Eqbal Ahmad, Daniel Ellsberg, Anthony Lukas and Anthony Russo talk with Studs Terkel ; part 1
BROADCAST: Jun. 9, 1972 | DURATION: 00:53:06
Eqbal Ahmad, Daniel Ellsberg, Anthony Lukas and Anthony Russo discuss their introduction into becoming activitsts, leaking the Pentagon Papers, Nixon Administration, and their philosophy on working for men in power.
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Studs Terkel A remarkable afternoon for me. Seated here this Sunday afternoon at the home of a friend, with Daniel Ellsberg, Tony Russo, Eqbal Ahmad and Tony Lucas, who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist in The New York Times. Daniel Ellsberg, your name is known to quite a few Americans these day. Where do we begin? You, you let the country and the world know about something known as the Pentagon Papers.
Anthony Russo Yeah,
Daniel Ellsberg I was there in the State Department. I'd volunteered to go out with General Lansdale, who had a fairly vaguely defined job to work with political development in Vietnam. And didn't really get to do that particularly, so I ended up looking at the pacification program in the field and traveling around Saigon a great deal. Meanwhile, Tony had been there before I arrived, or working for the Rand Corporation, doing interviews of Vietnam prisoners and defectors. So, because I'd worked for Rand before I went with the Defense Department and then the State Department, I went over to the Rand office soon after I got to Saigon to get filled in, and I remember years ago, you, you recall that meeting to me, Tony. Do you, what do you remember of it now?
Anthony Russo I, I remember that it was an afternoon. And I was the only person in the Rand office at the time, and, and this fellow came to the door and he knocked and knocked and said, "Hi, is this the Rand office?" I said, "Sure. Come in. Have a seat. Make yourself at home." And he said, "My name's Daniel Ellsberg," and I said, "Hi, I'm Tony Russo." And we sat down and started talking and he said, "I've just gotten into town, and tell me what's happening here." And so I began to talk, and this, this guy pulls out a notebook and he starts writing furiously, I'm thinking, "Who is this freak?" You know, I mean what is it with --- [laughing] As I was later to find out, this freak was Daniel Ellsberg and he had a thirst for information, knowledge. He always wanted to know what was going on. He was always compiling information, he was always he -- at times when I was satisfied and thought I'd understood a situation, he was still butting his head up against it. The first time I, I didn't see much, that much of Dan in Vietnam, he came by -- I don't know why I'm saying "he," you sitting right here. [laughing] But you remember, you came by the house several times. I guess I saw you about once every three months or so for that year, because I remember you were traveling around a lot. And I traveled around a lot, and it was very seldom that we would meet.
Anthony Russo Yes. I, I, I think it really began in 1961 when I became interested in defense policy, and I became very interested in the Vietnam situation because I was in graduate school at Princeton and I had friends who were from France, who were from Algeria, and at that point people were just -- well, we were really becoming aware of our presence in Vietnam. After all these years, the, the profile, to use a much-maligned word nowadays, but our presence was just becoming known. General Taylor had just been there on his mission. He had come back with his, his recommendations to President Kennedy. And it was beginning to hit the newspapers, stories of helicopters, bombing. Our presence there was becoming known. And it became a topic at the graduate college in Princeton, so my French friends told me, they said, well, that they, they were appalled at how the United States had not learned from the presence of the French there. They were absolutely appalled. And in, in talking with them, I began to get a sense of what was going on, so I became, myself, kind of confused, getting kind of really, I, I guess I'd have to use the word "obsessed." I, I, I begin to think about Vietnam a lot, and course this was parallel with my interest in defense policy, so, and I became very interested and I became -- I don't know, afraid because of the sense of the situation that my friends from France and from Algeria had, had imparted to me, and I, I became very afraid. So, so that's when I became interested in Vietnam and I wanted to go there. I tried to talk up Vietnam around the Woodrow Wilson School that, which is the school of Public and International Affairs, and people there were interested somewhat, but they would say things like "Well, you know, Southeast Asia for years nobody can understand it", and it's a circus and it's kind of funny and it's like Catch-22 and they'd make, make light of it, and I couldn't stand this, I would become incensed and then I, I got turned off and I stopped talking to people about it, but I'd continued reading and I said, "Well, yeah, I want to go there and see what's going on," and I, I began to look for different ways to go there. And, well, the Rand Corporation looked like a good way to go because in addition to Vietnam, I was interested in defense policy in general because I'd, see I grew up in the 50s when we had this terrible awareness of, of the delicate balance of terror.
Daniel Ellsberg Yeah I'd, I'd have to answer that very differently now than if you'd asked me in years ago. I worked for them and you know, I haven't said much about Rand because I've caused Rand a lot of trouble. A lot of it undeserved, they're sort of a scapegoat. Secretary of Defense Laird came down on them as a scapegoat for the breaches in their system of secrecy. I think I could give Secretary Laird I guess a list of cases when, in the course of my daily work, I had to Xerox material in his suite of offices and bring it back, and I can say it was a lot easier than doing it at Rand, which would have been impossible.
Studs Terkel I was, I wasn't thinking of Rand itself, but the nature of, of how brilliant young men or old men are, are working these days, or have been working in the past, involving American adventures in other lands.
Daniel Ellsberg There's a class of organizations like Rand, but I was going to go on to mention that after talking to Tony the last two days, since he was out of jail, one image has come through to me so powerfully from what he's been saying that I, I think it is worth passing on, and, and my old colleagues at Rand might well reflect on it. As Tony tells me one anecdote after another, and we haven't had too much time, of his 47 days in jail, so many analogies of parts of our society come through with jails that I'm beginning to see these everywhere. And his description to me of the role of the informer in the jail struck me immediately as analogous to the incentives in the character system and the, the whole point of view of a number of intellectuals that I've known in my life who served the government. And who see themselves really, some proudly and some less proudly, as spending their lives giving useful information to men in power. As long as you're convinced that the men in power are serving humanity in one way or another, that can be a proud occupation, and that's the way I felt about it when I worked for Rand. But of course as we come into an era at the end of the '60s, in the early '70s when one is more and more conscious that both at home and abroad the men in power have been corrupted by their power, being men, I think these thinkers, researchers, analysts, intellectuals who are performing this role must be on the way to becoming conscious that they are serving illegitimate purposes from a social, humane point of view, and that they are in the role basically of informers in a prison.
Eqbal Ahmad I'm very interested in getting Dan's and, and Tony's reaction to this, because these two persons are unique in the sense that they have experienced and, and been for years very close to the seats of power in this country. And today, by their own choice, they are in the same situation as I am. Namely, a member of the powerless majority of mankind.
Eqbal Ahmad Essentially what I am saying is is that how does the public look from the seats of power when you were working for the Pentagon or the State Department as a White House consultant. How do those people view the public as also evidenced in the Pentagon Papers? And how does it feel now? Maybe the expression "powerlessness of humanity" was the wrong one, from your point of view. But how does it look now, as a member of the public who is in jeopardy for essentially an act of resistance against the war? How does, how does, how do the seats of power look to you now? Has there been any change in your perceptions of the institutions that wield power in this country and their relationship to the public at large?
Daniel Ellsberg Well I've been more and more conscious of how many people feel powerless in this country. And I suspect increasingly it's because they've been told they're powerless for a long time, all their lives.
Daniel Ellsberg And they bought it. The -- but they're, they're indoctrinated along these lines by people who protect their own power that way. Because there's two parts to that message that they hear. One part is by yourself, by yourself, you're powerless. And, in f-and the other side is, but if you join up, then you can at least share in this power. You can plug in. And hook in, the power will flow through you, at least you will be part of it. You as an individual mote in this organism are, are nothing, and you're still nothing even when you're part of it. But at least you're entitled to identify with this enormous engine that you're in. But that double notion has a very great coercive effect in itself. It, it makes people terrified of the idea of being cut off from that machine. Which is something that I see all the time. It, it's's a kind of fear, a social control that does not merely mean I'm going to have trouble finding a job if I lose this one, or what will my friends say, or some rationally expressed inconveniences or problems like that. But if a, an emotional vague gut fear, horror at the idea of cutting yourself off or being cut off.
Studs Terkel Can I suggest this incident? I remember this cab driver was driving me, we started a conversation, on this very point that Dan Ellsberg, Tony Russo, and Eqbal Ahmad are making, and his life was obviously pretty wretched. Rough life, he says, "By God, we've got to win because we've got to be number one." We being the government, the United States. We've got to be number one! He sa -- have to be number one, because he has number nothing.
Daniel Ellsberg That's it. I -- see, this set of attitudes forms a kind of stable society, but stable in a particular way which gives power to particular people. This is the way I increasingly see it. The -- if you were to ask, you asked me how I see Rand now. How do I, I've been in no communication with anyone from Rand. On my part, I didn't want to entangle them with -- unnecessarily. On their part, not one person at Rand, where I worked nine years, of the 500 professionals, has sent me a postcard or a telephone call. Now, I'm sure that a number of them are very angry at me, but I'm sure a number of them are sympathetic. My inference is that they're afraid to be in any kind of communication with me.
Daniel Ellsberg They're afraid I think even to express their anger in, in such a way that they'd have to admit they were in any kind of communication with me. And if you asked me how my guess is that they see me, this is a guess but it's based on some past experience, I'm fairly sure that, I have a feeling that a lot of them see me with a kind of horror, not just anger. But with an, an awe of a sort that you'd have for an astronaut that stepped out of that capsule and cut his umbilical cord and just floated off into space and had become weightless and was drifting in a black void because he'd cut himself off from the capsule and from NASA and the U.S. government, and the U.S. budget that supports that entire system. No salary, no mama, no papa. But it isn't just that, it's not material at all. He has become nothing. He's become part of a vast nothingness. And this isn't some -- this isn't the kind of idea that you know when you're four years old, well maybe you do, I think four-year-olds do have fantasies like that, and that's just what the men in power are speaking to, those four-year-old fantasies or maybe one-year-old fantasies of what the world would be like when the mother went away, and the, and the mother is the U.S. executive branch.
Eqbal Ahmad Well, this, this, this directly sort of raises a question, maybe you could elaborate on the point that you are just now making, Dan. That is, in France during the Algerian War, there were several government officials and several generals like General de Bollardiere who opposed the policies of the French government in Algeria. And when they failed to make their dissent operative inside the government, they quickly took the road of informing the public about the nature of their, those policies and their dissent against it. In other words, they resigned and took to the public platform. The same thing constantly happens in England among public officials. A very good example is Anthony Nutting, resigned within three days of the Suez invasion because he disagreed with the policies of the British government. What is very interesting about the United States executive branch is that large numbers of people like George Ball, who claim that they have opposed the policies of the government, yet never resigned or never deemed it necessary to inform the public either through the Congress or through the press on how hopeless the executive branch had become in, in, in listening to dissenting points of views on a war that was essentially legal and constitutional. Now the question I'm interested in having is, is, is really a very personal statement from you. I mean, after all, you served the Pentagon or the government in important, the executive branch of the government, in very important capacity directly on the question of the war in, in Vietnam. And it took you literally 13 years or so to take the road of dissenting in public by making the Pentagon Papers available. The question is, what are the compulsions in your executive branch of the government against a public official like yourself informing the public or taking the road to public dissent when internal dissent fails to achieve results?
Daniel Ellsberg There is undoubtedly a whole collection of, of rational reasons, some of them quite valid as far as they go, and I'm, what I'm suggesting is I have no doubt many less rational, many more emotional and ill-formed inhibitions too that, that keep you into it. One is this notion, of course not only I, I often say dating from World War II, but surely from earlier than that, from the period you write about, the Depression, when one come, came to think of the executive branch as, as "Papa," basically as the, the weapon of a very humane and trusted man, FDR, who would get us out of our troubles. And to work for him was to work for the man who had the answer if there was one. Then about the time when some faith might have been failing I have a feeling in the New Deal, because it was not solving the problems, as a matter of fact, war came to solve our problems. And war seemed to provide the complete rationale for a, an all-powerful executive branch. And in the war there was no obvious role for Congress that people saw, although Congress was largely discredited in many ways for the role they'd taken earlier. The press were a tool of the executive branch, and everybody went to work, which was very satisfying. And last time they went to work to win a war, they associated working, living a reasonable material life and being meaningful at last after these horrible years of the Depression with participating in a massive effort against the foreign enemy under an almost all-powerful president. Those are the memories that we bring out of the '30s and the '40s. Those are so ingrained in, in those of us who were kids in the Depression and grew up during the war, and of the elder, slightly older people who were junior officers in World War II and inherited the government in the '60s, that you just take it for granted that the executive branch serving the president is the only game in town if you want to serve the country, if you want to serve world peace. It may have its faults, it may be going in a wrong direction in a particular time, but what is there to do but to try from the inside to, to improve it? To move it in the right direction. So all that's rational. Now, there -- and the passivity of Congress and the courts when it comes to the war, for example, and the press does not encourage you to go and try to influence things from that direction. The congressman, whose life it is, are making no effective effort to move things from there, so why would you leave the executive branch having -- where you have access to the powerful men and go speak to men who have no power and don't aspire to power over in Congress, or the press or the courts or anywhere else? So that's why you stay in. Now you ask then, how does that affect your willingness to speak to the public? Very simply. You know in the, high up in the executive branch that to say a wrong word to the wrong person, not just a member of the public, and God knows, this, we're not talking about talking to Russians now or Chinese, that's, that's no worry. But the wrong word to a man, someone in Congress, who might control a budget, let's say, or to press or columnist who might write the right thing, is to be cut off immediately from the flow of secret information from the meetings where the important decisions are made, from access to the men who can promote you and put you on new projects and who you want to influence if you have ideals or projects of your own that you want to see promoted. That will happen instantly. It's not a matter of being fired. It will happen within the hour that it's discovered that you've talked to the wrong person. And your life will change in that respect. Your ability to work good, if you want to see it that way, will change. But -- and certainly your, your job prospects will change a great deal, all without being fired. So it's not the prospect of prison that keeps people in line at all. That's never even in their minds. It's the simple prospect of [horn sounding]
Eqbal Ahmad In, in very simple phrase then, Dan. Would you agree that this inhibition of public officials or in the executive branch of the government against speaking out to the public -- is this inhibition, in other words, a function essentially of the failure of the system of checks and balances in this country as it was conceived by the founding fathers or the Constitution?
Daniel Ellsberg Well it's, it, it represents years and years of failure, yes. I mean these, these other functions have in many ways almost atrophied. They no longer see themselves as having a part or as having power, and I have heard senior senators describe to me their powerlessness. Now, remember, I mentioned by the way that part of that reflects indoctrination by other people, but also there's a very self-serving aspect to the image of powerlessness, because it relieves you of responsibility, and in fact the very time when you'd see that would be the senator who's telling you why he hasn't bothered to filibuster, why he has not bothered to vote against defense appropriations, he says "We're powerless, we don't run this war," which is to say, "Don't blame me, I'm not responsible." For
Anthony Russo For years intellectuals at cocktail parties have talked about the alienated individual, and it's been fashionable to talk about the men in the ghetto as being alienated. Well alienated from what, by what? The point is that there many different kinds of alienation. Groups can be alienated from one another, people can be alienated from one another as individuals, and the individual can be alienated from his own humanity. You see? I think that the latter situation is the thing that perils us more than anything else. And I think that that is the thing, that is precisely the situation in which the elite in this country, our leaders for years have suffered from. For many years.
Eqbal Ahmad Okay, let's return to our leaders again then because I, I, I want to ask one last question really, and of both of you. And that is a question of how do the lessons of the Pentagon Papers relate to the policies of the Nixon administration. It seems to me that the lessons of the Pentagon Papers at the very least are: One, that the United States government carried on a war for 25 years or so without telling the truth about the war to the American public, either through their representatives or through their press. Two, that this war was carried out without any reference or, or much concern for the costs of this war to the people of Indochina. Three, that carrying out this war involved a massive manipulation and management of public opinion on the part of the executive branch of the government. Now, the Nixon administration claims that the Pentagon Papers are a historical document that refer to the conduct of the previous administration and not that of the Nixon administration which is winding down the war. Now, would you agree with that claim of President Nixon, or do you feel Daniel Ellsberg and Tony Russo, that the lessons of the Pentagon Papers apply also to the conduct of the war under the present regime of Mr. Nixon?
Daniel Ellsberg Well, that's so obvious that I think the answer is contained in the behavior of the Nixon administration when the Pentagon Papers began to be revealed. Obviously, the desperation in a way of using absolutely unprecedented legal maneuvers in the form of a prior injunction against newspapers, which had not only not been done in our 200 years of history, but for generations if ever in the English common law history that preceded our Constitution. If you ask why they did, did this, in part it was a reflex, it may not have reflected too profound a notion since I think this administration has a very loose grasp on what the principles of the Constitution are, or what they're for. But beyond that, there was I think some desperation and it was that when they finally took those documents out of the safe after they began appearing in The New York Times and they began looking at what was to come, they saw that it was the inescapable conclusion that any reader would draw was that the same patterns to be found in the four administrations recorded in that history could obviously be seen by any intelligent reader in the current administration as one read the newspapers, and they were to be understood in the same way. The Nixon administration did not want to be understood in that way, correctly, as following these same policies that had already persisted for 20 years. Another lesson of course as you say of the Pentagon Papers is the role that secrecy has played as an essential pillar of a policy that could never in any one of those years have been defended successfully to the American people if the administration had been honest about its own expectations, its own facts, and its own intentions. That's policy continued, it was no more potentially popular, honestly described than it had ever been. The Nixon administration saw that the system of secrecy that had served this function for 20 years was now endangered by the release of the papers. And even if they had not felt threatened by the substance of what was to be revealed, and as I've already said, I'm sure they were threatened by it as it clearly applied to them, I think the administration would still have felt called on to try desperately to plug this breach in the cloak of invisibility which it still needed, like its predecessors, to carry on this war. So I think in other words their, Nixon and Mitchell's and Agnew's own sense of the continuity of policy, of the policy revealed in the Pentagon Papers, is revealed strongly in their whole behavior in their pursuit of this case, in their pursuit of the Papers, their attempt to hide it.
Eqbal Ahmad I would like to sort of ask a very personal question now of Dan Ellsberg particularly. And that is, since I had been interested in his personal and rather unique road that he took of resistance to the war coming from the national security bureaucracy, is that he had in one of the shows that I watched him on, and from my private conversations with him, I have a feeling that women and children and concern for children particularly, and influence of women and particularly of one woman has been a very strong element in his humanity and his concern for the lives of the Vietnamese people. So I would like to honestly ask the question of, since Patricia is here, on how she has felt, and how Dan has found her role in his life and his choices that he has made.
Patricia Ellsberg I would say that I've perceived changes in Dan that are on a personal parallel to his changes in terms of his relationship to the government. We were engaged in 1966, and I went over to Vietnam to be with him. And he had the same commitment to truth, the same bravery. He would risk his life willingly in the service of his country and in an attempt to find out what was going on, really going on in the countryside. But at the same time, there was this willingness to risk his life in the service of killing. And I respected him and loved him for his dedication, but I kept saying, "What for? What is this energy and commitment directed towards?" And it was those kind of questions that we'd have after he would be, you know, spending days and weeks trying to reform the system. And we, we really split apart. I mean, it wasn't a dramatic thing, it was just that our values were very different. And we didn't see each other for several years. And then he had changed. And he had the same dedication, but it was infused with a compassion and a humanity, and we were able to love each other fully then. But what interests me is the -- as a human being he changed, not only intellectually. But as a, as a man.
Eqbal Ahmad I think this is a feeling I share very strongly with you, because I remember meeting Dan the first time in 1967. I think it was at a conference in Princeton. And he had impressed me at that time very much as a person who knew the war in Vietnam and was also concerned about the lives of the Vietnamese people. He was having deep questions about the policies. And then when I met him three years later in your apartment in Cambridge, I had a very strong feeling that there had been a very basic change in him, and I had a feeling, very strong feeling that you had a very important role to play in that change, that you have talked about. Would Dan comment a little bit on that?
Daniel Ellsberg This is a strange company with, I don't know if we have time with you and Tony, because I think of these other occasions when we've met, as you say we met in Princeton. I was there to hear you and others talk about revolution, and the reason I was there was that I was studying for the government counter-revolution and trying to learn this from both sides. Learn your side. And I met, as you know, our mutual friend, and Patricia's friend, an Indian girl at that same conference who first began talking to me about Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Funny, I, I can't talk about that. So, well, this is hard for me to talk about because that was the weekend, you remember, that Martin Luther King was assassinated.
Studs Terkel I think something else involved or the shoe, the other shoe has to be dropped. Very early in this conversation Eqbal was asking Dan Ellsberg and Tony Russo about power and powerlessness, and for a moment Dan had objected, "I don't feel powerless." And after you were saying about those who were in power and were afraid of you because you cut yourself off, they were not really in power, they were in fear all the time of being cut off from the umbilical [track?] and suddenly, I was -- it was the implication that you feel liberated now
Daniel Ellsberg Oh, yeah, let me go back to that, that thought, which is easier for me to deal with at the moment. And Patricia knew me at that earlier period when I was in the Pentagon working for men who were, in effect, addicted to the flow of secret information that passed their desks. It was like electricity coursing through their, their veins. In fact the, the speed of decision-making, flickering from one part of the world to another and one weapons system to be decided on, or one set of decisions about force levels or assassinations at some point in the world, or budget levels or big wars or little wars. From moment to moment almost, with a kaleidoscopic kind of effect, gave their lives an electric excitement to which they were clearly addicted and which they, they could not imagine living without. In fact, I think in those days, that was before the, the dope craze. So well-known. But the specific dope that one hears about now is of speed with its particularly apt name, would have described what they were doing. They were nervous men, constantly flipping pencils, constantly drumming on tables, cracking their knuckles as they moved from one decision to another with this, this hypnotic fascination that that course of power, which however could only be theirs if they stayed in line, if they toed the mark. And in a way to be judged by their bosses minute by minute. They could lose the access to that flow of information in minutes if they made the wrong move. They would not be invited to the next White House meeting. They would no longer be in it, be part of it. I remember once, Pat do you remember a tape that I sent from Vietnam talking about -- this was later, much later when I was in Vietnam. I came back on a trip from Vietnam where I was accompanying the Secretary of Defense, and we, we came down in a -- Andrews Field, it was a foggy day at about 6:00 in the morning, we'd flown for 17 hours I think in a windowless tanker. Secretary McNamara flew in a tanker, a converted tanker because it would have so much fuel in it that it didn't have to be refueled. With one refueling you could go halfway around the world, had no windows. And you'd come down in this thing, and as you came down at six in the morning in the fog, there were banks of television lights set up, and reporters waiting with these banks of microphones to come on, as you come down off the plane the world is waiting in effect, and images. You remember the old Joel McCrea movie, A Foreign Correspondent? You know, and the glamour of this particular kind of living at top of the -- yeah, the trenchcoat. Living on top of the world, the world waiting. And I remember describing that to Patricia in a tape, the electricity of that drama and saying, "I hope I never become corrupted and addicted by that kind of drama." Do you remember that? And but, these men were, and as such these superiors up to the president who could control their access to that kind of excitement had total coercive power over them. So that one -- we're now back to your question of what are the real restraints that keep these men in line? Why did a George Ball, who -- why did he, who expressed himself so clearly and with such foresight about the morass and horror that we were getting ourselves into, never get out of line and speak to the public about it? Either when he was in or when he was out? Since all of these men really always want to get back into the government. When the Pentagon Papers came out, George Ball of course received credit which was due him for what he'd said internally at the time. He spoke boldly for a bureaucrat and certainly with great foresight in '65 and in '66 about where we were going. But I saw him, and in fact this is when Patricia and I were, were underground when we were moving, when I was getting these papers to different newspapers. We were watching television a lot for a change. And it was very relaxing. It was our last real time really alone together. And we watched and I saw George Ball on a program, Meet the Press I think it was, or Face the Nation, one of those. And they quoted to him what he had said internally and he described, yes, what he'd felt about Vietnam. And then they quoted to him what he was saying publicly at the same time, which was the exact opposite. It was -- his answer was, "Well, if you speak to the public" -- and he could have said, and I, I could, reading between the lines, knew what he was saying parenthetically, "And you want to keep your access, if you want to keep your credibility and your influence within the system," he said, "When you speak to the public, you have to say the administration line, take the administration position. That's your role." Now, the time he was speaking of, he had been the Undersecretary of State, the number two man in the State Department, he had been confirmed by the Senate in that role, was surely seen as a man of power. What he said to us then in explaining why he had felt perfectly easy about lying to the public at that time about what his own true views were in matters of life and death, and why he felt unapologetic about admitting this now years later, he said, "After all, we're just hired hands of the President." And I thought is that the way for a high official of a republic to see himself? Is that why the Senate confirmed his appointment, so that he would -- could be counted on to lie to them reliably when the president asked him to? On a matter of war and peace? Or we're back, as Tony was saying, these men who, their own self-image of powerlessness except as loyal servants not of the Constitution, not of their countrymen, not of humanity, but of the man who hired them.
Studs Terkel Yeah, but he used the phrase. It's more, more, more pertinent. He used the phrase. If ever there were a guy who is the lowest guy on the totem pole, it's the hired hand. Interesting, that's the way he saw
Daniel Ellsberg Day laborer. See, what they were, what I've been telling you is, these were not day laborers. These were our laborers. They could lose their jobs, they had their jobs on an option that could inspire, expire in 30 seconds if their expression, their face showed the wrong expression in the course of a White House meeting. But let me go back to where we were talking a moment ago. And it's, it's too emotional for me, there's too many associations and I'll try to get through it, but I find it's hard to talk about. They say -- I met a girl who gave me a vision as a Gandhian, of a different way of living, of resistance, of exercising power nonviolently in terms of telling truth. Basically, you know, that the Gandhian notion of satyagraha means "truth force" and truth-telling as a form of power. And I saw at that time a time of great chaos in our society, a looming chaos. Martin Luther King began to seem to me as our, as our hope, as a last hope. He was killed that weekend with me. All right, when did I see you next? The next time I saw you was in this town. In Chicago at a conference at the Adlai Stevenson Institute. By that time in the spring of '68, it was the same spring, just two months later. And that spring I'd been working a good deal behind the scenes on the Vietnam policy speeches of Robert Kennedy. And I saw him as the hope. So. You remember what, it was while we were here at that conference that Robert Kennedy was killed. That's the way to feel powerless. You start feeling powerless. I don't know what, what were you doing then, Tony?
Eqbal Ahmad I remember very strongly Dan Ellsberg's reaction after we heard the news on the radio while we were all sitting down at this conference when we heard the news of Robert Kennedy's death. Actually, the second that we had shared with him. I had shared with him that what, that of Martin Luther King earlier. And I literally felt very sad later on over the thought that our hopes were so pinned down on individuals because only individuals seemed to promise an honest working of a system that seemed to have failed to be accountable and honest towards the public. I think it is that phenomenon that sort of makes the death of people like Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King so very poignant and so risky.
Studs Terkel Isn't Eqbal's point almost the key to everything that you've been saying all along, Dan and Tony, the fact that the death of certain individuals, remarkable men, true, but the fact that everyone else, this life is so tenuous it would seem depending upon the -- of these particular individuals, isn't, isn't that we come to something here now
Daniel Ellsberg Of course, at that point I was still in, as Eqbal says, to the state of mind, that I was still working for the president. Myself, basically. When I came back from Vietnam thinking that we must get out, my whole instinct had been to work for people who might be president. The whole range. I mean, to talk to anyone. I said I would talk to anyone to tell him what I thought was the truth about Vietnam so that he as president might be influenced by it. And I said I would do that for George Wallace, I would have done it for Nixon. As a matter of fact, I did talk to Henry Kissinger then who was then working for Rockefeller and later worked for Nixon. I talked to people for Romney's representatives. I talked to Robert Kennedy. That's why I had gotten to know Robert Kennedy. And Ted Kennedy. And the others. And I spoke a good deal several times to Humphrey and to his assistants. In other words, I was looking for a president then to get us out. I hadn't read the Pentagon Papers and hadn't realized that presidents are the men who feel, because of their responsibility, powerless almost to get us out of the war because they cannot face the humiliation that they personally, their parties, America and their name would suffer if they did get this failure.
Studs Terkel Could we return to this point that Eqbal raised, I remember there '62, this is a very specific incident. And it gives the very point he's made and you're all touching on, during the Missile Crisis, Cuban missile, it was 1962. A.S. Neill, the old Summerhill man, saw him in London just during the miss-- missile crisis, he says, "Isn't it remarkable," he said, "The two K's, Kennedy and Khrushchev, are determining the fate of two and a half or three billion
Daniel Ellsberg And almost nobody -- I, I participated in that. I was in two working groups, one in the Defense Department, one in the State Department. I was the only man who was in those two working groups, both during the Cuban missile crisis, and that had given me in fact a fascination with the responsibility of that man, the president. And the, that he bore a, a determination to try to understand that job and to make it easier, better. Make it more efficient. But anyway, to get back to this summer of powerlessness that we went through. I remember then hoping, even after Kennedy's death, in a Vietnam plank when the end of the bombing, and so we're back now to another association right here, because after the, the plank that Ted Kennedy had suggested on which I participated in consultation, was rejected after -- I remember watching in California, Chicago convention on television. And you will remember.
Daniel Ellsberg But I watched that from the other side of the country, and I remember very well seeing the Today show, which I'd never seen at seven o'clock before. Watching it from seven to nine with almost continuous coverage of the people, the police in Chicago swinging their clubs at the demonstrators in the streets and filling police wagons with them as Frank Sinatra's voice singing "My
Daniel Ellsberg Right. Came over, I'll never forget that. And that summer was spent, I was, I was a bachelor then, it was a year bef-- a year and a half before Patricia and I were to get together again. And I spent that summer with girls, very little work that I can remember. One girl after another. I was remembering that this morning though, in a new way. Just this morning I was lying in bed thinking about it, I, I don't know what brought it to my mind, that what I was doing that summer, from the moment of the Chicago convention, was fighting an extreme sense of powerlessness. Exactly, and what I was doing with one girl after another was trying in some way to remind myself or convince myself that I existed or that one could have purposes or
Daniel Ellsberg Satisfactions that were entirely apart from politics. That was sort of a lost summer for me. In '68 I, I never, I never watched television for a moment. I saw no speech of either candidate. I told myself that if the bombing would stop, if they would stop the bombing altogether, then I could be interested in one side or the other, and looking back, I -- looking back on that summer much later, I really remembered that this succession of girls that I was interested in, or what -- not clear whether I was interested in them, but the succession of girls I was seeing that summer, suddenly stopped at a very abrupt point, and I, I often asked myself why it stopped, and in the way you know that I was pursuing this, obsessively, and it stopped the day that the bombing stopped, essentially, or the week. Within a week of that I sort of woke up. Began watching television, began looking at these two candidates and seeing what was happening, that was just before the election, you remember. And took an interest. In fact, I remember having seen the, the two candidates finally the night before the election. I went out, there was a, a girl who had Humphrey posters that lived in that apartment below mine on the beach, and I borrowed a Humphrey poster and put it on the, my car at that point because I thought, all right. They've done what I, what I've been waiting for. Now we can move ahead, and the negotiations. Do something. And Tony, you may remember. I hadn't -- I didn't see much of Tony that summer, but you remember I spent that particular -- the night of the election with you and your girlfriend in that -- in Santa Monica. Do you remember watching?
Anthony Russo Oh, yes. Yes. Very well. And in fact, I -- you know, as time goes on and especially in the past -- well, in, in the 40 days that I spent in solitary I had a lot of time to think and I had a lot of time by myself, and in, it's, it's ironic that I, I found, I found a lot of freedom in, in that isolation cell because, [laughing] you know, I, I was free to do what I wanted to do within that isolation cell. But this isolation cell had a window and I could look out. So I used to look out and watch the sun go down over "D" block, and I, I, I went back into a lot of that time, I recalled how Dan and I had a, the relationship we had in 1968 throughout that whole year.