Daniel Ellsberg, the U.S. Department of Defense official who in 1971 leaked classified documents subsequently known as the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times, has recently published his memoirs. The book presents evidence showing that for 23 years, five U.S. presidents waged a war (in Indochina) they knew America could never win.
In a tape recording, Lyndon Johnson is heard saying to a friend that he does not believe that the Vietnamese will ever surrender. "At the same time, he sent young men to their deaths," Ellsberg bemoans, reminding us that 58,000 U.S. soldiers and more than 2 million Asian civilians lost their lives in that very war.
Ellsberg was a passenger on Robert McNamara's plane when the former secretary of defense was heard saying that the American army was taking a beating in Vietnam. When the plane landed, however, Ellsberg was standing alongside McNamara when the latter announced to the press: "I am pleased to announce significant advances on all fronts."
Ellsberg suggests that we learn from the documents he disclosed that when it comes to war and peace, thinking people should not make do with information offered by the administration, not even Congress. The documents indicate that even the most classified of Congress's committees fell victim to blatant lies.
In an interview with the online news Web site, www.salon.com, Ellsberg says that the most intelligent of individuals, such as McNamara, can adopt destructive policies if their wisdom is undermined by stronger forces - political survival, fear of being labeled with a wimpish image, exhibiting weakness in the face of Communism.
Ellsberg argues that these same forces are driving the Bush administration - in the name of the war on terror - into a war steeped in the blood of Iraqi citizens. He warns that this war is likely to drag the Arab world into the hands of the Islamic fundamentalists and cost the lives of countless Americans, Europeans and Israelis.
According to Ellsberg, Ariel Sharon's war-on-terror policy is costing the lives of more Israelis than it is saving, and his opinion has significant backing from among the upper echelons of the Israeli establishment. The ongoing decline in moral standards is indeed eroding their strength, but in backrooms, there are still experts who are saying things and even writing papers indicating that top-level political and military officials are knowingly feeding the public with falsehoods. In their assessments of the current situation, no inkling of a basis can be found for the promise that Palestinian terror can be stopped without Israel putting an end to the occupation.
In off-the-record talks, senior sources in the defense establishment say that the chances "of wiping out the terror infrastructure" are tantamount to those of drying out the Mediterranean Sea. Occupying ourselves with the terrorists and those who send them out on their missions, explosives laboratories and the deportation of Yasser Arafat is diverting attention from the real danger: Hundreds of gangs of armed young men who answer to no one are threatening to turn the territories into a second Vietnam. They do not need an organization and it is almost impossible to garner intelligence ("warnings") about their plans.
Defense Ministry officials are whispering that the political echelon (with the help of the media) is selling the public the delusion that the separation fence is about to become a reality; these officials know that in the coming years, the state coffers will be unable to bear the burden of the ongoing war for the safety of the settlements together with the investment of billions of shekels in the seam-line area.
Military Intelligence doesn't know whether to laugh or cry on hearing Benjamin Netanyahu's argument against "Sharon's intention to establish a Palestinian state." Any junior intelligence officer knows that Sari Nusseibeh has a hard time finding even a handful of supporters for Ami Ayalon's generous offer of a state within the 1967 borders, and that by the end of this decade, a Jewish minority will be ruling an Arab majority between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
Ellsberg's message to the Bush administration can apply to Israel too: If you are in possession of documents that show that the government is misleading the public all the way into war, take them to Congress and the media. Even if it could cost you your job or get you sent to prison, tell the truth.
By the way, Ellsberg and The New York Times were completely acquitted by a court of law for the publication of the documents.
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