Archive for September 18th, 2009

18
Sep
09

Truth To Power: Daniel Ellsberg Documentary Opens This Week

ellsberg-poster.thumbnail2On October 1, 1969, Dr. Daniel Ellsberg, RAND corporation consultant to Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon found in his offices 7,000 pages marked Top Secret exposing a vast program of US government lies surrounding the Vietnam war. The report showed that without disclosure, the war had expanded to carpet bombing of Laos and Cambodia, that US combat troops had been sent by Lyndon Johnson independent of any consultation with advisors, that John Kennedy had actively sought to overthrow South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem.

Ellsberg delivered proof of these and numerous other US foreign policy atrocities to the editorial offices of the New York Times. The Times 1971 publishing of the Pentagon Papers had a decisive effect on the ending of the Vietnam War and forever put to bed the idea that the US foreign policy establishment acts according to the will and with the assent of the people of the United States.

This week, the documentary film “The Most Dangerous Man In America” will hit screens, telling Ellsberg’s story.   A whistleblower whose speaking truth to power cost him his career and possibly saved as many lives as his earlier work took in enabling the carpet bombing, he is a rare figure deserving of study and support.  Particularly now, at a time when the climate for intellectuals who take democracy seriously is so unfavorable.  Former RAND consultant and neo-conservative-cum-Wilsonian Francis Fukuyama illustrates that climate best when he frets about the role of the intellectual in the corridors of power. Despite being a chastised former cheerleader for the Iraq war – a war built upon lies endorsed by institutional intellectuals –  Fukuyma recently invoked Ellsberg as a negative example.  Some people just prefer intellectuals to be handmaidens to the institution:

I myself worked for more than ten years at the RAND Corporation, the original “think tank” satirized in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove that did contract research for the U.S. Air Force and Defense Department. Obviously, one cannot be a free thinker in a place like that (Daniel Ellsberg tried to be and he was fired), and that is one of the reasons that I eventually left to go to a university. But overall, I believe that a democracy is better off having intellectuals pay systematic attention to policy issues, even if it is occasionally corrupting. Having to deal not with ideal solutions but with the real world of power and politics is a good discipline for an intellectual. There is a fine line between being realistic and selling one’s soul, and in the case of the Iraq war many neoconservatives got so preoccupied with policy advocacy that they blinded themselves to reality. But it’s not clear that virtue necessarily lies on the side of intellectuals who think they are simply being honest.

It may not be clear to you, Francis,  but it’s clear to me, and to millions.




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