Daniell Ellsberg, Whistleblower of the Vietnam War: A Catalyst for Historical Change and Political Scandal

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Daniel Ellsberg, Whistleblower of Pentagon Papers, Dies at 92

Daniel Ellsberg, the renowned whistleblower who leaked the extensive and secret history of the Vietnam War known as the Pentagon Papers, passed away on June 16 at his home in Kensington, California. His courageous act of revealing classified information led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling on free press and played a significant role in the Watergate scandal that ultimately led to President Nixon’s resignation.

Early Life and Activism

Daniel Ellsberg, a Harvard-educated peace activist with a Ph.D. in economics, had an unconventional path to becoming a peace advocate. After serving in the Marine Corps, he worked as a military analyst and consultant for the Department of Defense and the State Department. However, his experiences in Vietnam led him to question the war effort and ultimately embrace a life of advocacy.

Katharine Graham, editor of The Washington Post, and Ben Bradlee, executive editor of The Washington Post, leave the US District Court in Washington, DC, on June 21, 1971, following a hearing on the newspaper’s request to publish the “Pentagon Papers,” secret documents detailing the US war in Vietnam (Getty)

The Pentagon Papers Leak

During his time in Vietnam, Ellsberg became increasingly disillusioned with the war and concluded that it was unwinnable. In 1971, he leaked the Pentagon Papers, which exposed the government’s hidden doubts about the progress of the war and its misleading statements to the public. This revelation earned Ellsberg the nickname “The Most Dangerous Man in America” by Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s national security adviser.

Following the leak, Ellsberg dedicated his life to defending press freedom and advocating for nuclear disarmament. He co-founded the Freedom of the Press Foundation and continued to publish secret government documents, shedding light on the dangers of nuclear war.

A scene from the film The Post, which tells the story of the Pentagon Papers

The Legal Battle and Legacy

The publication of the Pentagon Papers sparked a legal and journalistic confrontation. The Nixon administration obtained a temporary injunction to silence The New York Times, but Ellsberg had already shared the documents with other media organizations, including The Washington Post. The Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of allowing publication to continue, setting a precedent for press freedom.

Ellsberg and his colleague, Anthony J Russo, faced charges under the Espionage Act, but a mistrial was declared due to governmental misconduct. The Watergate scandal later revealed Nixon’s attempts to discredit Ellsberg and destroy his reputation.

Despite the mixed impact of the Pentagon Papers on ending the Vietnam War, Ellsberg’s actions led to increased scrutiny and control of presidential and military power. He continued to be a passionate advocate for peace, justice, and government transparency throughout his life.

Legacy and Recognition

Daniel Ellsberg’s courage and determination earned him numerous awards and honors, including the Right Livelihood Award in 2006, also known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize.” His legacy as a champion of press freedom and peace will continue to inspire advocates for justice around the world.

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