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Brainy but no introvert, bookish but also athletic, Ellsberg graduated first in his class from Michigan's Cranbrook prep school, where he also captained the basketball team. Practicing piano eight to ten hours a day, he was well advanced toward a possible concert career at 15 when his music-minded mother died in an auto accident. He found one consoling thought: "Now I don't have to play the piano again." He rarely did until years later.
Life at the Rand Corp.
At Harvard, which he attended on a Pepsi-Cola scholarship, Ellsberg similarly spread his talents broadly. He debated, edited the campus literary magazine, wrote editorials for the daily Crimson, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and married a Radcliffe sophomore. He continued to scamper effortlessly up the academic ladder: graduate study at King's College in England, a master's degree in economics from Harvard, then a Ph.D. based on a prophetic thesis in decision making: Risk, Ambiguity and Decision. "He loved analyzing risks," recalls a friend. "He talked about it all the time. It fascinated him."
Ellsberg's education was interrupted by four years of service shortly after the Korean War. He was described by a fellow Marine as a "tough, hard-nosed hatchet man." When the Suez crisis was hot, Ellsberg, then a captain, voluntarily extended his tour of duty. Again, the potential action beckoned.
From Harvard, Ellsberg moved to the Rand "think tank," where his expertise in probability theory, particularly as applied to war analysis, was much in demand. Much of Rand's reputation rested on its studies for the Defense Department on such harsh possibilities as various kinds of nuclear threat, strikes and counterstrikes, including calculations of projected casualties. Although he was almost always tardy in getting reports written—he suffers from habitual writing blocks—his love and grasp of the subject quickly impressed Rand President Henry Rowen. "Dan was an ear whisperer," recalls one Rand colleague. He would rather talk than write, which is something of a handicap in most bureaucracies. When the Pentagon's Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton, an expert on nuclear test bans, needed an assistant in 1964, Ellsberg landed the job. Now he was on the inside of U.S. strategic studies —and a most contented man. He was so engrossed in his work that he was surprised and shaken when his wife Carol sued for divorce later that year (last week she gave the Government an affidavit linking him to the possession of the secret papers). With his neglected marriage broken, he seemed to be re-examining his whole life, which had centered on a successful but conventional career. He still did not question U.S. aims in South Viet Nam, but he was concerned about the lack of success and wanted to view the problems in the field. Major General Edward Lansdale, recruiting more help for his highly independent intelligence operations, yielded to Ellsberg's pleas to be allowed to join him in Viet Nam.
Letting Go in Malibu