Daniel Ellsberg: The Whistleblower Who Exposed the Pentagon Papers and Changed History

On June 16, 2023, Ellsberg succumbed to pancreatic malignancy, thus concluding his quest for rectitude and veracity. He stood as the central figure in the “Pentagon Papers” disclosure, etching an indelible mark in American annals, enduring the specter of a 115-year prison sentence. Despite eventual exoneration, the echelons deemed him “the most perilous man in America” throughout his remaining days.

Astonished by the veracity concerning the Vietnam Conflict,

In 1962, subsequent to his matriculation from Harvard University, the 31-year-old Ellsberg commenced his vocation as a strategic analyst at the RAND Corporation, subsequently affiliating with the U.S. Department of Defense. Amidst the throes of the Vietnam War, he was dispatched to the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, South Vietnam, to gauge the situation on the ground. Yet, shortly thereafter, he returned home, besieged by hepatitis.

In late 1967, Ellsberg reconvened at the RAND Corporation to compose a clandestine dossier commissioned by then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Over a year later, the “History of U.S. Decision-Making in Vietnam from 1945 to 1968,” comprising over 3,000 pages of analysis and more than 4,000 pages of original documents, came to fruition. This document, historically branded as the “Pentagon Papers,” catalyzed a seismic shift in Ellsberg’s trajectory.

The verity jolted Ellsberg to his core. The dossier unveiled the machinations of erstwhile government luminaries in orchestrating the nation’s descent into conflict for political expediency, laying bare the toll of the Vietnam Conflict, which claimed the lives of 1 million Vietnamese and 55,000 American soldiers. Moreover, it illuminated the subterfuge perpetuated by the succeeding Nixon administration in obfuscating the truth of the war.

As a witness to the vicissitudes of the Vietnam Conflict, where life and death intertwined, Ellsberg bore witness to the inherent brutality of warfare. He maintained that publicizing the clandestine machinations was imperative to extricating the United States from the quagmire of war.

In 1969, Ellsberg meticulously disseminated the “Pentagon Papers” morsel by morsel, akin to a diligent ant, laboriously transcribing page after page during weekends. At that juncture, he was ensnared in the throes of divorce, relegating weekends as the sole juncture for familial communion with his progeny. When compelled, he resorted to bringing his children along to facilitate the replication process. Cognizant of the potential for theft, Ellsberg surreptitiously duplicated the documents, stowing them away with confidants as a contingency measure.

Media Relay Coverage

Armed with irrefutable evidence, Ellsberg endeavored to sway certain U.S. legislators, urging them to unveil the documents in Congress, thereby compelling the executive to reassess its stance on the war. However, his overtures were met with ubiquitous obstruction, compelling him to recourse to the media.

On June 13, 1971, the New York Times commenced serializing the “Pentagon Papers.” Barely three days subsequent to the initial publication, the Attorney General besieged the editorial sanctum of The New York Times, demanding an immediate cessation of publication and the retraction of disseminated copies. This entreaty was summarily rebuffed by the periodical.

Thus commenced a “battle of stratagems” between the U.S. administration and the press.

The U.S. government, in a bid to curtail the dissemination of the top-secret dossier, sought legal recourse, beseeching the courts to issue a temporary injunction prohibiting its publication pending litigation. Meanwhile, the “Washington Post” assumed the mantle of journalistic stewardship, albeit facing legal reprisal. As the legal skirmishes unfolded, Ellsberg orchestrated a fresh deluge of disclosures to alternative media outlets. The Boston Globe, Chicago Sun-Times, Christian Science Monitor, and sundry others rallied to the cause, amplifying the chorus of voices divulging the Pentagon Papers.

This relay of media reportage stands as a singular tableau in the annals of American journalism. The denouement of the judicial saga saw the U.S. administration vanquished, with the courts affirming the prerogative of the press to disseminate historical records, irrespective of their classification.

The President’s Vindictive Retaliation

On June 28, 1971, a mere fortnight subsequent to the maiden publication of the report, Ellsberg publicly surrendered himself. Swiftly, the U.S. administration indicted Ellsberg on 12 counts, including espionage, larceny, and conspiracy, imperiling him with a protracted custodial sentence.

Incensed by Ellsberg’s defiance, President Nixon resolved to annihilate his reputation through any means at his disposal. Presently, a recording surfaced, capturing Nixon’s directive to “neutralize” Ellsberg. In the tape, Nixon, accompanied by Henry Kissinger, then National Security Advisor, and Attorney General John Mitchell, conspired to denigrate Ellsberg in the public eye as a “debauched philanderer.”

The revelation of the retaliatory machinations precipitated Nixon’s downfall, culminating in his impeachment and resignation. Judicial pressure coerced the termination of Ellsberg’s trial, culminating in his acquittal.

Across the ensuing half-century, Ellsberg remained an unwavering proponent of anti-war advocacy. He delivered impassioned orations, graced media platforms, and regularly participated in protests, often incurring arrest. Thus, the epithet of “The Most Dangerous Man in America” became inexorably intertwined with his legacy.

In March 2023, at the age of 92, Ellsberg disclosed his battle with pancreatic cancer. Resigned to his fate, he forwent surgical intervention and eschewed chemotherapy, opting instead for hospice care. Nevertheless, a poignant lamentation pervaded his sentiments: “The world I depart from languishes in dire straits… This is not the world I envisioned for 2023.”

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