Eqbal Ahmad, Daniel Ellsberg, Anthony Lukas and Anthony Russo talk with Studs Terkel ; part 2
BROADCAST: Jun. 9, 1972 | DURATION: 00:56:08
Daniel Ellsburg, Eqbal Ahmad, Anthony Lukas, and Anthony Russo discuss Anthony Russo's time in jail, the leak of the Pentagon Papers, Vietnam War, torture of Vietnam prisoners being ignored, corruption in politics, and working for Rand.
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Studs Terkel We continue the conversation at Tony Russo, this is with Dan Ellsberg, Tony Russo, Eqbal Ahmad, Patricia Ellsberg, and Tony Lukas of The New York Times is seated here, too. And Tony Russo was talking about his imprisonment and reflections. You saw the sun go down through the window, "D" block, and you were starting to see certain things.
Anthony Russo I remembered a lot of things because I had nothing else to do. I would sit there by myself and, and like many prisoners who go into isolation, and let me tell you about isolation. The prisoners that I talked to, who talked to me, although I was in isolation people would come to me. I would hear voices coming out of the ventilator, there'd be people who'd crawl up in the ventilator to rap with me, you know, and they could lie up there and whisper, I'd be, it was kind of really weird, because there you are sitting in isolation, and a voice comes to you. And since you're in isolation you say first of all, am I hearing things? No, I wasn't hearing things, there's a dude up there in the ventilator,[laughing] and he says, "Hey, Russo." [laughing] He says, "Hey, Russo," and I'm "What? What? Who? Wha?" Yeah. He says, "Ssh. I, I'm up in the ventilator, man." And he starts to talk. And, and he says, "Look out the win-- look out the peephole in the door, see if anybody's around." So I go and look out the peephole and make sure there's no guard out there who can hear him, and he's whispering out the ventilator. So being in prison you're under stress. It's very much like being in combat, you're under stress. Both are stress situations. So people would talk to me through the ventilators. People would talk to me straight from the hall. They, they would take this risk. See? There, there are two kinds of prisoners. Roughly two kinds, there're the kinds of prisoners, there, there's one kind who will take risk simply to live, simply to relate to people, simply to be able to talk, and, and that was quite a risk for the prisoners at Terminal Island because they didn't like for people to talk to me. If someone stopped to talk to me while I was out in the yard taking exercise, which I hardly ever got, the guard would tell him "Move on" or "Hey, stop that," or "Get away from Russo." The whole time that was what they tried to do. And when I finally got to the hospital during the hunger strike, they even put a sign on my door saying that no inmate was authorized to contact the man in this room. Not only was there a sign on the door, there was also a sign on Felix [Milian's?] door who was right across from me, he was on the hunger strike together with me, and they also had a screen set up in the hall that, that covered our doors -- actually, that blocked off that part of the hall where we were. And there was a big sign on the screen saying "No unauthorized inmate beyond this point." And it was signed by the hospital administrator. The prisoners took risk to contact me, and I really appreciated it because you can't understand how much just human contact means when you're in isolation. It means a great deal. So these fellows would come by and they'd talk to me, they'd relate their experiences to me and it's funny how when a guy will take a risk for only five minutes, it's am- it's amazing how much you can get into five minutes
Studs Terkel What were some of these con -- what was it, they knew what you were in for? They knew who you were.
Anthony Russo They had a, they had a, a strong sense of what I was in for. They didn't know all the details, but for example, some would have read all the newspaper articles and might have seen some of the things on TV. Others had heard it by word of mouth. And they'd come up and they'd say, "Wow, man. How did you rip off those papers?" And I'd say "What papers?" And they'd laugh, you know. I was offered dope a lot in, in prison. Because of course that's, that's the standard way to, to entrap, you know, for one to get entrapped. And it's pretty easy -- well, one has a sense of whether or not the dope is coming from the authorities or whether or not it's coming from someone who enjoys smoking grass and he thinks that maybe I'd enjoy smoking grass too and he wants to do me a favor. Well, every time they'd ask me that I'd, if I wanted any dope, I'd say, "No, I, I, I'm, I'm not using any narcotics. You know, I think being in prison is, is enough on my head." [laughing] But some would come and say, "Hey, you want a joint?" And I, I'd say, "No, no, no thank you, brother". I, I -- wow, it'd scare me to death to think of the, you know, somebody giving me a joint, I'd be so paranoid with a joint in this cell that -- but they'd ask me if I wanted a joint and I'd say, "No, thanks," and they'd say, "Right on, brother." And they'd raise their fist. "Yeah." And so they understood that I had enough discipline, you know, not that I'm a narcotics user, but that I had enough discipline not to, to get involved in anything like that. It's a wonder that, that every prisoner isn't an addict.
Eqbal Ahmad I'm very struck by some of the parallels you're drawing and Dan Ellsberg I hope would agree with some of my earlier arguments in regard to counter-insurgency that as it was true in France it is becoming increasingly true in America that the counterinsurgency chickens ultimately begin to come home. It strikes me as you talk about prisons, are some of the analogies between say something like Attica and Vietnam. People have talked of Vietnam as unique, and some people have talked of Vietnam as not being very unique. Just as people talk about Attica as a unique incident and others like Black Panther Party speaker yesterday I was listening to was saying there is nothing unique about Attica, because Black prisoners, brown prisoners have always suffered. I dis-- tended to disagree with that view because there is something very unique about Vietnam just as there is something quite unique about Attica. What is unique about Vietnam is that the government of the United States has been involved in a succession of invisible wars. Wars that they have fought both by proxy and by direct intervention in underdeveloped countries, and in which they succeeded. Guatemala, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, intervention in Iran, intervention in Lebanon, intervention of an indirect nature in the Congo. What is unique about Vietnam was that a set policy of intervention and of fighting invisible wars, and by the way I think we should say that when we say invisible we mean invisible to the American public, because the war in Laos has been quite visible to the Laotians who have died and suffered under the bombs. It was invisible from the American public, from the American Congress. What was unique about Vietnam that the resistance of the Vietnamese people turned the war into a visible war because American costs and casualties were very high. And what in essence Mr. Nixon is doing today is to once again turn Vietnam into an invisible, into a forgotten war. What is unique about Attica again is that large amounts of repression, invisible repression in this society has been happening that people have not noticed mainly because those who were being oppressed were not in a position to successfully resist it. See, what struck me very much as an analogy was that two years ago, there was a news item from prisons in Arkansas that a prisoner had been murdered inside prison. And when the man, the journalist or social worker who pushed that story went through more or less the same process of exploding the story as the journalist did on My Lai, and when this story was exploded and an inquiry was forced, they started digging for the body of the murdered prisoner in the Arkansas state prisons, and found instead of one, 17 bodies of murdered men who had been murdered without trial while they were captives of the state. And yet it did not become an issue in the way that Attica has become an issue, mainly because the prisoners in Attica resisted. Another analogy that strikes me is the pattern of deception that has been practiced in Vietnam and that is so obvious from the Pentagon Papers, sort of was played almost word by word in the case of Attica. The authorities started by announcing that the hostages had been murdered and slashed and mutilated by the prisoners for the public only to discover a little bit later that all the killing had been done by the state police. The same pattern of the deception of the public. The same insistence on keeping oppression and policies of the government invisible. And the same pattern of visibility when a resistance emerges. I would like to hear thoughts of Dan and Tony on that, in other words on this dialectics of oppression and resistance that takes place, both in Vietnam
Daniel Ellsberg At that very meeting that we first met, Eqbal, one of the speakers said something that was very arresting to me at the time, although I wasn't fully ready to accept it, and that was that we should use Vietnam as a mirror. He said, "If you want to see how the United States acts toward revolution, watch us act in Vietnam." And I wasn't yet ready to accept the idea that this was the pattern, that this was us, that it was something other than an aberration. But I've come far enough now not to see only that, but to see that Attica can be used as a mirror of many things in our society and above all as a mirror of bureaucracy. Because in the prisons, as I've seen not only through talking to Tony and visiting him but from other friends of mine who are in prison, the prison bureaucracy is simply the perfection of the bureaucracies that I worked in in the Defense Department and the State Department, where the invisibility is more perfect. A bureaucrat's dream: the secrecy, the freedom to use coercive violence secretly and to lie about it even more secretly than we can do in Laos. In Laos we kill more secretly than in Vietnam, and for -- this is all, these are all points on one dimension. They are dimensions of the accessibility of the facts to reporters, to put it quite simply. [water pouring] With Laos being less accessible than Vietnam to reporters and thus to, in other words to American observers other than the officials who are responsible for what they're doing, and the prisons still less accessible than, than Laos, almost totally inaccessible. There, there again Attica was different in that reporters did get inside where no reporter was ever able to see Tony. You know, we're, we're seeing each other here today just two days after he got out of isolation, and we haven't had a chance to talk too much. We keep discovering too much. We haven't really run down for each other how his entry into his early days in prison looked from the outside and the inside.
Anthony Russo Actually
Daniel Ellsberg I think we ought to get into that because
Daniel Ellsberg Relates to what An- to what we're talking about here.
Anthony Russo Actually we have ten- actually that
Eqbal Ahmad As you are entering into this very interesting subject, I have to leave. But before I leave this nice
Anthony Russo Eqbal.
Eqbal Ahmad Meeting of friends, I should give my best to both of you and to Patricia and hope that everything will be all right and the war will stop someday. Soon.
Anthony Russo Eqbal.
Eqbal Ahmad Thanks
Daniel Ellsberg Eqbal, thank you.
Studs Terkel So we come back to the conversation, you, Dan Ellsberg and Tony Russo were having about -- you haven't seen each other for some time. You, you were starting that, Dan, I think.
Daniel Ellsberg Why don't you go ahead, Tony?
Studs Terkel Tony.
Anthony Russo Well, you know that, that, I, I think there's so many ways to look at this whole thing and, and, and, because of my experience, I see the, this whole situation. I, I, I see the theme of the prisoner as, as being the metaphor which explains the, the whole situation, because we talk about information being imprisoned in the government within the executive branch. We talk about lies. We, we talk about coercion. But on a very real plane, I had a great deal of experience in Vietnam with prisoners, with Viet Cong prisoners, I, I worked for the Rand Corporation and we had access to the jails in Vietnam, and I spent 18 months intensively involved in interviewing prisoners throughout Vietnam and in virtually every jail of any consequence. I never did get to Con Son, because the people at Con Son were not valuable to, to the Rand Corporation study as they saw it. I tried to get out there because I, I thought they were indeed valuable and probably more valuable in terms of what they could relate.
Studs Terkel When you say "Con Son," you mean the tiger cage place.
Anthony Russo The place that has been associated with tiger, but tiger cages are all over Vietnam, the tiger cage is a portable jail. There's a tiger cage on your block in Vietnam. Depends on where you live. There are tiger cages all over because they can be, can be built in an afternoon with bamboo or now with more synthetic materials that we im-export to Vietnam. And we subsidize the building of prisons that, and based on my experience, and this began in February of 1965 when I first went there for Rand, I early on in the spring of 1965 became aware that prisoners were being tortured throughout Vietnam in all phases of their capture. As they were captured on the battlefield, between the battlefield and the, the, the portable tiger cage, between the portable tiger cage and the more substantial jail. In, in all phases they were tortured and they would get killed, summarily executed at any of these phases. And after they'd been in for months, they might be tortured. So I was shocked. I was, I was truly shocked by this for two reasons: one and the most, the primary thing, the inhumanity of it all, but I didn't say too much then, because I, I didn't talk too much about that. I would always allude to it, but in Vietnam, amongst the, the so-called tough-minded bureaucrats military and civilian, one was labelled as being sentimental or bleeding heart or do-gooder and that kind of thing, and one was, one's opinion was, was dismissed. And you know, "He's just a bleeding heart." So I tried to avoid that image. You know, and I could talk at length about that, but it's not pertinent at, at the present. I first related this to my superiors in the Rand Corporation. I said, "Hey, a lot is going on here that a lot of people don't know about. Prisoners are being tortured and that's not good for our side because when the Viet Cong find out that prisoners, and of course how naive I was, the Viet Cong had known for 25 years how the situation was, from their point of view hadn't changed, and the Americans were just like the French regardless of whether or not we call our policies, we support them by a letter from President Diem and the French had somebody else to support theirs, I mean. The fact of the matter is that the Viet Cong had known this for years. Well I, my perception was that this is not a good thing to do, because the Viet Cong will find out about it and they will never surrender. They'll fight that much harder. That makes the job of the Americans that much harder. So I told the Rand Corporation, my Rand Corporation superiors about this, and they said, "Hmm, that's too bad. That really is bad. Wow." They'd frown. They'd say, "That's terrible." And I'd say, "Well, don't you think we should do something about this?" And they'd say, "Well, that's not our job. Everybody knows that, man. Don't you know, everybody knows that. After all, it's, it's a dirty war," and, and, and they'd rationalize it from one end to another. And so I got tired of that. I, I will say that there were two gentlemen who worked for Rand early, in the early days of this project, who I have, I st -- retain a great deal of respect for. That's Professor Joseph Zasloff at the University of Pittsburgh and Professor John Donnell who I think is still at Temple University. And I believe that's where he is. Isn't he Dan at Temple?
Daniel Ellsberg Yeah.
Anthony Russo Yeah. And they were there for a very short period of time to get the project going, and, and they did a very good job initially and they even went back to the Pentagon, gave briefings and they wrote letters to military personnel talking about the torture of prisoners. They went back to the Pentagon and gave very good briefings, and I wasn't present at the briefings but
Daniel Ellsberg I
Anthony Russo You what? You were?
Daniel Ellsberg See, I was in the Pentagon then working special assistant to the assistant secretary of defense, John McNaughton. And this story's been told, I've seen it told other places.
Anthony Russo It's a very famous story.
Daniel Ellsberg Never associated with McNaughton, who, who died in 1967, tragically, in a plane crash that killed a lot of his family. Just when I'd come back from Vietnam. But in December of '64 as I remember, just before we began the bombing of North Vietnam, which was in February 1965, Zasloff, whom I'd never met before, came to brief this study, Rand study, and I remember very well at the end of the briefing my boss, John McNaughton, said, when they were describing the motivation of the Viet Cong in Vietnam, why they were fighting, what had led them to join the Viet Cong and what their feelings were toward their own officers, toward their country, and their dedication, nationalism, competence which you learned a lot about dealing with them.
Anthony Russo In fact, I think one, one of the expressions that Joe Zasloff used was he described the Viet Cong cadre as possessing a, a monkish quality. As, as, as his commitment was so deep and, and so thorough that Zasloff viewed the Viet Cong cadre in terms of, of, of a monk, and remember, Dan, the, the thing that stands out in my mind Dan, is, is when Zasloff, I heard that when Zasloff gave his briefing, to -- when Zasloff and Donnell gave their briefing to McNaughton and I think State Department and Defense Department officials, McNaughton's reaction was, "My goodness gracious. If the Viet Cong are, are like that, we better get out of there right now!"
Daniel Ellsberg Well, okay, you took my line, but it's not -- it wasn't that, wasn't quite
Anthony Russo Yeah, I wasn't there. You were so, so, so clarify
Daniel Ellsberg That was very close. The
Anthony Russo But this is important, that's my impress-- that was my impression of what was going on then
Daniel Ellsberg You heard that.
Anthony Russo Yes. Yeah. Well,
Daniel Ellsberg I -- the exact line was, "If what you say in that briefing is true, we are fighting on the wrong side."
Anthony Russo Aha.
Daniel Ellsberg And that was December 1964. I don't think he doubted that it was true. Though it was very startling to hear, you, you didn't hear your enemy described in this -- in this much detail, a human detail usually. As quite apart from the content of what you were hearing when you were saying that, mentioning a monkish or monastic quality. I remember my friend Tran Ngoc Chau, who was, when I knew him in Vietnam, a colonel in charge of the pacification program. He'd been under Diem, and had worked with Americans for years. But when he was young he'd been with the Viet Minh, fighting the French for four years, and he'd been a -- or actually, actually for six years, and he'd become a battalion commander and eventually a division political adviser. I remember his saying that one of the great disillusioning shocks when he was a battalion commander was to go far behind the lines at one point to see a political cadre, an officer that he had respected tremendously. And discovering him behind the lines living with a woman and wearing I think very good sandals instead of the rubber tires. Sandals that they were wearing. And that came to him just like discovering your father in adultery or something. It didn't seem at all consistent with his picture of what an officer should be. And
Anthony Russo The Viet Cong is very human.
Daniel Ellsberg Yeah, that's kind of inhuman in a way, that was whats was so amazing, the way these defectors would describe their, their superiors and the respect that they had for them, the competence. But here we had then -- well, I, I interrupted your story, but as I say, I was present at that moment in our history when an assistant secretary of defense had that perception about the adversaries who were fighting.
Anthony Russo And, and, and he, he -- Dan, did -- he commanded a great deal of respect, didn't he? McNaughton. From a lot of people. That's my impression. Is that true?
Daniel Ellsberg Well, he did. But I, I don't like to -- I don't like to talk about him now. I have great affection for him and respect, and he is dead. He like me was part of a system which he came to see through earlier than some, than most, as the Pentagon Papers, as the Pentagon Papers show. But since the Papers are now there for everyone to read, perhaps it's, it is appropriate after all to comment that one has to look hard at all those people in the Pentagon who at one point or another came to see either the futility or the wrongness of what they were engaged in, and to begin to judge them as public servants now, not just humans in terms of how they responded to that. John McNaughton along with the others.
Anthony Lukas Dan, could I ask a
Anthony Lukas question which I was going to save for later, but it seems somehow appropriate now. You talk about people like McNaughton who, whose name, was just a name to me. But in talking about, I'm thinking as you talking about the role of the, of the press in all this, in recalling when I was in the Congo in 1962 and 3, stumbling on two CIA guys who were flying Let's identify
Studs Terkel -- Let's identify Tony for a moment. Tony, a correspondent of The New York Times, a Pulitzer Prize-winning, doing a story on Dan Ellsberg and associates. Please.
Anthony Lukas Recall that, stumbled on, on two CIA guys who were flying planes for the Congolese government from a small little base in the, in the Eastern Congo, and reporting this, reporting my strong suspicions that they were CIA. They turned out in fact to be that, and getting back to the embassy in, in Leopoldville and being told by the then deputy chief of mission that as far as he was concerned, he didn't think the embassy could work with me anymore, and that if that was the way I was going to play ball, I just simply'd be frozen out of the embassy sources, and we had a huge fight. And in fact it was very difficult for me to operate for a while there. This is ob-obviously true of guys in Vietnam, too. But from your perspective, I mean we -- you've talked repeatedly over the last couple of days about the, the fact that the press must stop seeing itself as a, a fourth branch of government, but at the operational level in the Defense Department, the State Department, how, how does a, an official, how should an official regard the press? I mean, it isn't really possible, is it, for a McNaughton let us say, to take a Tom Wicker or a Max Frankel into confidence about the day-to-day details and policy? Could he, could a, could a McNaughton have called in, could he have talked as frankly to Tom Wicker about his doubts about Vietnam policy in 1964 as, as you can talk about them now? How, how does, how do -- how should you, how should a McNaughton have dealt honestly with a, with a press in day-to-day policy making?
Daniel Ellsberg I think the, the first -- the first really test of how they, they act is how truthfully they speak within the bureaucracy. That's one, you know, test. And in general how do they deal with the risks that are involved in speaking honestly to their own bosses and to colleagues in general? With respect to the, with respect to the public, I always thought that it was wrong of high officials to be as willing to lie for the president as they were. I thought it was undignified, to use a very -- you know, euphemistic word. And above that, wrong. That it was demeaning of them, that they were humiliating themselves whether they realized it or not, that they were corrupting themselves as American citizens to accept that role. Particularly those who let's say were not in public affairs. Now, this -- that might seem patronizing of the public affairs officer, but after all he is labeled as an advocate. He's labeled as a representative, as a flack at it, at its lowest level or as a public relations officer of some sort. Certainly everyone dealing with him would, would regard him as a vehicle and as a, as a person constrained to present a line in a certain way and would at least be warned by his very title. For an assistant secretary or an undersecretary as we were discussing earlier, to use the authority of his position and the general supposition that a man confirmed by the Senate will not likely lie to a reporter or to the public, to deceive the public for the president seemed to me, even at the time very, a very disturbing phenomenon. And in retrospect of course all the more so, as I see more clearly than ever where it led us. They were wrong from every point of view to lend themselves to that. Thus lightening the pressures on the president that an informed public would have brought to bear politically to get us out of the war. But that, that brings us to, to another incident that involved -- that Tony happened to be in on, it so happens, and I want to recall to him. There was a significant one as I look back on it in, in terms of this whole discussion we're having. It was the week that I left the Rand Corporation. I was asked to come to an advisory group. Well it was called an advi-advisory group, it's supposedly a research group of academics that, whose meetings, whose regular meetings and whose research in some degree was funded by AID, A-I-D. And this meeting had been scheduled, I'd been scheduled for this long before I left -- ever thought of leaving Rand, and it included nearly every academic in this country who spoke Vietnamese. Sitting around one table. Now, that, that, a very small table can accommodate that group. As a matter of fact, the two that Tony mentioned, Joe Zasloff and John Donnell were both there, and until very recently, they were the two academics in this country with tenure who spoke Vietnamese. And who'd been in Vietnam. Now, Alec Woodside has recently joined them, I believe, and there may be one or two others by now, but for something like 20 years they were the two, and they both got it working for the government in World War II, they were part of the first group of Army enlisted man to get Vietnamese language training in the intelligence services. That was it in terms of our knowledge. Meanwhile, there were a number of other lesser junior academics around, and they were all in this one group, so there was a tremendous amount or relatively now of experience and knowledge of Vietnam at that table. I became -- I, I'd been invited to the meeting, I didn't know entirely the nature of the group, and Tony was there. They were, we were hearing research papers and he'd been invited also to participate. So the first day was very stimulating. These were the people that I wanted to talk to in the country. I could learn a lot from them and I did learn a lot from them. I took a lot of notes. By the second day I felt I needed -- began to feel uneasy and need to know more just what the nature of the group was and ask them what its purpose was. Well, according to some of the academics, although the funding was from Rand, it was for pure -- I'm sorry, it was from AID, it was for pure research. This was a basically altruistic function and this sort of thing does occur in the government where basic research is being funded, and we're back in other words to this role of the intellectual and the state essentially and a relationship here of researchers. And so as the people running it, and actually Joe Zasloff was chairman at that point, the, the only function of the group was to do basic research on Vietnam. AID was interested in Vietnam and was glad to see this done. An AID representative present, however, saw it differently and emphasized that as they saw the relationship, they wanted to benefit from the advice of this group on implementing their programs. There was a little discussion about that to clarify it, but it came through very clearly that that was the way AID saw this relationship, whether the researchers wanted to see it that way or not. Well, I'd just left Rand that very week in order to be able to speak freely in a way that seemed impossible to do at Rand, and not because Rand officers censored what I said or forbade me, but because every time I criticized the war, I caused great apprehension among all of my colleagues at Rand that they were about to lose their contract and hence their jobs. And I felt that this had been going on for about six or nine months and it was unfair of me indefinitely to keep subjecting them to that kind of apprehension. It was the time had come to separate myself so that I could speak out very freely. Incidentally, to tie things together even further, the exact occasion for that was my desire to speak freely about the way in which our government had been accomplices in the imprisonment of my friend Tran Ngoc Chau who, from being pacification head in Vietnam and then being a deputy from Khanh Hoa, the province whose capital was the town that had to be destroyed in order to be saved in Tet, had been secretary general of the lower house and then jailed by Thieu for exposing the corruption by Thieu of the Lower House and for call-- because Chau was also calling for negotiations. The Supreme Court subsequently -- of Vietnam -- the Supreme Court found Chau's arrest, trial, court, and sentence each individually unconstitutional. They have a constitution, and they found it unconstitutional. He is still in jail. This was all in effect with the connivance or tacit agreement of our embassy and our ambassador there, Ellsworth Bunker, and I just felt it essential that I be free to say this publicly. So when I discovered that the relationship of this advisory group or research group to AID as Tony will remember, I felt called on to say right away that without any disrespect to any of the individuals there, that I would have to separate myself from the group. I said, "The reasons that led me to leave Rand this week do not seem compatible to me with my staying even part of this group [my?] further away from the government though it is. I have only one thing to say to officials on the implementations of their programs in Vietnam: We must terminate our programs in Vietnam. We must end our involvement in Vietnam. Get out of Vietnam. That's all I have to say to officials of this government, of the executive branch, and I can say, I don't have to be in this group to say that." Well Tony, you may remember that the AID man there, whom I didn't know personally but knew my work on Vietnam, got very distressed at this. Remember? And very sincerely dismayed. And he said, he said, "Don't do this, Dan." He said, "You're just the sort of man that we want here for this kind of advice. We need you, the government needs you, and you can do good work in this relationship." He said "This gives you access. It gives you a chance to say what you think to the officials, and we want to hear that." He said -- and then you may remember, Tony, he said, he ended up very impassionedly by saying, "Don't," he said, "Don't do this, don't cut yourself off, don't cut your throat." And I had to say to him and this didn't look ludicrous, sound ludicrous to anyone at that table, and I had to say, "I'm not cutting my throat." I said, "Life exists outside the executive branch or without any direct relation to the executive branch. You know, there is nourishment, you can sustain life out there. And it is not killing yourself to cut yourself off in this way."
Studs Terkel Doesn't this come back to the original -- by the way, there's an undercurrent. There's a recurring theme throughout this conversation. The theme really is freedom. The theme is liberation.
Daniel Ellsberg Yes, that's right. Now, here was the thing that now ties in directly though. When I had discovered the fears roused among my Rand colleagues when some nine months earlier six of us at Rand who had worked on Vietnam signed a letter calling for unilateral withdrawal, and thus endorsing a position that the Gallup poll had revealed the same month was held by 57 percent then of the American public, now 73 percent, it really started me wondering about the freedom of thought of this institution I'd been in so long which prided itself on independence. One thinks of freedom of thought and, and people at Rand and other institutions think of themselves as very free-thinking, freewheeling in their thinking, and I began to think can it be that one can think really objectively and independently in an environment where to say the wrong thing or to say it to the wrong people causes such fear? Immediately? I began to think about it. It was a new perception for me, because I hadn't really seen it before. Now, there was a related -- the reason we wrote that letter was for a reason that was very relevant to this meeting of people in the spring of 1970 that I'm, have just been describing because it so happens that our society knows so little about Vietnam, has so little contact, that almost the only way to learn about it, or even to learn the language, is in connection with the executive branch or the Defense Department. Just like Zasloff and Donnell, most people who have learned Vietnamese have learned it at government expense.
Anthony Russo That there are lots, that there are a lot of very notable exceptions in, among the few Vietnam scholars who, who haven't done that, though.
Daniel Ellsberg I don't think there are, Tony.
Anthony Russo But what, well, I'd say what, what in particular were you referring to now, what particular quality?
Daniel Ellsberg I, just learning, knowing Vietnamese.
Anthony Russo Oh, oh right! Yes. Knowing the language. Right. It's -- doggone, you're right. Yeah. Because I can't really -- I can think of a lot of Vietnam scholars. I, I would guess that there're probably several at Cornell. For example, there was an Australian fellow whose name escapes me at, at present who knew Vietnamese, who was at Cornell. I was thinking
Daniel Ellsberg Well the point is you have to scratch
Anthony Russo Right,
Anthony Russo And Yeah, you really do. The thing I was thinking about is, is that there are some very, very good scholars, although a handful, Vietnam scholars, and they, they don't know Vietnamese, right, but there are some very good Vietnam scholars who have never collaborated with the government.
Daniel Ellsberg Sure.
Anthony Russo Who
Daniel Ellsberg But what I'm saying is, take this investment of time just to learn the language, that's been at government expense in almost every case.
Anthony Russo Yes.
Daniel Ellsberg Now. To say that, then, now you have to add another postulate. Somebody who's worked for the government. And especially one who hopes to work again for the government, let alone somebody who is currently working for the government, feels in almost every case constrained to be silent about his opinions to the public if he disagrees with official policy. If he agrees with it, he will express his opinions truthfully and freely and in no risk. If he disagrees with it, he will be silent even if he is very bold internally at expressing his opinions honestly to his superiors. One can do that. The rule that you can't break is talking out of school, in effect. Put those two things together, and the effect to the public is that the public never hears criticism of Vietnam War from somebody who is clearly qualified in the sense and experience and expertise in Vietnamese speaking. He does hear support of the war from such people, but when he hears criticism it's from people outside the government, people like Morgenthau, people let's say if they are scholars like George Lewis or John -- John Lewis or George Kahin, they're not really Vietnamese scholars, at best they're Asian scholars of some kind, but not Vietnamese scholars, and so the public inevitably gets the false impression, which is just a lie, that to be for unilateral withdrawal, to be strongly against the war, you have to be ignorant of Vietnam. If you're informed, if you speak the language, if you've had experience there, you either must support the war or, if you criticize it, you don't criticize it so strongly that you feel any compulsion to speak out on it.
Anthony Russo I remember one incident in particular which, which illustrates that. There was a move afoot amongst several scholars there to, to put together a project which would last over the summer, the summer of 1970 in which they'd go there and they'd study something about villages or -- and I forget exactly what the nature of the topic was, but I'd, I'd -- they asked me to participate in that study. And I said, I asked them one question, I said, "What good do you think it'll do the Vietnamese people?" And they, they smirked and they laughed, they grinned like, you know, "What do you mean? It's, it's a project, we'll get money for it, something for us to do." And, and one man in particular said, "Look." He said, "Look. I have to tell you where, where, where, where my position is." He said, "I have spent three years learning to speak Vietnamese. I'm a Vietnamese scholar. I have to go to Vietnam to practice my profession. And the only way I can get there is, is working for the U.S. government." And he said, "I'm, I'm being very frank with you." And
Studs Terkel Talk about alienation.
Anthony Russo Yes.
Studs Terkel Talk about alientation!
Anthony Russo Yes, indeed. Yes, indeed. And I, I said to him, "Well, that may be the way you view it, but really I don't think this project will do the Vietnamese any good. In fact, it may do them a lot of harm. And he didn't want to talk about that. In fact, this gentleman wrote me a letter recently, I, I heard from him. He wanted to publish one of my old papers that he had plenty of time to talk about publishing, you know, before the Pentagon Papers broke. He -- last year, a year ago he could have, he could have published my paper had he wanted to. But after the Pentagon Papers broke, he suddenly I get a letter saying, "I'm interested in publishing your paper." So I was interested in his reaction. So I wrote him back saying, "Well, I don't know, I haven't made any plans for publishing this yet. I have a number of alternatives. What do you propose?" So he answered back with a three-page letter in which he mentioned how unfortunate it was that all this trouble had developed and, and that, and he, he said he, he felt very sorry that I was mixed up in this thing and that I had to go to jail. He said it made him feel very sad, you see. Now this, is just a, it just one little illustration of which there are many. You know, it, it's a very general kind of thing. I would expect that from many, many people. But you see, he doesn't understand that what I did was a matter of conscience, and that I am happy. I, I, I feel joyous to be where I am because I'm being true to myself, you see, and I don't think he is, he's being true to his paycheck, he's being true to -- he's a, a manipulative kind of person. And, and when we speak of manipulation, that has been the name of the game for so long and in fact we see it now with, with the old-time politicians even now. Even now. For example, Senator Humphrey, who I mean no disrespect to, but I think Senator Humphrey has to catch up with the times. I think even in 1968 when he ran for president, he, he was running 10 years behind the times, and that's why he lost. That, that that's why he couldn't get his organization together. That's why he couldn't inspire his, the people on his staff. Just recently on September 24th, just a few days ago, Senator Humphrey said, "I wouldn't think of making a move nationally." Now, now this is with regard to the coming presidential election. He said, "I wouldn't think of making a move nationally if I didn't have my state in good hands. The first lesson is don't sleep too long. Don't trust too much. Don't take anything for granted."
Studs Terkel So there we have another alienated -- piece of alienation, don't we?
Anthony Russo But you know, I'd, I'd like to just, I'd like to just pick up on the, the prisoner theme. I began to tell you about how in 1965 I first found out about the torture of prisoners in South Vietnam and how it shocked me both from a human point of view and from the, from the sheer faulty logic of it, you know, just from the sheer sterile logical point of view, which, which seems, you seem to be on safe grounds if, in the bureaucracy, if you deal in sterile logic, and in fact that's the shortcoming, but, but, I pro -- and, and my feeling about prisoners, it progressed through a number of different levels while I was in Vietnam as I came back to the United States and reflected on that experience and finally, finally I think what capped it off was, was being a prisoner myself, because you see I sat in my isolation cell with my pajamas on and with my Taiwan rubber slippers on, and one day it dawned on me. Wow. I, I took a look at myself and I said, "My goodness, I'm dressed exactly like the prisoners in Vietnam that I was interviewing." They dress in the pajama-like costume and with the rubber sandals, and I said, "My goodness. I've been Vietnamized." You know? I, I've been Vietnamized. Here I am in prison, and to Vietnamize someone means to put him in prison as far as I'm concerned. But now -- that -- see -- and my feeling about why prisoners were tortured finally as, as I began to become less naive, as I say I told my Rand Corporation superiors about this, no response, although I did allude to Zasloff and Donnell, and they, they did write a letter to
Anthony Russo To someone, I forget exactly whom they
Daniel Ellsberg I got it in McNaughton's office.
Anthony Russo Oh it, that, it was to McNaughton, yes. About the, the torture of prisoners that they -- as I say, I, I think are very responsible people so, but they were cut off the project very quickly after only having worked a few months, aft-after having gone to Vietnam, use their, using their knowledge of the country, their contacts, their Vietnamese friends, to get the, the project started. They were cut loose and the project was put into the hands of, of a Rand Corporation research analyst who had been with Rand for a great many years, and he became my boss. I essentially started working on the project about the same time that he became the director. And I slowly learned more and see, I went to him with the story about the torture of prisoners. No response. Absolutely no response, in fact, he, he put me down for being so naive, being so wet behind the ears that I would even bother to bring that up. You know, my goodness don't you understand, this is a war and war is tough. You know, you're going to have to learn. So, no response from him. I went to the military and, and I'll tell you, I didn't just go to one person in the military. Every, on every field trip I took, and I visited 20 -- something like 23 provinces out of the, out of the 44 in all of Vietnam over a period of a year and a half. In almost every province I would go to the senior American adviser and I'd discuss the prisoner situation because I wanted to get access to prisoners to interview them, and I'd always put in a plug for, for better treatment for the prisoners because it's better for everybody concerned. Better for the Americans, better for the, better for the Vietnamese who worked for the Americans, and better for the Viet Cong, better for me, you know I mean? I, I'd, a, a great deal it was to have been gained from taking the humane point of view. No response. The, the military response was standard "They're Asians, and Asians are brutal. Life is cheap for these people." And I, I, I really, really was di -- very, very disappointed. And so I went to the embassy, went to the U.S. embassy and I talked to people at all levels. I talked to people in A-I-D, at all levels, and at the embassy right, right on up the line to the man right next to the ambassador, I, I many times I tried to get in to see the ambassador. I tried to corner him at cocktail parties. The closest I ever came to the ambassador was when Lodge was there. I would sometimes see him at the Cercle Sportif, the country club in Saigon where one would go to swim. I would go over there from time to time and quite frankly I was sickened every time I went there because, because I saw this, this colonial elegance, you know, sitting up on the pavilion sipping a gin and tonic and there were a few people sitting around in white suits and of course the place was loaded with military, it was loaded with the few Frenchmen who hang on there, and lots of American military men and Ambassador Lodge was there. I would get to see him swimming there sometimes, that's all. And of course one never got too close to him because he would sort of act like he might catch a disease from you and he'd split. He would be very cordial and say, "Hello, how are you today, good to see you." That's about the extent of it. I tried to see Ambassador Bunker, wow, and, and nobody could see -- I, I one day I rode up on the elevator with him, and he was very, he was very cordial and said, "Hello, how are you," that's all. But I did get to see men who were close to Bunker, mission coordinator, people like that, Bunker's assistants, and I would tell them these stories and they'd say, "Yes, yes, you're right. You really understand the situation." They would be very friendly. We'd go downtown and we'd have coffee together at a sidewalk cafe and watch the Vietnamese walk back and forth and, you know. And they would try to pump me for information, and I would sit there and talk to them all morning and, and tell them all these things, thinking that I was having some influence on policy. Well, they were just pumping me. They were just picking my brains, they were using me, you see. They looked at me as an object. You know, the relationship with me was as an object, not as a person.
Studs Terkel Not too removed from their attitude toward Vietnamese.
Studs Terkel You were Vietnamized over there before you went to
Anthony Russo Right, right, before, and it took me years to find it out!