not informing myself earlier than I did about the origins of the conflict.’ He went on to say that his knowledge of the contents of the study was what drove him because it gave him a responsibility.”

Of course, it was more than my reading of the Papers that had given me a sense of responsibility. It was my whole association with the war. In these, my first public comments on my motives after the release of the Papers, I was trying to send a message to my former colleagues, former officials and researchers and consultants on the war and some still serving as insiders. It was a message about responsibility that I hoped might encourage some of them to do something like what I had done, to go beyond what they might otherwise have thought of doing, ideally to tell the public what they might know, with documents, about current policy.

I must say that my hopes of inspiring some insiders to follow my example didn’t seem to meet with much success, so far as I knew. I suspect that failure reflected less the shortcomings of my own efforts than on the success of the Administration’s efforts—precisely by putting me on trial facing heavy criminal penalties—to warn them against imitating me. Still, I could have been much more explicit in urging current and former insiders to do just that, and in seeking out individuals and addressing groups with that appeal, and in retrospect I wish I had done that. I feared then and later that it would seem self-serving and invidious for me to make that point—”You should consider doing what I did”—and so it would, no doubt. But they needed to hear it from someone, and regrettably, no one else was telling them that.

The Administration’s aims in this area were exactly opposite to mine. Their decision to bring an unprecedented criminal prosecution was in large part motivated by their need to dampen the encouragement to potential imitators of my open and unapologetic challenge to the norms of the secrecy system. No doubt Nixon and Kissinger failed to perceive that their secret Vietnam policy was foolish, reckless and hopeless, but they did understand that many others would see it that way if, by virtue of new leaks, it ceased to be secret from the American public. In this respect of discouraging revelations by others, my prosecution may have been a success, even though some Administration officials may have foreseen that they might not win or sustain a conviction.

In these very first public comments on June 28, my focus on feelings of personal responsibility as a spur to action and revelations reflected a “sermon” I had given just over a month earlier. I had been invited to address the congregation of the Community Church in Boston, which had a long history of speakers on civil rights and antiwar issues. On Sunday, May 23, I chose the topic, “The Responsibility of Officials in a Criminal War.” That focus, in turn, had been stimulated just the previous week by reading an interview with Albert Speer—third man in the wartime Nazi hierarchy—in, of all places, the current June issue of Playboy. That interview had sent me back to his memoir Inside the Third Reich, published that year, 1971. I ended my talk that Sunday by reading aloud a number of excerpts from that book and the interview. It was unusual to be reading from Playboy in a church sermon, but this was an unusual interview; in fact, I’ve never seen one comparable to it, certainly no by American cabinet officer has ever given an interview like it.

Speer had spent twenty years in Spandau Prison for his service to Hitler in charge of war production. He had put the time to good use in reflecting on his experience and how he had come to persist so long in so mad and wrongful an enterprise. None of my former superiors or colleagues had had such an opportunity (though Nixon did his best to provide it for me; I was the only American civilian official put on trial for activities related to the Vietnam War). We all could benefit a great deal, it seemed to me, from his reflections, despite the great and obvious differences in the two historical episodes.

Speer was the only one of the defendants at the Nuremberg trial who accepted full responsibility for his actions and for those of the regime. He included those acts in which he had taken no part, even those he said he had been ignorant of at the time. His fellow defendants were amazed by this position, and his own lawyer urged him not to take it. Ever since that trial there have been some observers who felt that by claiming ignorance about the Holocaust yet acknowledging culpability for it nevertheless and showing remorse, Speer was simply following a clever and cynical strategy to minimize his guilt and evade hanging. But that’s not at all the conclusion I reach from his writings or the Playboy interview. These made a very strong impression on me when I read them in mid-May, 1971, at a time when I was still working and hoping imminently to bring the Pentagon Papers to the public, either through the Times or McCloskey or Gravel. They were much in my mind, not only when I spoke to the audience at the Community Church—a surprising number of whom, it turned out, were refugees from Hitler’s Germany—but a month later when I first faced the press outside the courthouse.

It seemed to me that Speer was setting for himself, and implicitly for others, an unfamiliar and very high standard of accountability. Nevertheless, once you thought about it, it was hard to reject. Taken seriously, it had very challenging implications for myself and for my former colleagues.

Speer was saying that his (claimed) ignorance of certain criminal operations of the regime in which he had been a high official was not a defense, that it did not even attenuate his own responsibility for these crimes. How could that be? He said it was because he had been in a position to know about them, that he could and should have known, and that in effect he chose not to know. And he said that such willed ignorance, far from being an excuse for inaction against such evils, conveyed full responsibility for them (just as if he had fully known, and had failed to do all he could to expose and prevent them). Few Americans have been willing to take that standard seriously; many, both inside and outside government during the Vietnam War, including myself, would stand condemned by it.

He writes:

“[N]ot to have tried to see through the whole apparatus of mystification was already criminal. At this initial stage my guilt was as grave as, at the end, my work for Hitler. For being in a position to know and nevertheless shunning knowledge creates direct responsibility for the consequences from the very beginning. . . .

“In the final analysis I myself determined the degree of my isolation, the extremity of my evasions, and the extent of my ignorance. . . . Whether I knew or did not know, or how much how little I knew, is totally unimportant when I consider what horrors I ought to have known about and what conclusions would have been natural ones to draw from the little I did know. Those who ask me are fundamentally expecting me to offer justifications. But I have none. No apologies are possible.”(3)

“Could it be,” John McNaughton once asked me in 1964, as he copied cables about the US-encouraged military coup against the elected president of Brazil, “that our foreign policy is nothing but counter-revolution?” “If what you say is true,” he had said six months later to RAND researchers briefing him on the motivation and morale of Viet Cong guerrillas in Vietnam, “we’re fighting on the wrong side.” Might it be true? Six months after that I asked McNaughton: “Could Victor Bator be right, in his description of the ’54 Geneva Accords? Could we be the ones in greatest violation of that agreement?” “If we’re willing to use B-52s in Vietnam,” I had asked myself that spring when they were first employed, “where would we draw the line? What will we end up doing?” All these were questions that if pursued might have led at the least to troubled consciences for us, and trouble for our careers if we had acted on that conscience. It was no accident that we didn’t pursue them. It was after these questions were raised—and for that matter, six months after the onset of the Rolling Thunder bombing campaign against North Vietnam, whose hopelessness and wrongfulness was not for me a question at all but a near-certainty—that I volunteered to serve in Vietnam.

Speer, too, acknowledges vague but urgent warnings, evidence for suspicion: precisely enough, he reflects later in his prison cell, to warn him away from following them up. An old friend Hanke came expressly to tell him, in a faltering voice:

“[N]ever to accept an invitation to inspect a concentration camp in Upper Silesia. Never, under any circumstances. He had seen something there, which he was not permitted to describe and moreover could not describe. I did not query him. I did not query Himmler, I did not query Hitler, I did not speak with personal friends. I did not investigate—for I did not want to know what was happening there. Hanke must have been speaking of Auschwitz. During those few seconds, while Hanke was warning me, the whole responsibility had become a reality again. Those seconds were uppermost in my mind when I stated to the International Court at the Nuremberg Trial that as an important member of the leadership of the Reich, I had to share the total responsibility for all that had happened. For from that moment on, I was inescapably contaminated morally; from fear of discovering something that might have made me turn from my course, I had closed my eyes. This deliberate blindness outweighs whatever good I may have done or tried to do in the last period of the way. [He had disobeyed and even sabotaged Hitler’s direct orders to him to execute a scorched-earth policy in Germany.] Those activities shrink to nothing in the face of it. Because I failed at that time, I still feel, to this day, responsible for Auschwitz in a wholly personal sense.”(4)

From 1965 to 1968, and perhaps to this day, Robert McNamara managed to believe that the strict monitoring of targets and Rules of Engagement he and the President were exerting at their Tuesday Luncheons was reflected on the ground in North Vietnam in a virtual absence of damage to civilians. When Harrison Salisbury came back from Hanoi with the contrary evidence of his own eyes, he was accused by the Defense Department of peddling Communist propaganda.

In our study of Roles and Missions relating to pacification for the Embassy in 1966, one of the 81 recommendations to Ambassador Lodge and General Westmoreland that we singled out as especially important was that an urgent study be made of the actual impact of current practices of bombing and artillery, both the physical consequences in terms of VC and civilians killed and injured and the effects on rural attitudes. Nearly everyone in our study group already believed from his own personal observations that the great majority of our bombing and artillery—aside from close support of ground combat operations—was “counterproductive” in both its human and political effects and should be terminated. But we knew that there would be strong military opposition to any reduction in bombardment. If we had simply proposed to eliminate most of it immediately, we knew our recommendations would be dismissed as subjective and unfounded, even though our group included some of the most experienced Americans in Vietnam, among them John Vann and our leader Colonel George Jacobson. We thought it would be harder for the various agencies to reject a proposal for a study, which after all had never been undertaken.

But it turned out not to be that hard. That was almost surely because those agencies included people who knew as well as we did that such a study would support our personal opinions, that we should stop what amounted to indiscriminate bombing and shelling of the rural population. That was, after all, why such a study had never been done: and was never to be done. But they didn’t say that. The Mission Council simply rejected our cautious proposal (along with most of our others) saying that it was “unnecessary.” Even the civilian Public Affairs Office opposed it, obviously fearing that any leak to the press of official statistics on civilian damage would have bad effects on public opinion at home. It was for the same reason that no agency collected any data whatever on civilian injuries and deaths or projected any estimates of these. It was the institutional counterpart of Speer’s (and I would guess McNamara’s) personal “need not to know.”

Two and a half years later, under a new Administration, one of the questions I drafted as part of NSSM-1 was: “How adequate is our information on the overall scale and incidence of damage to civilians by air and artillery, and looting and misbehavior by RVNAF?” In the spring of 1969 I reviewed for President Nixon the answers from all relevant agencies to this question, which made clear, as I expected, that such information remained inadequate or nonexistent. I reported this to the president, and I drafted a presidential directive on the subject of “Reporting and Compensation of Civilian Damage in South Vietnam.” I proposed that the Secretary of Defense, with the assistance of the Secretary of State and the Director of Central Intelligence, establish procedures assuring comprehensive regular reporting of damage to civilian lives and property caused by U.S. and allied operations. As a base point for this reporting, a study should establish as realistically as possible the magnitude of past and current damage and the nature of current gaps in our knowledge and reporting. The two Secretaries should evaluate the adequacy in scale and promptness of current programs for compensating civilian victims, providing medical aid for civilian injured, and handling refugees, and recommending needed improvements, including U.S. support costs.

A week after I sent this draft memorandum, along with others, to Henry Kissinger for his approval on March 1, 1969, I was told that all the proposals looked worthwhile but that the agencies “had been asked enough questions [by me, in NSSM-1] for the moment.” That seemed reasonable, for the moment. But two years later, when the list of studies directed had reached over a hundred, this particular one had still not been included (as Winston Lord had confirmed for me in January, 1971, the night I questioned Kissinger at the MIT Runnymede Conference). There were some things Executive officials knew well they didn’t want to know.

I could try to comfort myself by telling myself that I had used opportunities that had come my way to urge my superiors to inform themselves about the human consequences of their policies. The effort had failed, but I had been on the right side of that issue. And yet, as I read Speer’s interview, I was forced to remember that the first recommendation was in the middle of my two years in Vietnam. It was followed by another year in which, though I did make other such recommendations, I did not by any means do everything I could have done to inform myself of the dimensions of the burden imposed on the people of Indochina by U.S. firepower, let alone to inform anyone else. And the same was true of my effort in early 1969.

Thus, on that first day “up from underground” when I was asked what I regretted or felt guilty about, what came to mind first was my own long persistence in ignorance: of the full impact of the American way of war upon the people of Indochina and of the history of the conflict bearing on the nature and legitimacy of our involvement. Willful ignorance was not the only thing to blame, in me or in many other people inside and outside government; but it was a fault for which the release of the Pentagon Papers offered a partial cure. On that day and in the days that followed, I was inviting my former colleagues and the rest of the public to take advantage of the Pentagon Papers now and to go beyond them in reducing their own ignorance.

But speaking a month earlier at the Community Church before the Papers were available to my audience, I focused only on my own experience and what was to be learned from Speer’s. In his words, in the interview published that month:

“If I was isolated, I determined the degree of my own isolation. If I was ignorant, I ensured my own ignorance. If I did not see, it was because I did not want to see. . . . In my own case, there is no way I can avoid responsibility for the extermination of the Jews. I was as much their executioner as Himmler, because they were carried past me to their deaths and I did not see. It is surprisingly easy to blind your moral eyes. I was like a man following a trail of bloodstained footprints through the snow without realizing someone has been injured.(5)

What dominated Speer’s impressions of the past was the Nuremberg trial itself, with its testimony and photographs that presented, inescapably, not abstract “enemies” but individual human beings, victims, who had become, at last, real to the criminal defendants. As real, one might say, as their own hands. Speer recalled in particular “one photograph of a Jewish family going to its death, a husband with his wife and children being led to the gas chamber. I couldn’t rid my mind of that photograph; I would see it in my cell at night. I see it still. It has made a desert of my life.”(6)

When I started reading these passages by Speer aloud to the audience at the Community Church, in Boston on May 23, 1971, my private mood as I began was detached. I was, in fact, imagining that Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, Dean Rusk, or the Presidents they served were listening. I was reading to them. But as I reached the stunning image of the trail of bloodstained footsteps, I heard my voice grow low and halting. I paused, and said to my hearers, “I am finding this difficult to read.” After a moment, I went on, but I brought the talk to an end. I knew that I was one of the listeners I had imagined. It was my own eyes filling in response, my voice gone husky speaking these indictments.

I was there, too, however minor and “innocuous” and skeptical my role. “How can you be part of this?” Patricia had asked me in Saigon in 1966 (in the very week of our abortive recommendations in the Roles and Missions study), shortly before I drew back from our engagement. Years later, hearing me say once again, truthfully—as I told the Times reporter the day of my surrender in Boston—that I felt no guilt for anything I had personally done in Vietnam, she said: “You know, I always hear you say that. But somehow, you should feel more guilty than you do.” It was a while, even then, before I realized that she was right. Yet that knowledge was already implicit in my response to my readings at the Community Church in May.

“My moral failure,” Speer says, “is not a matter of this item and that; it resides in my active association with the whole course of events.” That accusation—and the more specific ones of willful, irresponsible ignorance and neglect of human consequences, and prolonged blinding of conscience—are truths I must live with.


1. Patricia wasn’t with me having the same experience, since for some reason she hadn’t been arrested and indicted—as Tony Russo later was—or even named as an “unindicted co-conspirator” like Vu Van Thai, whose prints were found on one volume. After all, since our copying that spring her fingerprints were all over those documents, probably more even than Tony’s. We could never figure out why she wasn’t indicted. My own guess had been that the prosecutor didn’t want to put her in front of a jury, because she was too sympathetic a figure.

We never really knew, until ten years later, when we got arrested together along with Dan Berrigan protesting the University of California’s ties with the Nuclear Weapons Labs. She remarked, as we were all being fingerprinted, that this was the first time she had ever been fingerprinted. I could hardly believe it. I was only seven years older than she was, and I’d given my prints a dozen times before I’d ever been arrested. But our careers had been different. That answered finally why she hadn’t been indicted. They had her prints on the Papers, all right, but they didn’t have her matching prints on file. Now they did, so she couldn’t get away with that again. It made a difference only for her first act of civil disobedience, copying the Pentagon Papers. But that first step was a tall one.

2. These details and subsequent quotes from the arraignment are from Robert Reinhold’s story in the New York Times, June 29, 1971, datelined June 28 from Boston.

3. Inside the Third Reich (New York: 1971), 19, 113, emphasis added.

4. ibid., p. 113.

5. Playboy, June 1971, 72.

6. ibid.,74.

Civil Disobedience at the Boston Federal Building with Howard Zinn, 1971

(Outtake by Daniel Ellsberg from Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers; it fits in between Chapters 27 and 28)

A day after the May Day protests, Howard Zinn was the last speaker at a large rally in Boston Common. I was at the back of a huge crowd, listening to him over loudspeakers. 27 years later, I can remember some things he said. “On Mayday in Washington thousands of us were arrested for disturbing the peace. But there is no peace. We were really arrested because we were disturbing the war.”

He said, “If Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton had been walking the streets of Georgetown yesterday, they would have been arrested. Arrested for being young.”

At the end of his comments he said, “I want to speak now to some of the members of this audience, the plainclothes policemen among us, the military intelligence agents who are assigned to do surveillance. You are taking the part of secret police, spying on your fellow Americans. You should not be doing what you are doing. You should rethink it, and stop. You do not have to carry out orders that go against the grain of what it means to be an American.”

Those last weren’t his exact words, but that was the spirit of them. He was to pay for that comment the next day, when we were sitting side by side in a blockade of the Federal Building in Boston. We had a circle of people all the way around the building, shoulder to shoulder, so no one could get in or out except by stepping over us. Behind us were crowds of people with posters who were supporting us but who hadn’t chosen to risk arrest. In front of us, keeping us from getting any closer to the main entrance to the building, was a line of policemen, with a large formation of police behind them. All the police had large plastic masks tilted back on their heads and they were carrying long black clubs, about four feet long, like large baseball bats. Later the lawyers told us that city police regulations outlawed the use of batons that long.

But at first the relations with the police were almost friendly. We sat down impudently at the very feet of the policemen who were guarding the entrance, filling in the line that disappeared around the sides until someone came from the rear of the building and announced over a bullhorn, “The blockade is complete. We’ve surrounded the building!” There was a cheer from the crowd behind us, and more people joined us in sitting until the circle was two or three deep.

We expected them to start arresting us, but for a while the police did nothing. They could have manhandled a passage through the line and kept it open for employees to go in or out, but for some reason they didn’t. We thought maybe they really sympathized with our protest, and this was their way of joining in. As the morning wore on, people took apples and crackers and bottles of water out of their pockets and packs and shared them around, and they always offered some to the police standing in front of us. The police always refused, but they seemed to appreciate the offer.

Then one of the officers came over to Howard and said, “You’re Professor Zinn, aren’t you?” Howard said yes, and the officer reached down and shook his hand enthusiastically. He said, “I heard you lecture at the Police Academy. A lot of us here did. That was a wonderful lecture.” Howard had been asked to speak to them about the role of dissent and civil disobedience in American history. Several other policemen came over to pay their respects to Howard and thank him for his lecture. The mood seemed quite a bit different from Washington.

Then a line of employees emerged from the building, wearing coats and ties or dresses. Their arms were raised and they were holding cards in their raised hands. As they circled past us they hold out the cards so we could see what they were: ID cards, showing they were federal employees. They were making the peace-sign with their other hands, they were circling around the building to show solidarity with what we were doing. Their spokesman said over a bullhorn, “We want this war to be over, too! Thank you for what you are doing! Keep it up.” Photographers, including police, were scrambling to take pictures of them, and some of them held up their ID cards so they would get in the picture. It was the high point of the day.

A little while after the employees had gone back inside the building, there was a sudden shift in the mood of the police. An order had been passed. The bloc of police in the center of the square got into tight formation and lowered their plastic helmets. The police standing right in front of us, over us, straightened up, adjusted their uniforms and lowered their masks. Apparently the time had come to start arrests. The supporters who didn’t want to be arrested fell back.

But there was no arrest warning. There was a whistle, and the line of police began inching forward, black batons raised upright. They were going to walk through us or over us, push us back. The man in front of us, who had been talking to Howard about his lecture a little earlier, muttered to us under his breath, “Leave! Now! Quick, get up.” He was warning, not menacing us.

Howard and I looked at each other. We’d come expecting to get arrested. It didn’t seem right to just get up and move because someone told us to, without arresting us. We stayed where we were. No one else left either. Boots were touching our shoes. The voice over our heads whispered intensely, “Move! Please. For God’s sake, move!” Knees in uniform pressed our knees. I saw a club coming down. I put my hands over my head, fists clenched, and a four-foot baton hit my wrist, hard. Another one hit my shoulder.

I rolled over, keeping my arms over my head, got up and moved back a few yards. Howard was being hauled off by several policemen. One had Howard’s arms pinned behind him, another had jerked his head back by the hair. Someone had ripped his shirt in two, there was blood on his bare chest. A moment before he had been sitting next to me and I waited for someone to do the same to me, but no one did. I didn’t see anyone else getting arrested. But no one was sitting anymore, the line had been broken, disintegrated. Those who had been sitting hadn’t moved very far, they were standing like me a few yards back, looking around, holding themselves where they’d been clubbed. The police had stopped moving. They stood in a line, helmets still down, slapping their batons against their hands. Their adrenaline was still up, but they were standing in place.

Blood was running down my hand, covering the back of my hand. I was wearing a Rolex and it had taken the force of the blow. The baton had smashed the crystal and driven pieces of glass into my wrist. Blood was dripping off my fingers. Someone gave me a handkerchief to wrap around my wrist and told me to raise my arm. The handkerchief got soaked quickly and blood was running down my arm while I looked for a first-aid station that was supposed to be at the back of the crowd, in a corner of the square. I finally found it and someone picked the glass out of my arm and put a thick bandage around it. I’d moved my watch to the other arm. It was still running, keeping time, without a crystal. That was impressive (1).

I went back to the protest. My shoulder was aching. The police were standing where they had stopped, and the blockade had reformed, people were sitting ten yards back from where they had been before. There seemed to be more people sitting, not fewer. Many of the supporters had joined in. But it was quiet. No one was speaking loudly, no laughing. People were waiting for the police to move forward again. They weren’t expecting any longer to get arrested.

Only three or four people had been picked out of the line to be arrested before. The police had made a decision (it turned out) to arrest only the “leaders,” not to give us the publicity of arrests and trials. Howard hadn’t been an organizer of this action, he was just participating like the rest of us, but from the way they treated him when they pulled him out of the line, his comments directly to the police in the rally the day before must have rubbed someone the wrong way (2).

I found Roz Zinn, Howard’s wife, sitting in the line on the side at right angles to where Howard and I had been before. I sat down between her and her housemate, a woman her age. They had been in support before till they had seen what happened to Howard. Looking at the police in formation, with their uniforms and clubs, guns on their hips, I felt naked. I knew that it was an illusion in combat to think you were protected because you were carrying a weapon, but it was an illusion that worked. For the first time, I was very conscious of being unarmed. At last, in my own country, I understood what a Vietnamese villager must have felt at what the Marines called a “county fair,” when the Marines rounded up everyone they could find in a hamlet—all women and children and old people, never draft- or VC-age young men—to be questioned one at a time in a tent, meanwhile passing out candy to the kids and giving vaccinations. Winning hearts and minds, trying to recruit informers. No one among the villagers knowing what the soldiers, in their combat gear, would do next, or which of them might be detained. We sat and talked and waited for the police to come again.

They lowered their helmets and formed up. The two women I was with were both older than I was. I moved my body in front of them, to take the first blows. I felt a hand on my elbow. “Excuse me, I was sitting there,” the woman who shared the Zinn’s house said to me, with a cold look. She hadn’t come there that day and sat down, she told me later, to be protected by me. I apologized and scrambled back, behind them.

No one moved. The police didn’t move, either. They stood in formation facing us, plastic masks over their faces, for quite a while. But they didn’t come forward again.

They had kept open a passage in front for the employees inside to leave after five, and eventually the police left, and we left.


1. An ad campaign for Rolex watches had been appearing for a while featuring pictures and stories of Rolexes that had been through severe challenges and kept running-watches that were keeping perfect time on being removed from the bellies of sharks, and so forth. I thought I had the makings of a good ad here—”This Rolex was struck by a Boston policeman with a four-foot baton, and kept on running.” But I never got around to notifying the company after I’d replaced the crystal.

2. Presumably it wasn’t one of the officers who had been coming over that morning to be friendly to him. On the other hand, I’d seen compartmentalization of feelings at work, and I’d felt it on my shoulder and wrist: one of the clubs that hit me had to have been swung by the man who, a second before, had been whispering at us, warning us. He was begging us not to make him do this to us. But he didn’t pull his punch a moment later. And he might not have been just obeying orders at that point. We hadn’t made it easy for him, we had left him, he probably felt, no choice despite his plea. He might have felt fury. In any case, he did his job. And if it wasn’t his club I felt, it was that of a man next to him. They’d all been friendly with us minutes and hours before, tacitly fraternizing, until they got the order to carry out a maneuver they must have practiced, clubbing us in lieu of arrest.

First Use of B-52s in Vietnam

(Outtake from Daniel Ellsberg’s Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers; fits in after the section break on p. 79)

On May 14, 1965, a cable came across my desk from Ambassador Taylor in Saigon, forwarding—with his support—the recommendation from General Westmoreland that B-52s be used to attack a Viet Cong “base area” in South Vietnam. It would be hard for most people to imagine the feeling this proposal evoked in me. For the first time in the war—it should have been earlier, but somehow it wasn’t—I had the sharp, sudden sense that people I was working with were mad. I thought, “They’ve gone crazy! They’ve lost every sense of proportion. They’ll use anything, anything, to fight this war.” Why not ICBMs, with non-nuclear warheads? Or with nuclear warheads, later? That’s what B-52s were designed for!

I had more sense of what B-52’s were for than most civilians would, reading that message. After years of looking at and thinking about nuclear war plans, with the mind for figures I had in those days, I carried in my head precise numbers for the bomb-load of a B-52, the megatonnage and the estimated accuracy of its nuclear weapons, its range unrefueled and its refueling capabilities, the numbers of its bases. I knew its vulnerability on the ground to blast overpressure from near-misses with nuclear warheads (which I’d often calculated with a special RAND slide-rule for various yields at varying distances). I had never actually seen a B-52 bomber, but it was a very vivid abstraction for me.

In the context of nuclear war planning, I had dealt with it very matter-of-factly. When I thought of actually using it outside of that still-hypothetical, never-experienced context of nuclear war, I found its image had a kind of eerie magic for me. It was partly the symbolism of the B-52, which had been designed to carry nothing other than nuclear weapons and had never been used for anything else. And partly the practicalities that went with that. The pilots and bombardiers were trained to achieve accuracies that were adequate with nuclear weapons, measured in hundreds to thousands of meters. Miss-distances like that with “iron bombs,” as strategic commanders contemptuously referred to high explosives, would mean that you couldn’t destroy any military target.

At that time the B-52 was the most expensive weapon in the Air Force. To lose one, to antiaircraft fire or to some accident, with its highly trained officers, would be the loss of a weapon that the Viet Cong couldn’t even dream of possessing. But more important, to lose one in action against the Viet Cong would put the reliability, the credibility of our whole strategic posture against the Soviet Union in question. To avoid antiaircraft fire, it would be dropping its weapons from 30,000 feet, too high even to be seen from the ground, using radar. This not against structures that could be seen on radar but against guerrillas who couldn’t be seen on the ground yards away in the jungle. As someone said, it was like using a sledgehammer to attack gnats. Most if not all of the victims would be peasants in fields or clustered in villages six miles below. For this effect we would be wielding one of our most technically complex, advanced weapons systems against combatants in rubber sandals and black shorts, a war that up to a few months earlier the President had been describing as properly fought by “Asian boys.” Even with the North being hit every day, this use of Strategic Air Command bombers in the South was going to be seen as a unilateral escalation, of a bizarre kind.

I felt dizzy. It was one of the few times when I felt the sharp impulse to resign, from a government that was going out of control, from a process that might go beyond any limits. (The next time was a month later, when the President sent 20,000 Marines into the Dominican Republic).

I took the cable next door into the cubicle of Colonel Rogers, McNaughton’s military aide, and asked him, “Have you seen this?” He was calm. He lit his pipe, and said, “That’ll never happen.”

“But Ambassador Taylor has supported Westmoreland’s request!” The word was already around in the Pentagon that Westmoreland was not very sharp, and anyway he was a ground soldier who wouldn’t know much about B-52s. But General Taylor had been chairman of the JCS and he was supposed to be an intellectual.

Rogers said, “That doesn’t mean anything. Westy is Taylor’s man, he recommended him for that job. Taylor just doesn’t want to be the one to turn him down. He’s bucking it to Washington for someone here to reject it.”

My heartbeat began to slow down. The proposal started on its way through the Washington process, which included sardonic memos from me to my boss on what an obviously absurd idea it was. And eventually, fairly fast for Washington, with a lot of reservations and expressed concerns, it was approved, on an experimental basis. Rogers was wrong. It was going to happen, at least once. But by this time it no longer got me breathing hard or thinking of resignation. It was just one more thing. It was no crazier than the whole bombing of the North.

The question became, in Washington, how to carry out the experiment. The Strategic Air Command which controlled all the B-52s was not initially enthusiastic about this mission. It diverted forces from their real mission, and there was the risk of losing expensive planes and crews, and the worse thought of losing prestige and credibility if that happened. On the other hand, there was the chance to play a role in the real war that was actually going on, instead of training forever for a kind of war that had never occurred (and would only occur once). The answers to what were always the central questions for SAC—”Is this good for SAC? Is it good for our budget?”—were murky. They prepared to go along.

But the President and the Air Force agreed on one thing, it was essential that no planes go down. For all kinds of reasons, you couldn’t afford to lose one of these machines and its crew in operations against the Viet Cong. So the Air Force planned the operation for maximum safety, not for efficiency or military effect. No precaution was spared. Only elite crews would be used. They would be guided into their targets by specially equipped command and control planes, converted KC-135s. In effect, their hands would be held every step of the way. That might not be practical or necessary for later operations, but everyone understood that this first mission was special. They wouldn’t be going near the North, where the surface-to-air missiles were. They would be flying high above any antiaircraft fire.

Lest that create any worry about wiping out a village by mistake, a target would be picked that was far away from any population, deep in the jungle. It might not be near any Viet Cong, either, but military effectiveness was not the concern in this case, the point was to demonstrate that the operation could be carried out perfectly, so smoothly that there would be no need to announce that it had ever taken place. No one would know it had happened. No debate in Congress or the press. The planes would fly too high to be seen, let alone identified. The guerrillas in the target zone, if there were any, wouldn’t know what had hit them. Or who had hit them, though they would have a pretty good idea. All the planning would be closely held.

Nothing could go wrong. There is a myth that the military is always saying that, but actually they don’t; they usually cover their asses by putting in a warning about uncertainties and worst case possibilities. And generally that spring they didn’t offer any short-term optimism at all. This was one of the rare cases where they really did say it, nothing could go wrong. And out of thirty planes that finally flew the mission on June 17, three B-52s didn’t make it to the target.

Two planes bumped into each other and crashed over the ocean northwest of the Philippines, with the loss of most of their crews. Official reports said that another one had had to divert to Clark Field in the Philippines because of mechanical difficulties, but my memory is that it somehow ran out of fuel and ditched in the ocean. I don’t know what how all this happened—SAC was famous for its efficiency and the realism of its training and alert operations—but anyway, three out of the thirty planes didn’t make it. The mission hadn’t been announced and they hadn’t planned to release any statement on it, but with at least two crews down and the families that had to be told there was no way to keep it secret, there had to be a public announcement after all. (See the New York Times, 18 June 1965.)

I don’t recall much public outcry or concern, despite the losses, though some newspaper stories reported that their sources, apparently in the State Department, called the raid a “humiliating failure” after ground probes failed to indicate it had caused any enemy casualties. (New York Times, 19 June 1965; Joseph Alsop column, Washington Post.) But it was a good lesson to some of us about the uncertainties of high-tech military operations, and high-level assurances.

Outtakes from “Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers”

In order to keep “Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers” to a reasonable length, many worthy pieces were left out of the final cut. Here are the sections, scenes, and snippets that would have made it into the book if space were not a consideration.

First Use of B-52s in Vietnam
Ellsberg’s account of “the first time in the war. . . [he] had the sharp, sudden sense the people [he] was working with were mad.”

Mary, 1969
Ellsberg’s description of involving his daughter Mary in copying the Pentagon Papers. (This outtake is included in the paperback edition.)

Boston Federal Building, May 1971
A vignette of Ellsberg’s participation in civil disobedience with Howard Zinn, outside of the Boston Federal Building, May 1971

Ellsberg reflects on comments he made after his arrest, concerning the responsibility of officials in a criminal war.

Additional Notes
Additional notes and commentary on Secrets, including anecdotes, explanation, analysis, and historical details not included in the book.

Previously Unpublished Papers and Memos Discussed in “Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers”

(These previously unpublished papers and documents written by Daniel Ellsberg were discussed in Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers. The numbers in parentheses refer to the pages of Secrets in which the paper or memo is discussed.)

(pp. 88-97)
Draft Speech for Secretary McNamara July 22, 1965

(pp. 106-108)
Memo to General Lansdale: Mission Council Meeting July 25, 1966

(p. 169)
Memo to General Lansdale: The Challenge of Corruption in South Vietnam, November 23, 1965

(pp. 176-177)
Memo for the Record: Ky’s Candidacy and the Upcoming Elections, May 4, 1967

(pp. 236-243, 275, 367-368, 384, 416-417, 432-437, 451)
Draft of NSSM-1 Questions, January 1969

(p. 246)
Infeasible Aims and the Politics of Stalemate, August 1969

(pp. 281-282, 310-322)
Letter to the New York Times, October 8, 1969

(pp. 282-283)
Letter to Charles Bolté, September 23, 1969

(p. 334)
Revolutionary Judo, January 1970

Other Vietnam Memos and Documents:

Some Prospects and Problems in Vietnam, February 1968

Critical Postures on U.S. Decision-Making in Vietnam, June 1960

Vu Van Thai on U.S. Aims and Interventions in Vietnam, July 1969

Some Lessons from Failure in Vietnam, July 1969

On Pacification, July 1969

U.S. Policy and the Politics of Others, July 1969

Notes on Vietnam Policy: A Strategy for Dissent, January 1970

Escalating in a Quagmire, February 1970

“Coercive Diplomacy” in Light of Vietnam, November 1970

Reflections on Vietnam Policy