Here is the full transcript of American activist and former military analyst Daniel Ellsberg’s talk: The Doomsday Machine @ Talks at Google conference.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Is this mic working? Can you hear me in the back?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: OK. I feel overdressed. Usually I only wear all this when I get arrested. I always tell people, if you’re about to get arrested, if you have a suit and tie, wear it, showing that that doesn’t exempt you from the obligations of citizenship, and that people like you can get and should get arrested at times. It’s funny. Being here, you always hear speakers say, it’s an honor to be here.
It’s not actually a formula I use, particularly I don’t go into it. And yet it’s occurring to me here, people who stand here, of course, know they’re at the center of the universe exactly, and speaking to — This is, by the way, a much younger audience than I’m used to speaking to. Generally, they’re all gray hair or — I see one here OK, the scroll overhead is a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Except that in the “Star Wars” movie, the galaxy we’re in, the same bullshit is going on as in far, far away. It’s been going on all along.
I was just talking to people from the bookstore. They tell me they actually have– I was surprised– copies of my earlier book, “Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.” Good book. I encourage you to read it. It should be coming out now. It would explain how we got into Afghanistan, why we stayed in Afghanistan, why we’re not getting out of Afghanistan.
The movie, “The Post,” which is coming out shortly– and I’ve seen it a couple times– is set in 1971. And that was at a time when America thought it had been going on for a very long time in war, in Vietnam, six years. That was longer than any American war prior to that. People then, your age and twice your age and three times your age, had not experienced a war that had gone on 16 years that was likely to go on another 10 or 16. That wasn’t in our experience.
And yet the question was just as sharp then, of course, as now: What’s going on? Why are we here? What is this? The movie, a documentary that was made from “Secrets” is called “The Most Dangerous Man in America, Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.” It got an Academy Award for the longest title, actually.
But really, the movie, “The Post”, now, in which I figure, played by somebody who looks a lot better than I did then, Matthew Rhys of “The Americans–” so it’s a good movie, in other words– really doesn’t give a clue as to answering the question, why was Daniel Ellsberg dangerous to anybody, to Kissinger, to Nixon?
It was Kissinger who called me that, the most dangerous man in America. Why did I copy the Pentagon Papers? Using the then cutting-edge technology of the time, Xerox, without which I couldn’t have copied 7,000 pages and made a number of copies, which took a long time, one copy at a time in those days, bar goes back and forth.
And to make several copies took a long time. I couldn’t have done it in the electric typewriter days that just preceded that, or manual before that, just as Ed Snowden and Chelsea Manning could not have put out hundreds of thousands of files. If I talk a little softer, could you hear me? Can you hear this? I’ve had a bad cold for six weeks and my voice is always on the edge of going. So it’s better I don’t talk louder than I have to. If you can’t hear me, please wave your arms.
OK, I’ll try not to talk so loud. They couldn’t put out hundreds of thousands of files or millions of pages except, of course, in the digital era, which they now can with this new technology. But what made that dangerous at any time, then or now? And the answer was that the government secrets that they were holding onto were secrets about criminal activity, actions that would be extremely embarrassing to a president, because they were illegal or unconstitutional or simply incredibly reckless, dangerous, horrible priorities, unlikely ever to succeed in any sense or to end. The public would not have applauded if they understood the actual strategy and the actual prospects.
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.
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.
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.
The truth is the United States, as I learned from the Pentagon Papers, when I read all of them, had begun the war in 1945 and ’46, supporting a French effort to reconquer a colony which had declared its independence in August and September of 1945. And actually Ho Chi Minh had been recognized as a head of state, at least of the north, in Paris when they were negotiating in ’45, ’46.
But when the French, starting with a shelling that killed at least 3,000 civilians in Haiphong in 1946, went into a war to reconquer that colony, the United States was financing that war, eventually up to the point of view of 80%. It was perceived by the Vietnamese, correctly, as an American-French war, perceived by Americans then and later as a French war.
I don’t think there was one American in 10,000, 100,000 who knew what I’ve just said. But the presence in Vietnam, it turns out, knew it because the communist cadres told them, correctly, that the US was financing this war. In short, it had been a war against Vietnamese independence from 1945 to 1975, when it finally ended 30 years later. The big part, the US part, 10 years war, in 1971, it had four years to go. If you see the movie, “The Post,” which I recommend you seeing– and I don’t say this publicly, generally, because it sounds as though I’m putting down the movie, and I have no interest in doing that.
But talking about the history, I will just say some questions it just doesn’t answer. It ends with the triumph of the Supreme Court saying, the First Amendment does not allow us to grant you injunctive relief from this information coming out, its history coming out. We can’t do prior constraint, prior restraint in this country as we could in England. We don’t have an Official Secrets Act the way they do. Obama, by the way, used the Espionage Act nine times, at least, or 10, if you count Petraeus, against leakers like me, but had been used only three times before that under all presidents put together.
I was the first under Nixon. The movie, by the way, doesn’t mention that I’m put on trial. It’s a big triumph for the press. And it was a triumph for the press. They can go on printing. And although the movie is started with me giving the papers, copying them and eventually giving them to The Post, it doesn’t mention that, although they are permitted to read, on the same week, the president, the Supreme Court, decides that I’m put on trial, eventually facing 12 felony counts, 115 years possible sentence.
And Pete Williamson, who was bringing me up here, said he was 11 when this happened. He thought I was obviously guilty of putting out secrets and that I should be on trial, when he was 11. And he said he was amazed when I somehow was let off two years later. I said, well, it was amazing. It was like a miracle. Essentially, no trial has ever been ended the way that was on the basis of a findings of government misconduct, criminal misconduct, which led to the criminal proceedings against Ehrlichman, Haldeman, a number of others called, put a dozen or so White House aides in jail, and made the president, facing conviction and impeachment, resign.
Without Nixon resigning in 1974, the war would have continued until he left office, at least through 1976. With him out, it became endable. With him in, not possible.
Let me give you one hint that goes right to the present. It’s not in my book, but to show, as I say, how similar the galaxies are. Galaxy Trump here, who is accused of having colluded with a foreign power to affect his election as a challenger, right, not proven yet. It may never be proven, strictly speaking, in terms of documents. We’ll see.
In the case of Nixon, it was last year that a document– last year now– that a document just surfaced from Haldeman’s notes, his Chief of Staff, saying that it was Nixon who gave orders to derail the arrangements of going to Paris for negotiations in November and December of 1969. Humphrey was on the verge of winning with the thought in the public’s mind that there were about to be negotiations that would end this war, which was then, they thought, four years old, since ’65. They didn’t know about the earlier period. Pentagon Papers hadn’t come out yet. And so he was talking.
Nixon was dealing with Thieu through intermediaries, President Thieu, not to go to Paris, to abort the negotiations, the prospect of which was leading Humphrey higher, higher every day and ready to overtake Nixon. That prospect stopped immediately flat when Thieu announced, I will not go to Paris, where he had agreed to go earlier with President Johnson. And Nixon won. Thieu said to aides later, I elected Nixon. He was right.
Without him, Nixon would not have come into office. The war would have ended in ’69, not ’75. I don’t think there’s one American in, what, 100,000 who would recognize what I’m just telling you now. And it’s not very easy. You don’t have to believe it.
But look it up on Google. You’ll find stuff about it. In short, the help of a foreign puppet, really, in that case– Putin is no puppet, needless to say– in that case, a puppet who relied entirely on American financing ensured that there would be regime change from the Democrats to the Republicans. He brought about regime change in this and enabled himself, Thieu, to stay in office another– he left in ’75– six years. And that explains something that you just won’t get from history books.
Why did Nixon so doggedly demand in negotiations that whatever happened, Thieu must remain in office? And if you’ve seen the Burns and Novick series, I think you’ll gather that the Vietnamese, North Vietnamese, always said, we will negotiate a coalition government, but not with Thieu in office. And I think their reason, which I can only conjecture, for not wanting him is that they were sure Nixon would continue the bombing if Thieu were still in office and might not if he weren’t, if there weren’t that continuity. That’s conjecture on their side.
What hardly is much less conjectural on our side is why Nixon could not afford a deal in which Thieu felt betrayed. Because Thieu could reveal, probably with tapes, with tapes, that Nixon and Kissinger and Richard Allen, and other intermediaries, had stolen an election in 1968 by direct collusion. Whether this happened at all or not in this recent election, I don’t know. Did it happen in ’68? It did happen. I do know that. And Nixon could not afford to let that go.
So another 20,000 Americans had to die and probably a million or more Vietnamese. And it would have gone on except for an extraordinary set of circumstances that came together that I really don’t have time to go into here. A lot of it is in the book, “Secrets,” toward the end about the Vietnam part. And as I say, it’s not in the movie.
So, in short, why was Ellsberg dangerous? Because I might reveal his secret plans. Why was that dangerous? Because the secret plans were for nuclear war in Vietnam. The threats were made rather explicitly. For example, as you’ll see in the book, in 1972, when there was an offensive, a year after the Pentagon Papers came out, the war was still going on and getting larger. And Nixon is saying, oh, I’d rather use a nuclear weapon, Henry. You got that? Oh, I think that would be just too much, on the tape, says Kissinger. And Nixon says, nuclear bomb? That’s too big for you, Henry? I just want you to think big, for Christ’s sake.
OK, so they didn’t have to use it. They used the B52s and so forth. What this book is about is, in a way, the back story, of secrets, of what was going on there, again, not hinted at in the movie, understandably– they didn’t know it– is that at the same time I was copying the Pentagon Papers, a 7,000-page, top secret, 47-volume study of American decision making from 1945 to ’68– and the title was secret, actually, in part because most Americans would have said, ‘45? What could that mean?
What decisions were we doing, the US, in ’45? Well, we were deciding for the French, to help the French reconquer their colony. That’s when our decision making started, which was not exactly a legitimate goal for the US. It was not illegal for the UN, because the UN did allow the possession of colonial powers and trusteeship and didn’t really rule out trying to reconquer a colony that had the obstreperousness to declare its independence, which is what France was doing. That was not clearly illegal at that point, strangely enough.
But in terms of American traditions, we thought of ourselves as– we didn’t think– of having run the first war of national liberation. But it could have been called that, the first war of separation for an empire. And we thought of ourselves as anti-imperial. And we still think of ourselves that way, as not an empire like the others. That’s false.
That’s very clear from the Pentagon Papers where we’re deciding who should run Vietnam this year or next year or how they should stay in power, what criminal acts they’re entitled to take, how much we need to support them. And so it’s very obviously the documents of an empire. In fact, that’s what I said to my wife, when she said, at one point, before they came out, does it really matter to get this history out? And I said, well, among other things, it’s the first real history of imperial operations since the Nuremberg documents were discovered, covered after the Second World War. And before that, it probably goes back to Punic times, to the Syrian empire, to Sumerian empire, and so probably all the same, but we don’t have the documents for it.
And here they are. And yet, even so, I managed to think of it as an aberration. We had somehow gotten ourselves into acting like an empire. Let me say just very briefly now– I could spend the whole time on this. But I’ll just say, I’ve come recently to see what we are as a covert empire. And covert refers to plausibly denial covert operations.
Covert operations, I should say, are defined as operations that are not just secret, that you’re not just keeping it safe, but that you lie about plausibly. And to make it plausible, you provide in advance evidence, false evidence, misleading evidence as to what’s really going on and who’s running it and why it’s happening and who did it and so forth, a false flag in some cases, whatever.
But you provide several layers of cover for what’s being done to protect the president from the notion that he is murdering, overthrowing governments, installing coup governments in democracies and so forth, as so often in the third world then and now, up until now. Well, you don’t want the US to be associated with that. It’s happening over there.
And if somehow a US hand surfaces, he or she wasn’t working for any agency. And if you find the agency, it wasn’t the CIA. And if it was the CIA, it wasn’t the president. So you have layer after layer of cover stories with documents. I didn’t know this. It didn’t come to my attention. This so-and-so did it and so forth. The Vietnam War was run from beginning to end like that. That’s how we run our empire.
We deny that we are an empire. And what is an empire? A country that determines the regime of other countries, decides who the police chief was, who shall live and who shall die, what the basic foreign policies are. We do that throughout Central America and always have, often many other parts of the world as far apart as Indonesia, now the Middle East. In general, we decide: Who do we want? Is this guy OK? We don’t decide every detail but any more than you decide every detail of a military commander’s operations.
But generally, they work. If they don’t do what we want, we replace them with somebody else. We deny that we’re an empire. We’re against empire. When other people do the same sort of thing, they’re empires. They’re acting imperially. First level of denial on the American part. And then second, how do they get in power? Who has to be killed? What paramilitary forces have to be paid and go in, as into Nicaragua, for example, and other places? So the efforts are also plausibly denied OK, I could spend time. And I don’t know if people have it in mind.
Why wasn’t I convicted? I was the first person prosecuted for a leak. That’s because our first amendment precludes prior restraint. And it also actually precludes an Official Secrets Act of the kind the British have, the mother country. And most other countries in the world have it. We don’t have an act that simply criminalizes any revelation of classified, protected, stamped information. We don’t have it.
In fact, what was I just reading? I don’t know I was, just yesterday, reading something that mentioned– I guess it was on The Post or something– why there had been so few prosecutions. But the article didn’t mention the fact that we didn’t have a law that they were breaking. And the first person to experiment with going with the Espionage Act, which was meant for spies, was Nixon against me.
And then there were two others after me, before Obama. Obama four– nine, nine instead of three altogether before Trump, almost surely will prosecute more people than the nine but probably will also prosecute journalists, which is so clearly against the First Amendment that no administration has yet tried to do that, with the exception of the Pentagon Papers where Nixon did, in fact, set out to indict some of the New York Times people who put it out.
But that fell apart when they discovered the crimes against me, which is what brought– and undoubtedly against them, too– when it was found out that I had been wiretapped– I should say overheard– warrantlessly, which was criminal. It was certainly true of the other people they were investigating in Boston, like Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn obviously had also been wiretapped. And so they dropped that indictment for the same way.
So no journalist has yet been indicted. That will probably happen before long. Now, we get to the subject of this book. And I’ve been thinking about how– I was talking to some of the people here how young everybody was. But the following, now, is not really a matter if you– it applies to the older people just as much I kind of analogize myself to the position of a guy– not to put on airs, but James Hansen, who tries to tell people– what was it, in 1979, I think. Or was it ’89? ’79, I think– climate change is on the way, not just hotter and not just colder. Both of those dry– tremendous change from CO2 in the atmosphere, man-made climate. We have a party in power right now that almost, to a man and woman, simply denies that there is man-made climate change, despite the fact that it is no longer a scientific controversy, as it might have been 30 and 40 years ago, or even 20 years ago.
It is no more a controversy now than evolution. But that, too, is rejected by about a third of the country, OK, the third that were core to the president right now. Well, I’m not talking here about a problem that started with Donald Trump, by any means. But it should– and it’s going to be very hard to even make a dent in it under Trump or his successor, unless they’re significantly different from Hillary Clinton or his past predecessors in the Democratic Party.
When I say I feel like James Hansen saying, climate change is real and it really is coming, and if we put more CO2 in the atmosphere, it’s going to come all the closer and bring civilization down before long, how many people hear it or do anything about it? Well, actually in this case, a lot of people have heard it. They know that controversy, even though it didn’t figure for a moment in the presidential debates of last year, if I recall, not a moment, climate. Not even Bernie Sanders raised it, that I can remember. So, nevertheless, there it is I’m talking about a doomsday machine. And let me put that in context.
How many people here have seen– I imagine most of you– “Dr Strangelove?” OK, very good. I saw that for professional reasons in 1964. In fact, I’ll just mention– it isn’t in the book– but if Sammy Kubrick had decided to let the Pentagon view his rushes– I was asked by the Secretary of Defense’s office to be the person to review it for them because of my expertise, young as I was, like you, on command and control at that time. And he didn’t allow us to see it.
But when it finally came out, my boss and I in the Pentagon did go over in the afternoon to see it. And we came out saying, that was a documentary. There was nothing in that movie that could not have occurred exactly the way it did occur. Now, let me mention just– there were a number of details. We’ll see if I have time.
But the key one is this– or a key one. The central idea is one that Kubrick got from a colleague of ours, Herman Khan, at the RAND Corporation, called a doomsday machine. It was a conceptual device to make certain points about the nature of deterrence that would, on being triggered– and you could preset it to be triggered by whatever you want, one nuclear explosion, 10 nuclear explosions– the wrong person getting elected somewhere, something would, by computer, be recognized as triggering this and it would end life on Earth.
Now, why would you want to threaten or prepare ending life on earth? One reason, it would be much, much cheaper than our current Strategic Air Command that depends on deterrence by building thousands of weapons, training pilots. But, in a word, carrying across the globe with missiles or planes, dumping them on targets over there and so forth, very expensive.
Fairly cheaply, you could assure that the Russians would die, for a tiny fraction of that cost, if they transgressed in certain forms. That’s the advantage. The disadvantage, everybody else dies, also. We die. Now, strictly speaking, in an actual World War III, then or now, we would die anyway. But the southern hemisphere would not. We’d get it from the Russians’ retaliation. So it is a suicide, mutual suicide, machine. But we did think, not a doomsday machine. Why would we believe that? Hit the southern hemisphere.
It’s better to have half left. And Edward Teller, the inventor of the H-bomb, the father of the H-bomb, said a number of times, once in my presence when I asked a question, it is impossible– I can’t do a Hungarian accent– it is impossible, I remember, to destroy more than a quarter of the Earth’s population with H-bombs. And strictly speaking, the Joint Chiefs had answered a question I drafted which President Kennedy sent to the Joint Chiefs, a little more than that.
The question was, if your plans were carried out as planned, meaning as first strike, because the Air Force has never accepted the idea that it was acceptable to wait for other enemy warheads to hit before you launched your warheads– they have always had a launch on warning predisposition– or an escalation of a war in Europe– that was the basis of our NATO policy.
So if you carried out this first strike for a Russian warhead to come up, how many people would be killed in the, I said, first of all, in the USSR and China? I won’t go into why I narrowed it like that, but I wanted to make it as hard to evade as possible, just that. And they immediately came back with an answer, to my surprise I thought they were going to dither and wouldn’t want to tell the President. And, well, what do you think the answer was? Let me have it. What do you think?
AUDIENCE: All of them?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: What?
AUDIENCE: All of them? All of them?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Say? No answer, no guess as to what the joint chiefs– what?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: What?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Well, no No. Wrong OK, 100%, no, you’re thinking big there. But that would be very expensive, with radioactivity alone and so forth. Hard to kill everybody. But the answer was 325 million people. And then– I’ll just make a short comment on this– since they clearly had a little model here, a little linear model, I said, OK, how many altogether then after all? They gave another 100 million in a week to East Europe, another 100 million in West Europe, our allies, not with a single warhead falling on them from us but from the fallout from our attacks, and a third 100 million additional to areas mostly neutral contiguous to the USSR and China. For example, plucky little Finland– you won’t recognize that term, or how many people here do recognize that term? I see one hand.
But Americans my age and older grew up with the memory that Finland alone had paid its war debts after World War II — I, after World War I — and that in the prior stages of World War II, they had fought off the Russians. We had movies about it. So Finland was thought of in very courageous terms against the Red Army at that point, before Russia became our ally. That was actually, it was under the Hitler-Stalin pact. And so Finland was particularly sentimentally thought of. As I said, in Finland at the time, our plans called for us to annihilate Finland by fallout from our attacks, underground attacks, on Russian submarine pens in Leningrad.
So our attacks on those which could not be airburst would create fallout that would unfortunately make collateral damage of all Finns, but also Japan and so forth. The total was 600 million, or 100 holocausts, from our strikes accomplished in a week or maybe six months with the fallout.
Now, it’s funny, last night it occurred to me– I even looked it up– and I won’t go into that now, but the origins of the company model here, which has always intrigued me: Don’t be evil. And exactly what was meant by that? And it was interesting. I read some commentaries on it.
Well, evil is a controversial term. It’s used promiscuously. It’s used all the time. Ask Trump what’s evil and you’ll get a list of things that many of which would not coordinate. Ask other people, it could be masturbation. It could be any kind of thing. The word is used. Is it entirely useless a term then after all? Well, let me just suggest to you that if there is some meaning to the word evil that could be agreed on, destroying 600 million people would seem to qualify as evil. That’s evil. This is an evil plan. It’s evil.
Does that mean it’s done by evil people? Well, I knew the people it was done by. They were my colleagues. I had beer with him in the evening, colonels who worked on war plans. They were my colleagues at RAND and whatnot. They were like everybody. There were like you and me, I would have to say. Am I evil? Well, I was part of this, you know? So the question of whether you are evil is a more problematic question.
Suppose you cut it down to doing evil. Again, a lot of room for controversy there and gray areas and so forth. But there were some areas that are not that gray. And I’ll tell you when we get to where it is, unfortunately, very gray and may do us in. Actually doing this would seem to qualify as evil. If this isn’t evil, what is it? As Lincoln said of slavery, if slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong. That statement which he made again and again meant that a third of our nation could not live under him as president. It could not accept a president who said slavery was wrong. What he did say was it’s here and I’m not here to interfere with it where it exists. That’s what he said. But it is wrong.
So a third of the country seceded, Confederacy I’ll just say– let me see the clock here– something I’ve learned about my country at 86 now, since Charlottesville, I have learned more about the Civil War than I knew in the rest of my 86 years, about what it was about and what was going on.
But the new perception is simply this, that the Confederacy never accepted that slavery had been wrong. That is my current belief, very new to me. It was not that it took a war, it took a long time. Lincoln himself, of course, certainly evolved in his attitudes, which started quite racist, wanted to get the US out, the Negroes out of the country. But he evolved and the country evolved and it was different.
Well, and then we had Jim Crow and so forth. What I’m saying is it’s a new perception of mine open to debate, and it’s not the subject today, that the South, in their grade school and their mother’s knee and their high school education and their college education, has never accepted that slavery was not just the policy of a defeated nation, which it was, it was wrong and it deserved to be eliminated.
Second, more to the point, legalized segregation, Jim Crow legalized segregation, apartheid, was not wrong. It was right. And although, when it was overturned by force majeure, legally, by the Supreme Court and so forth, that wasn’t because it was wrong. It was because the South was weaker. They were poorer. There were fewer of them. It was not wrong. I believe we have an attorney general right now who, if he could, would re-legalize segregation from one day to the next. That’s our attorney general, I think, right now. That’s part of our situation OK, coming back– yeah, I’m getting a signal back there.
But nevertheless, I’ve wandered so much here. I’m going to go on a little on longer 600 million, that didn’t include fire, it so happened, too hard to calculate. So the Joint Chiefs were not including the main casualty-producing effect of thermonuclear weapons when they said 600 million. Fire not included, just prompt radiation, blast, immediate heat and so forth.
Put the fire in and put the Russian retaliation in and you quickly get over a billion. There were three billion then at that time, two billion when I was born, by the way, in 1931, three billion in 1961 when I was working on the war plans, OK? One billion, one third. So Teller was wrong. Yes, you can get over a quarter of the US population, a third. Let’s say a third.
You know, let’s not argue about a sixth here. But that’s all. And Herman said in his book– and he was a close friend of mine– he said no one would ever build a doomsday machine. We don’t have one now and no one would build one for the following reasons. And he gave a number of reasons. You know, it’s cheap. Yes, but, it has some defects. They were both wrong. Teller was wrong. Herman was wrong. Nobody’s perfect.
In fact, we had a doomsday machine then. We’d had it for 10 years at least. And we have it today. If our current war plan, the larger ones for war with Russia, not with North Korea, but if plans for Russia are carried out as planned, then firestorms will be caused on hundreds of cities, the smoke, which was not calculated until 1983, in terms of hundreds of millions of tons of smoke– and all the references in my book or easy to get on Google.
Alan Robock, R-O-B-O-C-K, and Brian Toon, T-O-O-N. Look up their papers, especially since 2007, confirming that, even a war between India and Pakistan using A-bombs, Nagasaki-type bombs– that’s all they have, like North Korea, not thermonuclear bombs, not H-bombs– using a hundred, of which they have many more than that, would cause firestorms that would put enough smoke in the atmosphere to blot out about 7% of the Earth’s sunlight globally, stop harvest, curtail harvest, shorten growing seasons. One, shortening world food supply to kill what was first estimated within a year to be about a billion people by starvation of the most malnourished people in the world.
A year later, when they put in the effects of Chinese soybeans, production and some others, two billion, about 19 billion people, India and Pakistan over Kashmir. But if US and Russia went to war, the firestorms here, which I didn’t explain, will loft smoke and toxic soot, black soot, into the stratosphere. It takes the updraft of a special kind of fire called a firestorm to cause this updraft to push the smoke up into the stratosphere where it doesn’t rain out and where it would quickly go around the globe and reduce sunlight by about 70%, causing winter-like conditions, ice age conditions on the Earth below, ending all harvest and starving nearly everyone.
Almost, surely, not extinction because we’re so adaptable. We humans are so clever with our clothing and our fire and our houses, we can survive this stuff, some of us, maybe 1%, maybe less than 1%. Well, 1% is 70 million people, a lot of people. In Australia, eating fish and mollusks and whatnot, it goes on. We do it all over again. But 99% of the people would starve if we carried out our current war plan.
And I was just asking somebody at lunch, what is the chance that we could use little bunker buster, the bombs, against a nuclear state like Russia or North Korea, being considered this week, and keep it localized and limited to that? Well, the answer was, not likely. I asked, if I may, how unlikely? Quite unlikely. And I’m right, about very, very close to zero.
Nothing is zero. We’ve seen, enough things have happened that I thought were impossible. Nothing is zero. But that’s very close to zero. Now, with North Korea, you don’t get nuclear winter. There’s just not enough cities there to burn. And they have only maybe 20 to 60 fission weapons. Fission weapons will do the job over there, but it’s not enough for nuclear winter. It’s not even enough to starve one billion people. North Korea war is the one war between two nuclear weapons states now that doesn’t have the capability to starve two billion people or more, OK? But everyone else does.
War over the Ukraine or Syria, war with Russia, if it possibly escalated to that, we have a doomsday machine. And they do, too. They are on hair trigger alert, meaning that both sides believe that if there is about to be a war or if our tactical warning, which has often been wrong, tells us that an attack is underway or tells them that an attack is underway, we plan to preempt, to launch on warning. That’s what Kim Jong Un proposes to do if he’s about to be attacked. That’s been open in his exercises.
Today’s news is that we are contemplating a bloody nose for North Korea, an attack on them which will hopefully be limited. We hit their missile base, we hit their safes. We show them we are determined. We show them what the risks are. And they back off. That’s what is being considered by HR McMaster, supposedly recommended by him now.
Now, if I had access to that document, I would put it out now with the expectation that I would go to prison for life or that I might be assassinated. But to avert that war seems to be unquestionably worth my life, even if my prospective life was a lot longer than it is now. It’s the decision I made 40 years ago that I thought even to have a very small chance of shortening that war, it was worth getting the sentence I expected to get, which was 115 years in prison. It’s always seemed to me, obviously, that was worth it. I’m getting a signal here. I’ve got to end. Don’t worry.
I got you. I saw you. If we had a Snowden or a Chelsea Manning now at a high level, I assume we’d get the– we are getting leaks, though, more than before. Why would I want that out? Because I think that a lot of people would say, that’s not a good idea. What would we do about it? I don’t really know.
With this Congress, if it was a Democratic Congress confronting from, even a Congress as bad as the Democratic Congress we’ve had over the last 10 years or so, we’d have a chance of stopping this. I would want to see the public saying, this must not happen. It will restart testing. It will mean that India and Pakistan– even if North Korea is wiped out, we don’t have to worry about them anymore– India and Pakistan, maybe they start testing and have an H-bomb within a year or two, which magnifies their explosive yield by a factor of 1,000, and not good for the world. France and China increase their MIRVs and so forth.
The world, I think the chance of getting back from the doomsday machines we have now, after a war with Korea, is, I think, again, close to zero, not going to happen. Why is there so little opposition? Senator Lindsey Graham has been saying repeatedly now on “Meet the Press” and others, I’ve told the president, and he has said this to me face-to-face, says Lindsey Graham, that, remember, the casualties will all be over there, as if Kim Jong Un did not have any boats with which to put a nuclear warhead in and send them to Los Angeles or San Francisco harbors as revenge. Which I’m, from my experience on command and control, I am virtually certain that it is not possible to paralyze North Korean nuclear response by hitting their command and control.
And if the president doesn’t know that, I hope that my book gets on “Fox & Friends” and just conceivably get that words through to him. So we’re facing, in other words, a terrible crisis right away with North Korea, though it’s not the end of the world. It’s just the beginning of the end of the world.
Because what we have here– I’ll just close with this thought. It hasn’t happened yet. So people can look at the last 70 years and say, well, it wasn’t certain. That’s for sure. It was even highly likely. That gets to be hard to say I personally think, in fact, that it was highly likely that this blow up and that we’ve had something like a miracle. And miracles do happen. It’s a miracle that I’m not in jail right now. That’s another story.
But it was not likely. It was extremely unlikely that I would not be in jail. It was a miracle that Nelson Mandela made it without a violent revolution. It was a miracle that the Berlin Wall came down, all of this before your time.
Almost even hard to imagine how impossible that was. I don’t think I’ve ever met a person in, let’s say, who in 1980, if asked that the Berlin Wall would be down in 1989, that would not have said, that’s impossible. If anybody knows of any contradiction of that, it did happen. So we can change. Change like that can happen.
I think it has to be as dramatic as happened in the Soviet Union. It has to be a change of attitudes, as happened in terms of white majority rule being allowable in South Africa. Is that likely? No. It’s unlikely. It’s very unlikely. But it’s not impossible.
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.
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.
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.
AUDIENCE: In 1983 — I think it was 1983 — there was a movie called “The Day After” starring John Lithgow, set in –
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Yeah
AUDIENCE: –Manhattan, Kansas after nuclear war with Russia. It is said that this movie was screened by the Joint Chiefs a day or two before it was actually shown on broadcast TV and that, prior to this, the Joint Chiefs had operated under the idea that nuclear war was quote, winnable, that there is this concept of minimal acceptable losses and that this movie changed their mind. Do you agree with this, disagree? Has the war planning at the top about acceptable losses evolved over time? Or is it still—
DANIEL ELLSBERG: OK
AUDIENCE: –screwed up like it was—
DANIEL ELLSBERG: You can hear that? I hear it with difficulty. I’ve never heard before that the Joint Chiefs saw it before, during, or after I’ve never heard the Joint Chiefs connected with it. Did the Joint Chiefs believe it was winnable? Yes, the way they thought Vietnam was winnable. In other words, in a virtually, literally meaningless way. They always talked about prevailing, about winning. There were years when they didn’t so much and then other years they did prevail.
What does prevail mean? I think it was Weinberger who said at one point, it’s a word that sounds better than the opposite, than not doing, not prevailing. But what does it mean? If it meant anything, it meant reducing the damage that the other side is capable of doing to you, OK? So if you get rid of their land-based missiles, they still will have enough submarine-based missiles to destroy our society, but they won’t have the land base.
So that’s worth doing, isn’t it? Well, no, you know, it isn’t. So why are you doing this? Why are you talking about renewing our land-based ICBMs, which are totally vulnerable to attack, in order to get their land-based ICBMs, which are totally vulnerable to attack? Because Lockheed Martin makes them. There’s jobs, profits, local real estate. The weapons have to be on hot alert, not soft alert, around the clock, so that we can sell more restaurant food or whatever the hell else in North Dakota and Wyoming and Montana. There is no strategic rationale for them, whatever.
But that’s enough. So the Joint Chiefs were not, I think, as far as I know, not affected by that at all. And if you pressed them as whether they could win more than what I’ve just described, they would say, no. But that’s something. We’ve got to do something, not just nothing. And that was, in effect, silliness. Of course, it’s the kind of silliness that may doom our species. And it’s not only in this country. However, the movie “The Day After” was shown to Ronald Reagan. And it did have a big effect.
He couldn’t go into the office at all the next day. He said he stayed in bed and he felt sick. And that it very much affected his mind when he went into discussions with Gorbachev of ending all nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles of all kinds, which didn’t happen because he had the crazy belief of an umbrella-like Strategic Defense Initiative, SDI — Star Wars– that would protect us entirely and he wasn’t willing to give up. He wasn’t willing to give that up and couldn’t get that agreement. That’s another one.
So it had an effect on Reagan-Gorbachev, meanwhile, had already been influenced by nuclear weapons. And, by the way, “The Day After” is just a tiny, little sliver of what the actual consequences of a nuclear war would look like. Movies that have come closer to that, there’s one called “Threads” in England that they’ve never allowed to be on BBC, to be shown. And again, it really just focuses on the long-term degradation and disintegration of everything, like Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” pretty much.
So no nuclear state has ever been willing to tell its own people or to hold others accountable to the risks we are posing over their head. And a movie like that today would be very worthwhile. But I don’t know what prospect there is of it.
AUDIENCE: And, once again, please say thank you to Mr Daniel Ellsberg.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: That’s OK. Thank you.