By Lucy Feldman
The country is currently not the closest we’ve ever come to nuclear war, says Daniel Ellsberg, but we are still likely to face annihilation. And recent false alarms in Hawaii and Japan, erroneously alerting residents to incoming missiles, do nothing to quell the anxiety. “This was a little rehearsal,” Ellsberg says, “but not the first one, of being right on the edge of destruction.”
The history-making whistleblower softens no blows, sugarcoats nothing. The 86 year-old went to battle with the U.S. government when he released the Pentagon Papers in 1971, walking away a free man after a landmark trial in which he was charged under the Espionage Act. But Ellsberg has more alarms to sound. “The threats to exterminate North Korea for acts by its leaders are illegal, immoral, monstrous,” he tells TIME from his home in Kensington, Calif. There is a chance humanity will survive the weapons of its own making — but “it’s very unlikely.”
“In other words, in the darkness, prevented from any public awareness, very smart men can act not only stupidly, but also crazily.”
Ellsberg’s urgent interest in nuclear debate runs deep. Before he released the material that revealed the government misled the public about the extent of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War — a story newly refreshed by Matthew Rhys as Ellsberg in Steven Spielberg’s latest, The Post — Ellsberg was a nuclear analyst and consultant to the Department of Defense, where he helped draft Secretary Robert McNamara’s plans for nuclear war. In December, he released The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, a book which unravels his untold history with 1960s nuclear secrets and his would-be plans to release them.
The dangerous “over there” myth
The book — and the first-hand understanding of the dangers of nuclear war it yields — come at an essential moment, as President Donald Trump knocks on the door of conflict with North Korea. The claim that casualties resulting from war with North Korea would be “over there” rather than “over here,” put forth by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in August, is both “vile” and “false,” Ellsberg declares; Kim Jong Un has planned for the ability to cause harm in the U.S., of that we can be sure. “Trump could not totally eliminate, even in a surprise nuclear attack, the North Korean ability to retaliate,” Ellsberg says. And don’t forget chemical warfare capability: Kim’s half-brother Kim Jong Nam was assassinated just under a year ago with the nerve agent VX. The risk of conflict with North Korea, Ellsberg contends, is likely to be far, far greater than what we’ve been told. “If I had access to those official estimates right now, I would certainly consider putting that information out to the press, to the public, to Congress and the world,” he says, adding a plea to those who might have truths within their reach: “Don’t do what I did; don’t wait until the bombs are falling or thousands have died if you have information that might avert that.” Also on Ellsberg’s whistleblowing wish list: the 6,000-page 2012 Senate report on torture. …
(Commoner Call cartoon by Mark L. Taylor, 2017. Open source and free to use with link to www.thecommonercall.org )