Dennis Bernstein: We are honored to have Daniel Ellsberg here, the man who blew the whistle on the corrupt and illegal Vietnam War and has been blowing whistles and inspiring others ever since. Daniel Ellsberg gained notoriety in the early 1970s by leaking the Pentagon Papers, the Defense Department’s top-secret history of the Vietnam War, and then for outspokenly protesting the war and the government secrecy that sustained it. Yet few know that he has spent most of the previous decade immersed in highly classified studies of the U.S. nuclear war machine. Daniel, welcome. You were just arrested, weren’t you, at Lawrence Livermore Labs?
Daniel Ellsberg: Yes, I’ve gone there nearly every year, around Hiroshima Day and Nagasaki Day, to send the message that no more weapons should be made in this country without having to arrest people to do it. It is wrong to be doing what Livermore is doing right now – in good conscience, I’m sure. But then I worked on war plans in good conscience. I was conned and so are they. The public was conned about Hiroshima.
Still today, hardly any people know just how much falsehood was fed to them to justify what we did. And when people protest the bomb now, I would say that most Americans would wonder why was it wrong to save a million American lives? After all, wasn’t that the only alternative to an invasion of Japan? That’s what they have heard from people in positions of authority. But in fact, it was not the only alternative. In fact, it was not a serious alternative to invasion.
The American people have believed killing 140,000 people immediately and 300,000 by the end of the year was necessary and therefore justified. If that is justified, what isn’t? What we are doing right now isn’t justified, threatening first use of nuclear weapons and preparing attacks that, if carried out, would destroy most life on earth. But it is not questioned, morally or practically.
Dennis Bernstein: Dan, how would you evaluate the dangers we face now in terms of a nuclear conflagration? Are we worse off now than we were thirty years ago?
Daniel Ellsberg: Well, in 1989-1991, things began to look better.