October 13, 2010

Who is Minding the Store?

I recently had the pleasure of watching the Academy Award nominated documentary, "The Most Dangerous Man in America," which chronicles much of Daniel Ellsberg's life culminating with his decision to leak the famous "Pentagon Papers" in 1971.  In short, the 7,000 page-long study of US involvement in Vietnam exposed over 20 years of lies propogated by four American presidents as a means to construct a rationale for the war in Vietnam as well as reconstruct a justification to remain at war indefinitely.  In other words, there was no "spreading of democracy", no "aiding of allies", no "helping to stabilize an unstable region." According to the Pentagon Papers:
1) every president since and including Harry Truman in the late 1940s had been advised by some that the war was unwinnable; 2) each of four presidents, Truman through Johnson, escalated the war mainly to save face, so as not to become known as the president who had lost Vietnam to the Communists; and 3) each president lied to the American people about both his escalation plans and the prospects for military success.  
Sadly, when we expose provocative information like this today, the most we can evoke from American citizens is a shoulder shrug.  In fact, in 1971 when the New York Times started running excerpts from the Pentagon Papers on its front page, President Nixon was also a part of the deception.  He responded in his typical Nixon demagoguery with a massive, covert (and illegal) operation to discredit Ellsberg.  More appalling than Nixon's demagoguery was the American people's response to the Pentagon Papers. Right in the middle of the Pentagon Papers' scandal, the people reelected Nixon for a second term, even though he was implicated in the Pentagon Papers as the fifth president to perpetuate the lie.

And of course, Nixon's infamous operation to discredit Ellsberg and anyone else privy to the leak became known as "Watergate." And as history goes, Watergate led to Nixon's ultimate impeachment for "obstruction of justice", "abuse of power", and "contempt of congress."  Fortunately for all of us, he resigned in 1974, and the court declared a mistrial in the case against Daniel Ellsberg and his colleagues.

Since I watched the documentary and revisited all of the intrigue of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, I came to the realization that immediately after the Pentagon scandal, trial of Ellsberg, and impeachment of Nixon, Congress and the American people simply returned to "business as usual." 

And now, some 38 years later, who is minding the store?

Once Daniel Ellsberg became radicalized, his philosophies and ideologies kept evolving, and today he is a vocal anti-war activist.  He has written several books and dozens of articles protesting war.  In fact, he is a rather outspoken critic of the war in Iraq.  He asserts his position in a particularly illuminating article, "Where Are Iraq's Pentagon Papers?".  In the article, Ellsberg draws striking similarities to the war in Vietnam, the Iraq war, and the Pentagon's role in both.  Finally, and most poignantly, he challenges those with access to the Pentagon Papers on Iraq saying,

Some of those officials, I hope, will choose to accept the personal risks of revealing the truth — earlier than I did — before more lives are lost or a new war is launched.

I cannot stop thinking about our current lack of bravery.  We are always looking for heroes in the wrong places.  Have we become a "nation of cowards," or have we sunk into an apathetic mire of self-indulgence, narcissim, and greed.  The average citizen does not have access to these life altering truths.  We can only sit at our keyboards and speculate.  But there are extraordinary ones among us who "know" yet are afraid to risk.