Home » Daniel Ellsberg: The Doomsday Machine @ Talks at Google (Transcript)

Daniel Ellsberg: The Doomsday Machine @ Talks at Google (Transcript)

And I think what we’re talking about now is the future of civilization, of humanity. It’s the kind of subject that I know people here do, think big about, rightly so, all the time. But if you haven’t been thinking about this, which is also very possible, I’d say this, too, has to be added to the list of existential dangers.

As for climate, somebody asked me last night about artificial intelligence, germ warfare, whatever. Our current ready doomsday machines, which are about to be refurbished at the expense of $15 trillion — strictly $12 trillion, but they say, with inflation, really $16 trillion over the next 30 years — and in Russia, where using it would be just as insane as here — and it would have been and almost came close to happening several times in the past. And you would not be here and I would not be here.

I participated in the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was wrong about nearly everything involved, as was everybody dealing with me. And if my own instincts, like those of JFK’s initial instincts to attack those missiles — I wasn’t precisely on that, but I was ready to see it happen — had been followed, we would not be here. Doomsday would have resulted from any time since about 1950, when Harry Truman left Eisenhower with 1,000 fission weapons. Eisenhower left office and left Kennedy 23,000 thermonuclear weapons, which Kennedy and Johnson raised to 37,000, at a time when Herb York, the director of Livermore Labs, used to say, how many weapons does it take to deter a nuclear attack against an enemy rational enough to be deterred? One.

Or if that’s not enough, 10, but closer to 10 or 1 than 100 37,000. We’ve cut that way down now, to about 4,000 each. It takes several hundred to cause nuclear winter. So we’re in a galaxy now that may not have a very long history as far as human habitation is concerned, except for a very small remnant. And that’s the challenge here that I add to your global ambitions, to try to dismantle the doomsday machines on earth and to move toward what Trump calls the world coming to its senses. Thank you.

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I’ve used up the time here. I know a lot of you have to go to work. I can stay longer, until even 2:20 or so. And there’s a few more minutes, even formally –

AUDIENCE: Hi. Thank you for your talk. It was extremely cheery. Do you see anything actionable that people who already have careers and can’t exactly immediately jump into civil service can do to impact any of this?

DANIEL ELLSBERG: Yeah, could you hear that? I have to go up to hear it. You know, I have to say that the first thing, you’re talking to people who already have careers, have civil service and so forth. I was asked this question just the other day by an Italian journalist, it so happens. And my real answer is leak. It’s actually, don’t just tell your bosses what you know that you think the public ought to know. Don’t leave it to your bosses to decide what the public should know. Be prepared to reveal that yourself. Do it anonymously. Cover your tracks, if you can put out enough that way to make the point Chelsea Manning and Ed Snowden knew they couldn’t put out enough to make their point without, in effect, either revealing themselves or pointing the finger of suspicion at others.

So like myself, they determined they would say who had done it. That’s what I did. I didn’t want others to be blamed for it. But I would say that should not be kept within channels. We’re in a situation now where sharing that wrongly-held information is of the highest importance. And so I’m talking to an audience now here, unusually, which will be or is in a chance to actually make that kind of difference, generally not. But for many years, I didn’t talk about whistleblowing at all when I talked about activism.

For 40 years, I spent my time not writing this book but trying to build an anti-war movement, an anti-nuclear movement, that would be like the anti-war movement that had helped end the Vietnam War, with some success during the Freeze Movement, though it, in the end, didn’t change this arms race significantly. It only lowered the number of weapons by 80%, which made no difference at all, no difference. There would be no difference. If the war occurred, you wouldn’t tell whether it had been done with 8,000 weapons or 40,000 weapons. If there was somebody alive to decide and try to tell, they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. So that didn’t work.

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But I didn’t talk about whistleblowing much, mainly because people I was talking to would not have a chance to put that out, but also because it seemed self-serving. And then I thought of a way to say it, which I have been saying and I’ll say for 10 years. Don’t do what I did. Don’t wait till the bombs are falling or thousands of people more have died if you have information that could avert these catastrophes. No matter the cost to yourself, consider paying that cost to put it out. Because a war’s worth of lives is at stake.

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