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

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

And the prospects generally were pretty well-known inside the government. It’s wrong to say, as you often would see on the Pentagon Papers, that what they showed was that the presidents were told the war was unwinnable. Anybody here ever heard that expression? Let me see more hands. Don’t be shy. There’s quite a few. Right, that’s simply false.

It’s not what the Pentagon Papers say any time. The president is never told on writing the war is unwinnable. He’s always told by the Joint Chiefs in the papers it is winnable. Just do it the way we say. It is not winnable the way you are doing, the only way you’ll do it.

But if you’re willing to risk war with China, if you’re willing to hit every target in the north, if you’re willing to put at least 500,000 troops in Vietnam– which we eventually did have– up to a million, which the president was told in 1965 was also a real possibility, a million troops in Vietnam, then we’d win.

Well, why would we win? Would the other side give up? Well, if not then, with more. They’ve got to give up eventually, aren’t they? We’re the U-S of A. We’re the greatest and so forth. Everybody’s got to bend eventually. They’ve got to have a breaking point. Let us find it and we’ll give you your victory. No one said quickly. Five years, 10 years, 15 years, that’s what they said.

In 1965, the president asked the Joint Chiefs, how long will it take and how many troops? And he gets the word from the commandant of the Marine Corps troop, five years, 500,000 men. Now, that’s not low balling it exactly, is it? It wasn’t right. Because three years later, we had 500,000 troops there and we weren’t near winning it. And we weren’t any nearer than we were three years earlier. But still, you can’t say the Joint Chiefs are saying, oh, this will be a snap. Don’t worry about it. The president chose that.

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Do I have to explain why the president chose not to tell the public that’s where we were going? No. He was able to do it because he didn’t have to tell the public. Because he could count on people to keep secrets. They’d signed a promise, often described as an oath. But actually, it’s not an oath. It’s not, so help me God. It’s not a I swear this and that. It’s an employment promise. I don’t know what you sign when you come here in the way of non-disclosure agreements.

But most organizations of any kind, whether it’s a PTA or union or whatever the hell, you sign something, what I hear here stays here and so forth, can’t use it outside, or I can be fired or I can be demoted. I can be punished in various ways. It’s not a crime. Corporation can’t make it a crime. Google can’t make it a crime for you to reveal Google’s secrets unless they’re some kind of trade secrets.

There probably are some narrow, little areas where they could get away with it, but not just general how decisions got made and so forth. Just a second. I had taken an oath many times, as had every member of the armed services. I’d been a lieutenant in the Marine Corps, platoon leader and company commander, rifle company commander. I was very proud of the fact I was the only First Lieutenant in the 2nd Marine Division who had a rifle company, usually. I succeeded a major, actually. And other majors wanted that job away from me and they couldn’t get it.

I took the oath. then I took the oath in the Pentagon, in the State Department. And the oath was to protect and defend the United States, support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Now, how that might affect my behavior. I certainly didn’t spend any time thinking about, nor did anybody else. Every member of Congress has taken that oath. Every member of the Executive Department has taken that same oath. The president’s wording is a little bit different, protect, preserve and defend or something. But support and defend, everybody else takes it.

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And all of us violated it every day. we heard the president lying to Congress and lying to the public about what he intended, where the prospects were, what he was going to do in Vietnam, elsewhere. We all heard the president lying the public into a war, keeping the war going, letting him know the costs would be much less than internal estimates all indicated. And no one broke.

There were no leaks, including me. So was I observing that oath or violating it, when I knew that Congress, which has the exclusive authority to take us to war, at least that’s the best interpretation, I think, controverted by president’s men, was entirely delegating that secretly to a president who was determined to enlarge the war. That’s how you get wars that go on 10 years or 11 years, whatever.

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