An Oral History – Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

Daniel Ellsberg was a combat Marine and military analyst whose revelation of the Pentagon Papers played a role in ending the war in VN. While there are many complicated variables, events during the summer of 1971 may have changed the course of history. The summary below gives some overview of the events, ironies and complexities from Ellsberg’s interview. Most VN Veterans I see are still haunted by the politics and public blaming of the soldier during this era of great hardship. Whereas we may never fully understand or agree on the history of VN, it is important to examine key questions, as objectively as possible. Those core questions are personal as well as collective and apply to all wars: “Was it right?” “Were we right”? Sadly, the emotions of the era placed responsibility on the soldiers who fought- or conversely some blame the protestors or the press for not ‘winning’. Ellsberg’s interview may help enlighten by reminding just how complicated and intense the era was. Knowledge I hope that will lighten the personal moral injury incurred regardless of political or ideological position. 

My notes are quick outlines  of the content of the broadcast aired today on Book TV. Please watch the interview for flow, style and context. On a personal note I attribute the release of The Pentagon Papers with my almost certain draft lottery number never being called. Here’s the link:

Oral History – Ellsberg 

1. Ellsberg states that VN was a bipartisan war going back as far as FDR. 
2. Our initial motives were in support of French colonial claims. 
3. We provided as much as 80% of funding to support the French.
4. Ellsberg was perceived as a threat by Nixon not for Pentagon papers – (which would have harmed Democrats more than Republicans “) – but the concern was release of documents about escalation plans and use of nuclear weapons. Ellsberg did not have those documents but knew the plans- as well as planned mining of Hai Phong and bombing of Hanoi. Nixon administration believed he had these plans thus targeting Ellsberg.
5. Nixon had plans to explode a nuclear device in rural VN near China’s border by 1969 – his aim was to kill few but achieve his goal of getting NVA to withdraw as condition of peace. 
6. It is a bit confusing as to timing but Tet had occurred, as well as our withdrawal from Cambodia; Ellsberg believed another huge march on Washington could have stopped the war then.
7. He claims the nukes were in place 1969; higher ups were surprised they hadn’t been used.
8. Ellsberg tried working with Senators not newspapers. He later came to see that senators respond to newspapers more than visa versa.
9.  Nixon dropped more bomb tonnage on VN than Johnson- over 3 million tons;  attributed to Nixon-  4.5 million tons. Overall much more than all bombs dropped by us during WW II.
10. Extra years of war under Nixon cost 28,000 more American lives. Mutual withdrawal was his goal. Nixon coasted on his declared intent to end the war quickly – alluded to ‘secret plans’ which he had. (Other historians point to Kissinger/Nixon undermining Paris peace talks for election- noted by some as a treasonable offense.) Peace with honor???
11. Nixon during 1971 wanted mining and nukes to support General Thieu, leader of South  VN; he insisted on NVA withdrawal. Late in war we used high altitude B-52 bombing to support ARVN ground troops- a first in military history.
12. Goal for break in of Dr. fielding’s offce was to blackmail Ellsberg into silence. Ellsberg had released plans for mining into congressional record before it occurred. There was intent and near attempt to assault Ellsberg to keep him silent.
13. Ellsberg’s psychiatrist  break in was delivered to judge during Ellsberg trial- Nixon staff did this under duress and had tried to keep judge quiet with offer to make him head of FBI. This was likely leaked by FBI agent, likely Mark Felt, aka Deep Throat. Judge did reveal this – “Watergate meets Pentagon Papers Trial”.
14. Dr. Fielding, Ellsberg’s psychiatrist served a medical staff officer for George Patton’s Third Amy. Ironically, Nixon watched the movie Patton multiple times in order to gain emotional momentum to invade Cambodia.  
15. Fielding kept no detailed clinical notes! Office broken into 1971.
16. Fielding did not cooperate with FBI- was stressed and conflicted. Fielding tore up notes and flushed them down toilet- old Amy training.
17. They tried to get dirt on Fielding as well – income tax question. Goal – Squeeze Fielding to reveal what wasn’t written.