How the “Minnesota 8” ended the Vietnam War
{A tongue-in cheek title about a serious insight.}
Most know that President Nixon was toppled by the Watergate burglary scandal. But Nixon’s demise began with a prior burglary. So states Egil Krogh, former deputy assistant to the President for domestic affairs, who pled guilty to the charge of authorizing a prior burglary in 1971, that of the office of Dr. Lewis Fielding, Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist. Krogh sought to dig up dirt on Ellsberg, who leaked the "Pentagon Papers".
Few Minnesotans know that Daniel Ellsberg tried to release the Pentagon Papers at the trial of the “Minnesota 8,” a group lead by UM students and graduates, who raided draft boards throughout Minnesota. The following is drawn from my memoir as one of the 8, “Outlaw or Patriot,” downloadable at
I told my sons that I’m a violent felon. That I spent 14 months of a five year sentence at Sandstone, then a medium security federal prison, here in Minnesota. “Why?” Like any dad, I had to come up with a good story. So, I said, “Listen, the Minnesota 8 ended the Vietnam War!” Let me explain.
Raiding Draft Boards
Nixon was winning. We were losing. We—student protestors, draft resisters, nonviolent activists, all, just getting the hell beat out of us. At the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the cops beat us up. Afterwards, on our behalf, the "Chicago 7" stood trial for conspiracy to incite a riot at the Convention. Aptly, Bobby Seale, a Black Panther, was gagged and chained to his courtroom chair. Yeah, the “Movement” fought back, mostly nonviolently. The Weathermen had their Day of Rage in 1969. "Catholic Radicals" led by Dan and Phil Berrigan, two Catholic priests, unleashed a steady stream of nationwide draft boards raids starting in 1967. In February 1970, Joe Mulligan, S.J.., a member of the “Chicago 15” draft raiders, aided in the formation of the “Beaver 55”—Minnesota’s and the nation’s largest draft board raid, ever. {See note below.} All Movement actions to end the war.
Draft board raids were practical. Destroy a “1-A” file and the guy disappeared from the draft system. It was a paper-based world, and they had no backup or copies. Cool!
There were around 54 draft boards centralized in the Minneapolis and St. Paul post offices. We put over twenty people in an empty room on the top floor; waited six hours before descending to rip, spray paint, and bag upwards of 10,000 “1-A” files that identified those about to be inducted. No one got caught! More, it was the first time a State Director’s office was ransacked. From his desk, I took hundreds of blank draft cards and official stamps to Toronto, Canada. War resisters of all stripes came back across the border, possessing a valid draft card. Nixon and FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover went ballistic.
The Minneapolis Tribune stated that Hoover sent over 100 FBI agents to Minnesota. The Willmar VFW posted a $10,000 bounty per raider’s head. But we were still losing. The war went on, unabated. Just weeks later: killing students at Kent State, then Jackson State. Friends watched haplessly as ping-pong balls bounced around in “The Lottery” – in which numbers chosen randomly determined by birth date which young men would be next in line for induction. (Incidentally, this is the way the next draft will also operate). The Sixties sucked big time.
Not content to stay on the sidelines, several of us “Beaver 55” raiders surfaced at Coffman Union. “We accept political and moral responsibility for the raid. But we ain’t saying we did it!” It gave us media credibility. We traveled up and down the state to just about every college campus. One of the places I spoke was in a young Carleton College professor’s class, a guy named Paul Wellstone. But Nixon was still grinning. His war ground on. Failure.
Everything we did, failed. Peace President candidate “Clean for Gene” McCarthy, Minnesota’s own White Knight. Vast Moratorium marches on D.C. and in major cities across the country. Innumerable campus Teach-ins. Fuck, Man, it’s all fucked!
Can’t stop the raids! So, we escalated to doing multiple boards raid, creating a visual “Ring of Fire” around the state. To arouse rural Resistance we opted to raid small towns around Minnesota: Little Falls, Alexandria, Faribault, Winona and Wabasha. July 10, 1970: FBI agents were waiting, but only at three sites. In all prior raids, women were involved. This night, Joan Francis doesn’t get caught. So, the press—counting on its fingers—dubbed us guys the “Minnesota 8.”
Fast-forward through riots around the jail in the streets. Editorials proclaimed that our actions created “Jungle Law.” At trial, we argued a Defense of Necessity. Claimed a “Higher Allegiance.” Called thirteen witnesses: historians, political economists, national journalists, Vietnam Veterans, four Catholic theologians, nonviolent activists, and the most curious and accidental choice, a former high ranking member of Secretary of Defense Robert MaNamara’s inner circle, one of his “Whiz kids.” {For photos, newspaper clippings, etc. Source}
Daniel Ellsberg testifies
Our attorney, Ken Tilsen, after Noam Chomsky couldn’t make the trial, got a call from Dave Dellinger, a leading antiwar leader of the times. He assured Ken that he had an even better witness, someone who would really shake things up. Dellinger said that this guy was a top civil servant who served on Secretary McNamara’s staff. Ken told us that he wasn’t sure what the fellow would testify about. We all shrugged, Okay. If Dellinger was sending him out, we’d follow his lead.
Daniel Ellsberg was an Establishment “whiz kid,” one of a small team of scholars that McNamara directed to write a history of America’s involvement in Indochina since the end of World War II. “I became attached to a study group in the Department of Defense set up by Secretary of Defense McNamara to do an objective study of the decision making on Vietnam going basically to 1940 and going up to 1968.” A Marine officer he twice served in Vietnam, and earned the highest security clearance of any civilian. He testified that he was a GS-18, the “highest Civil Service rating in the Defense Department” and an FSR-1, “a Foreign Service rank just below a Presidential appointee.”
Ellsberg worked for the Department of Defense, the State Department, was a Harvard Fellow, a RAND think-tanker and a collaborator on the now infamous “Pacification Program” in Vietnam. Ellsberg was also a member of “the so-called William Bundy working group analyzing alternative strategies for the President in the fall of 1964.” In short, an All American boy, soldier, scholar, civil servant. Some called him “genius.”
Ellsberg was a very peculiar witness in the sense that he was not known to any of us. He had no direct Minnesota ties. He did have this astounding Establishment resume. Yet, why was he here as a witness for some local North Country draft board raiders? What was he really going to say?
To my inquiry, Ellsberg stated, "While I was working for the Government I was quite ignorant, I would say, of the principles of non-violence in an explicit way. However, as I came to understand them as important, the principle of non-inflicting injury on others, and the Gandhian principle of acting truthfully, and it is a case of coincidence that a great deal of my analysis in the Government had come to revolve around the question of truthfulness and the consequences of deception of Congress and the public, although …" The judge— raising a hand to stop Ellsberg in mid-sentence—asserted loudly and forcefully: “I AM GOING TO SUSTAIN THE OBJECTION TO ANY CRITICISM OF THIS ADMINISTRATION OR PAST ADMINISTRATIONS OR CONGRESS OR ANYTHING ELSE!”
The “anything else” more than chilled the room; it clearly showed that Neville feared Ellsberg talking about "anything"! The judge was agitated. Why? Up to this time, the trial had proceeded without any surprises. No witness or defense attorney caused him any concern. Through my questioning, the judge correctly sensed that Ken was masterminding a trap. He was cleverly maneuvering Ellsberg through a series of questions and answers for something startling. If only he had known—if we had known!—that this witness was attempting to find a legal way to release the Pentagon Papers.
Ending the war
Ellsberg testified that he was the only scholar and policymaker to read the complete historical study submitted to Secretary McNamara, now known as “The Pentagon Papers.” Ellsberg tracked and traced a long-standing pattern of deception and lying. It was a complex pattern that involved officers in the field, government agencies and agents, Congressmen and political operatives all the way up to—and, by inference, including—the Oval Office during several presidential administrations. When Ellsberg finally resigned himself to the fact that the government was going to suppress this report, with his former RAND colleague Anthony Russo, he made several surreptitious copies. Ellsberg was also aided and abetted by the Xeroxing talents of his two teenage children, Robert and Mary.
For a time, Ellsberg attempted to release the Papers through legal channels. He approached several high ranking Congressmen and major national media outlets. As a trial witness, after answering a series of pre-planned questions, Ellsberg anticipated that the prosecutor would rise to challenge him. He hoped to hear, “You can’t prove that the government lied!” In response Ellsberg intended to unsnap his briefcase and Voila! present the Pentagon Papers as evidence. However, that didn’t happen. The judge deftly prevented Ellsberg from saying anything. As Ellsberg left the courtroom, we still didn’t know what he was trying to say. Upon the release of the Papers, about six months later, I was floored, “That's what he was going to do at our trial!”
“Speak truth to power!”
Historians of the Vietnam War will argue for centuries over both its initiating cause (“Did the Bay of Tonkin incident really happen?”) and its terminating cause (“Make love, not war!”). Few, I aver, will doubt that Daniel Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers (June 13, 1971) was a major terminating cause. Ellsberg’s document copying activity was known to the FBI and other high officials several years before our trial. However, no one knew exactly what documents he possessed, and, for the Feds, bringing him to trial risked opening a Pandora’s Box. They feared that a trial would achieve what Ellsberg sought, namely public awareness. So, the FBI had counseled against an arrest.
Here’s the quirky link: President Nixon deeply despised Ellsberg, He sought revenge for what he deemed Ellsberg’s traitorous act. So, in September of 1971, to discredit him, the President authorized an illegal, criminal raid on Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office. Was Nixon hoping to find some Freudian slips in Ellsberg’s psych file? When this bungled burglary came to light, it only heightened Ellsberg’s national stature as it diminished Nixon’s.
The connection with us was part of Ellsberg’s connection with all draft resisters. He testified that he was strongly influenced in forming his moral decisions by nonviolent draft resisters. "The example of people who have committed themselves to non-violence and who have acted on it has had a great influence on me. It has led me to try to learn their motivations and thinking. I have studied books that they have given me, but most of all, I have been impressed by their actions and their characters, and that has had a very strong influence on my life…"
While waiting to enter prison, he and I (and others of the Minnesota 8) had several long telephone conversations. We discussed nonviolence, what life in prison might be like, what the Quaker testimony of “Speak truth to power” actually meant in terms of how a peacemaker must act, and so forth. Nevertheless, I was still blown-away by—and grateful for—his courage and commitment in risking his life the day he released the Papers. Man, He faced over a hundred years in prison! There were few in the Resistance who did not fear for Ellsberg’s life. After all, political assassinations had become acceptable policy here at home as well as in Vietnam.
If Ellsberg had testified and released the Pentagon Papers, I wonder what would have happened? The trial might have been interrupted, and everyone indicted for treason. However, at the time, Ellsberg’s testimony had little impact on our jury, although a great impact on our personal lives as we got to know him better. And, vice versa. Later, during his own trial, Ellsberg restated that his personal commitment to risk prison was significantly strengthened by the risk he saw draft resisters and draft raiders take. So, in one small way, the draft raids of the Minnesota 8 helped topple Nixon and end the war.
The lesson I draw from Ellsberg’s chapter in our trial is that if you act according to your conscience, good things will happen. But—and it is a but that I still reflect upon—you get no immediate personal satisfaction; no instant gratification. Rather, you see the effect in terms much like Quantum physics’ “Butterfly effect.” Only in hindsight do you observe how you flapped your moral wings in Little Falls, Minnesota and Ellsberg starts a chain of events that takes down Nixon and ends the war.
Or, at least this is how I like to “connect the dots” when talking to my sons, and hope to do with my grandkids.
Moral of the tale
It’s the Sixties: It’s 2007—You just got to get up in the morning, confront the mirror, and voice the challenge, “Can the violence stop with me?” … You say, Yes...and go about your day.
The rub: The impact of your moral actions—from the intimate to the public political protest level—cannot be measured nor anticipated by linear means. That’s just how it goes.
Consider two Minnesota 8 butterflies: Mike and I clambered through an office window in Little Falls, Minnesota to be captured by the Feds, who indicted us first for “sabotage of the national defense,” then we went on trial, Chomsky can’t come, Ellsberg can—the judge frustrates him. Dan talks and talks wanting to know why we risked going to prison … and the President of the alleged Greatest War Machine in History flips out—stark raving mad?—over the Pentagon Paper leak and sends his henchmen to burglar Ellsberg’s psychiatrist office … it was the beginning of the end of the Vietnam War. Flap! Flap!
I chuckled when I first read this to my sons: “You seven had more influence than seven senators.” (Daniel Ellsberg in telephone conversation with Frank Kroncke, cited in Minneapolis Tribune, August 5, 1973)
“Aw, dad, you made that up!”
Vietnam Veterans
Seriously, in the main, the Vietnam Veterans ended the war. Starting in the Summer of 1967, veterans came home in droves. Young, bewhiskered, anti-authoritarian, dope smoking, Rock ‘n Rollers, who, in searching for acceptance, flooded campuses and communes across the country, where they joined others of the Youth Movement. These, our brothers, some sisters, were us.
One day, Gordy Nielson of Big Lake, Minnesota came into my office at the Newman Center on the U’s campus. He said, as he also later testified,
“In dealing with myself, coming back and thinking I was right. And thinking that the things I had done were right because it was what I had been taught in boot camp, and then viewing it from the other side, instead of a gook, it was a human being. Instead of a hootch, it was a home. That really socked it to my head. It really blew my mind. Because I have never thought of a hootch being a home, it was an old grass hootch. And they were peasants, they weren’t people.” [Trial testimony, “Minnesota 8”]
He realized that he was killing his own family: the Human Family. Ain’t that a great insight! But then he challenged me, “What are you going to do, Frank?” Me? What can I do? … “Psst! Steal a 1-A file. Destroy it. Guys disappear.”
If you believe that there are no hootches anywhere, only homes (whether grass huts or suburban tracts or River Road mansions), and no gooks (illegals, camel jockeys, beaners, micks, japs, kikes or krauts; heathens) … How are you resisting illegitimate authority, right now?

The U of MN Theatre Department, the History Theatre, and the Playwrights' Center co-produced "Peace Crimes: the Minnesota 8 vs. the war" for 14 performances, Feb 21-March 9, 2008 at Rarig Center, U of MN West Bank. Daniel Ellsberg was in attendance. For further information: click on Minnesota 8.