DANIEL ELLSBERG on the "Minnesota 8
speaking in Minneapolis January 28, 1972

Thank you. I first met Frank {Kroncke} in a courtroom—my first time I was ever in a courtroom. This is the anniversary of that, a year ago this month, here in Minnesota, when I heard him preach. I felt like saying “Preach, brother!” He’s got it. I’m not going to speak with that eloquence tonight but he’s spoken to what I want to talk about.

I came to Minnesota, not knowing the Minnesota 8, on very short notice a year ago, hearing that there was a judge in Minneapolis who was prepared to hear testimony on the war—the first, or at most the second case that would have done so. And that excited me very much because it had been a year since I had given the “Pentagon Papers” to the Senate Foreign Relations committee and the public didn’t have them yet. One invasion had taken place since that time—Cambodia. The public still didn’t get them at that time, and it occurred to me that if there was a chance to testify against the war or on the war, using all the power of this shameful criminal past, and I’m not joking when I say that, that Frank has described, that it would be a chance to testify about what I knew of the Pentagon Papers and the fact that I knew very well what it meant to be in a conspiracy. I had been in a conspiracy to wage aggressive war in 1964 as a member of the Defense Department. And this was indeed what these men—the Minnesota 8—had been resisting and protesting, and indeed it was unlikely to stop as a criminal process unless America took heed of protests like that and learned from it and acted on it. I even had thought that it might be possible for the defense to subpoena the Pentagon Papers at that time, and if Judge {Phillip}Neville had agreed to that line of testimony, Minnesota would have been the site just a year ago of the unveiling of the Pentagon Papers. But as it was, that wasn’t allowed.

In fact, when the word “deception” passed my lips here—and it was in a sentence, “I took part in processing some deception while I was an official”—the judge broke in and said, “I will hear no criticism of the government in this trial.” Now that was a heavy constraint to lay on. It’s hard to discuss the war, right, without criticizing what we’re doing. But above all, here were two of the Minnesota 8 in this courtroom facing prison and trying to explain to the jury and to their neighbors why they had had to do something so dramatic as a draft board raid to bring home to their neighbors each American faced crises, faced moral crises of all kinds. The people who would reconstitute those files faced crisis as to whether they would collaborate in a process that sent their neighbors’ sons to kill and die in an unjust war. It was up to them. Hardly possible to make that explicable without explaining the desperate circumstances that had made it necessary, and yet the judge did not allow that.
Which raised the question, How do you end a war like this? It’s a question that’s still with us a year later. After all, they were tried because they had, and found guilty by the jury, some of whom cried as they brought in their verdict, I understand. Because the jury understood that they had orders from the judge to obey, rules to obey that they could not go beyond, and followed orders even though they cried when they did it. Because they’d heard Frank Kroncke and they heard Michael Therriault. They didn’t feel they should be in prison. They didn’t think prison was the place for them, and yet they had broken rules. Now the question that was raised was, were those rules in fact intended for times like these to apply? Are these in fact normal times?
Well, this is almost just a little past another anniversary that struck me very much this last Christmas season, in answer to that question that I’ve raised. There was a notice on December 19 of last year that we had started the bombing of Laos, which later we extended into the five days of heavy bombing just after Christmas. But that is a particularly interesting date. It was accompanied by a story in the New York Times, a very long story about the air war in Laos that’s going on, and it ended with a rather arresting statement by an American pilot in Da Nang, which said, “We try new tactics and they introduce countermeasures. And the war goes on, nothing ever changes.” That was December 19, 1971, which was the 25th anniversary day of the start of the Vietnam War, which started when the French began their forceful colonial re-conquest of Indochina in the outskirts of Hanoi on December 19, 1946.

How many people in this audience are under 25? Could we see hands? Concentrated in this section. For everybody who raised his hand, then every year of your lives, American napalm has been dropping in Indochinese. Every year of your lives your parents have been taxed by Congress at the request of the American president—five of them now—for a generation to involve ourselves in what the Pentagon Papers showed that we clearly saw at the time was a French colonial re-conquest. It wasn’t until I’d read the very earliest part of the Pentagon Papers myself that it came through to me exactly how clearly that had been seen—that there was a time when American officials did not tell themselves, “We are fighting for the majority of the people in the country and their right to self-determination,” as we just heard from our president the other day. We didn’t say that. Read the Pentagon Papers, the Gravell edition, the Beacon Press edition, and you’ll find that that was described as a French colonial re-conquest not only in ’46 and ’48, but in 1950 and ’52 we were saying to ourselves what President Eisenhower did say in his memoirs, in all our intelligence estimates, in all our recommendations.

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