Monday, April 05, 2010

A worthy candidate for the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Daniel Ellsberg should be on President Obama's list for the 2010 awards.

Ellsberg's 2002 best-seller Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers should be required reading for all high school government and college-level basic Political Science courses. Ellsberg describes in remarkable detail his progression from "cold warrior" (Marine Corps officer) to Washington insider (nuclear weapons analyst and consultant with the Rand Corporation, State Department official in Vietnam for two years, special assistant to Robert McNamara's Assistant Secretary) and finally to anti-war activist.

In his preface, Ellsberg writes:
The heart of this memoir tells the story of how it was that starting from this common insiders’ position critical of our policy, I eventually came to go beyond efforts to stop the war from within the executive branch, to be willing, instead, to give up clearances and political access, the chance of serving future presidents, my whole career and to accept the prospect of a life behind bars. It focuses on what in my experience made it possible for me to do in 1969 through 1972 what I now wish I (or others) had done in 1964 or 1965: go to Congress and the press and tell the truth, with documents.

It’s easy to say that the idea of doing this simply didn’t occur to me at the time, any more than it did to others. The question remains why it didn’t. Like so many, I put personal loyalty to the president (and to my career, my access to inside information and influence, however I realized my purposes) above all else.  Above loyalty to the Constitution. Above obligations to truth, to fellow Americans, and to other human lives. It was the face-to-face example, for which I will always be grateful, of young Americans who were choosing to go to prison rather than to take part in a war they knew was wrong that awakened me to these higher loyalties.
(As I've done with other readings, I intended to extract and transcribe here some of the more significant passages from Ellsberg's memoir, but when I finished the book, I had literally hundreds of "Post-Its" flagging "important" passages. I couldn't very well transcribe the entire book! So, you'll just have to check it out yourself.)


Phil Oliver said...

Popped in here looking for
are you this person? I enjoyed looking at the photographs from Panama, the southern Department of Darien.
I know I must be missing a big chunk of understanding around the whole "Pan American Highway" idea. I mean, they clear swamps up in my little community, just to build condos -- there must be an unimaginable amount of profiteering pressure behind an idea to create a superhighway between North and South America. Yet, as I understand it, you can drive all the way from Boise Idaho to the south of Panama, and then you become stuck in the mud for the handful of miles it would take to reach the Colombian border -- can this be true?
Extremely puzzled.

timtraveler said...

Hi, Phil.

There are many issues surrounding the opening up of Darien. Originally, it was feared that if a highway were cut through the Gap, foot and mouth disease found in South American cattle might spread to North America.

More recently, concerns have focused on the increasing threat of drugs flowing north from Colombia and environmental damage that development would bring to the delicate ecosystem.

A good analysis can be seen here:

Best wishes,