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the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

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Daniel Ellsberg Exposed U.S. Government Lies about the Vietnam War

Jun 26, 2023

Daniel Ellsberg, who died on June 16, was someone who helped reveal some of the truth about the Vietnam war and the lies told by the U.S. government.

Ellsberg first worked for the RAND Corporation as a military analyst. In 1964, he joined the U.S. government as an adviser to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara as the U.S. was sending more and more troops to Vietnam. At this time, Ellsberg was known as a “Cold Warrior” who supported the U.S. government policy as it was escalating the war.

Then the government sent Ellsberg to Vietnam to evaluate the U.S. government’s policies toward the Vietnamese population in what were called “civilian pacification” programs.

Ellsberg accompanied U.S. troops on combat patrols in the villages and countryside. There Ellsberg saw the reality of the war. The Vietnamese population, whom the U.S. government claimed they were fighting for, did not want U.S. troops in their country. Ellsberg saw the civilians killed and the villages burned.

After World War II, the Vietnamese population had first fought for independence from the French government, who claimed Vietnam as their colony. After the Vietnamese drove out the French troops who occupied their country, the U.S. government stepped in, first sending “advisers” and then more and more soldiers. Ellsberg saw that many Vietnamese, North and South, were fighting to liberate their country from the U.S. occupiers.

When Ellsberg returned to Washington, he wrote reports that were more critical of the war, but they went nowhere. He was assigned with other people to help write a history and analysis of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, which became known as the “Pentagon Papers.” This analysis showed clearly how the U.S. government was lying to the U.S. population about the war.

Ellsberg left the government and began to openly speak out against the war and join antiwar protests. He copied the 7,000 pages of the “Pentagon Papers” and tried to work within the system to expose the lies. Ellsberg went to some U.S. senators, including William Fulbright and George McGovern, who were considered to be antiwar. He wanted them to expose the “Pentagon Papers” in Congressional hearings, but they refused.

So Ellsberg gave the “Pentagon Papers” to the New York Times and then to the Washington Post, which began to publish them. The government tried to stop the papers, but the Supreme Court upheld the newspapers’ right to publish them. The government also came after Ellsberg himself. He was charged with “espionage” and other crimes that called for 115 years in prison. But, in the end, the judge threw out the case because of government misconduct that included burglary and wiretapping against Ellsberg, and the attempted bribery of the judge.

Ellsberg continued to be active the rest of his life. He continued to speak at rallies against the Vietnam war and he spoke against nuclear weapons. He was arrested at a demonstration outside the Pentagon. Later, he denounced the U.S. military invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, other wars that were based on lies told by the U.S. government.

What Ellsberg helped reveal in the “Pentagon Papers” was that the U.S. government will tell any lie when it is ready to go to any war. In the final months of his life, when Ellsberg knew he was dying, he warned about the threat of the U.S. going to war against China over Taiwan.

Today, with the U.S. making threats of war against China, we will do well to remember what the “Pentagon Papers” showed us.