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But Ellsberg was thinking much more than that about Viet Nam as he began to harangue friends about the immorality of the U.S. presence in Indochina. He felt that the clock was running out. A close friend is convinced that Ellsberg's age had much to do with the timing of his exploit: "He was worried about having turned 40 without having done anything big. He was just busting to do something."
In his television interview last week Ellsberg said he could think of only one U.S. hero in the war: Sergeant Michael Bernhardt, who reportedly refused to shoot civilians at My Lai. He claimed that release of the papers was timely because he fears that Nixon may be planning "a replay of 1964," meaning major bombing strikes against North Viet Nam after next year's election. Ellsberg contends that Johnson planned such attacks before the 1964 election.
Ellsberg's views on the war were best detailed in one of the few articles he has managed to complete (he has been pecking out a Viet Nam book for nearly a year), a March essay in The New York Review of Books. In it Ellsberg predicts that Nixon will increase bombing as more U.S. troops withdraw, to protect those that remain and also to prevent the collapse of the Saigon government until a politically acceptable interval passes. His thesis is that only heavy bombing can cover the U.S. withdrawal, that it is a necessary condition of exit. As a result, he says, more Asians will die or be made refugees.
What Ellsberg claims has been a U.S. callousness toward Vietnamese deaths and a preoccupation with lowering its own casualties to an acceptable level has been a recurrent theme of his criticism. Last January he turned an easygoing Cambridge conference into an electric moment of confrontation when he rose from the floor to ask Henry Kissinger if the Government did not have any estimates of Vietnamese casualties under Nixon's Vietnamization program. Kissinger hesitated, called it a "cleverly worded" question. But did he have an answer? Kissinger evaded and called the question "racist."
Attack and Defense
Discussing at a party one night how differently the U.S. views murder of Vietnamese and of its own citizens, Ellsberg and a friend concocted the most outrageous slogan they could think of to illustrate the point. It was: FREE CALLEY—AND MANSON. Ellsberg's son had a batch of buttons printed and gave them to his father on his 40th birthday—and the pair enraged Cambridge residents by handing them out on the street. Few appreciated the irony.
It was to convince other Americans that U.S. policy in Viet Nam has been morally blind that Ellsberg arranged to release the secret study. Yet not all of the men who have admired Ellsberg's mind and potential share the conviction that his act will accomplish anything positive. Lansdale considers it more likely that the papers amount to "a perverted McCarthyism. The people who released them have elicited emotional responses just as McCarthy aroused the intellectuals and the liberals. The people attacked will be hitting back."