Vietnam Full Disclosure


Daniel Ellsberg: Out of the Ordinary Actions by Ordinary People Can Stop Wars By Mint Press News

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“It ain’t that hard to get people to torture,” Ellsberg lamented, but sometimes they’ll also work together to create change for the better.

MintPress News is proud to host “Lied to Death,” a 13-part audio conversation between famed whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and social justice activist Arn Menconi.

Menconi wrote that these interviews are a “mixture of historical, political science and Dan’s sixty-year scholarly analysis as a former nuclear planner for Rand Corporation.”

For more information on the interview and Ellsberg, see the introduction to this series.

Chapter 12: “A single person can have an essential effect” on injustice

In the conclusion of Lied To Death, Ellsberg suggests whistleblowing is rare because human nature makes people prone to ignoring or excusing unethical behavior if it means they can avoid being ostracized from their social groups.

Only rarely will an individual find the conscience necessary to expose injustice, he said, from soldiers like Chelsea Manning, who revealed abuse within the U.S. army, including the murder of civilians and journalists, to intelligence agents like Edward Snowden who gave journalists details of the NSA’s mass surveillance program.

“About 1000 people could have done what [Snowden] did,” Ellsberg said, a figure based on his interview with the NSA whistleblower during a visit to Russia, where Snowden lives in exile.

“Why only one?” Ellsberg ased. “Who takes the effort to expose that to the larger world. Why only one Chelsea Manning?”

Ellsberg referred to the famous “Milgram experiment” to explain the reluctance to expose atrocities and corruption. In 1961, Yale University researcher Stanley Milgram showed that people were willing to administer increasingly painful electric shocks to a stranger under orders from a scientist. The experiment has been repeated several times with similar results.

“Humans are not as concerned about inflicting harm and pain … as you would think,” he commented. He emphasized that the experiment was created after World War II to show that ordinary people anywhere will carry out terrible actions under orders. “It’s not just the Germans who act this way.”

Ellsberg believes that not only do people want to follow orders, but in groups like the army they are even further discouraged from standing up to the group.

He said he believes whistleblowers need to first realize something is wrong, then have to find the inner strength to act on it. “I guess it’s up to me,” he recalled thinking when he decided to leak “The Pentagon Papers.”

Ellsberg emphasized that though his leaks were important to ending the Vietnam War, “I was one link in a chain of events and actions, a number of which were out of the ordinary actions by ordinary people that made it possible for the war to be ended.”

But his example, and those of whistleblowers like Manning and Snowden, show that an individual who is brave enough to act can change the course of history.

“If it’s a question of telling the truth or taking action in resistance against wrongdoing … there is a chance that a single person can have an essential effect,” he said.

Listen to “Lied to Death” series here.

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