CRONKITE [opening]: During the controversy, a single name
has been mentioned
most prominently as the possible source of the Times’ documents.
Daniel Ellsberg, a former State Department and Pentagon planner, and of
something of a phantom figure, agreed today to be interviewed at a
location, but he refused to discuss his role, if any, in the release of
documents. I asked him what he considers the most important revelations
from the Pentagon documents.
ELLSBERG: I think the lesson is that the people of this
country can’t afford
to let the President run the country by himself, even foreign affairs,
than domestic affairs, without the help of Congress, without the help
public. . . .
CRONKITE: Isn’t this correcting of this problem of public
in the character of the leaders in Washington than it is in anything
ELLSBERG: I would disagree with that. It seems to me that
whom, I think, you’re referring to the executive officials, the
Branch of government–have fostered an impression that I think the rest
have been too willing to accept over the last generation, and that is
Executive Branch is the government, and that indeed they are
in a sense that may not be entirely healthy, if we’re to still think of
ourselves as a democracy. I was struck, in fact, by President Johnson’s
reactions to these revelations as “close to treason,” because it
me this sense that what was damaging to the reputation of a particular
administration, a particular individual, was in effect treason, which
close to saying “I am the state.” And I think that quite sincerely many
Presidents, not only Lyndon Johnson, have come to feel that. What these
tell me is we must remember this is a self-governing country. We are
government. And in terms of institutions, the Constitution provides for
separation for powers, for Congress, for the courts, informally for the
protected by the First Amendment. . . . I think we cannot let the
the Executive Branch determine for us what it is that the public needs
about how well and how they are discharging their functions. . . . . .
CRONKITE: How was [this study] kept a secret from the White
ELLSBERG: The fact is that secrets can be held by men in the
whose careers have been spent learning how to keep their mouths shut. I
CRONKITE: The documentation being somewhat incomplete,
“flawed history” is
what some have said of it.
ELLSBERG: It’s a start. It’s a beginning toward history. I
would say it’s an
essential beginning, but it’s only a beginning. . . . In the seven
pages of this study, I don’t think there is a line in them that
estimate of the likely impact of our policy on the overall casualties
Vietnamese or the refugees to be caused, the effects of defoliation in
ecological sense. There’s neither an estimate nor a calculation of past
effects, ever. And the documents simply reflect the internal concerns
officials. That says nothing more nor less that that our officials
concern themselves with the effect of our policies on the Vietnamese.
CRONKITE: How would you describe the men who do not have the
reaction to reading this, to knowing these, being privy to these
you? Are they cold? Are they heartless? Are they villainous?
ELLSBERG: The usual assumption, of course, the usual
description of them is
that they are among the most decent and respectable and responsible men
our society has to offer. It’s a very plausible judgment, in terms of
background. And yet, having read the history, and I think others will
this, I can’t help but feel that their decency, their humane feelings,
be judged in part by the decisions they brought themselves to make, the
for which they did them, and the consequences. I’m not going to judge
evidence is here.
I’m sure this story is more painful for many people at this
moment than for
me, because of course it is familiar to me, having read it several
it must be painful for the American people now to read these papers–and
a lot more to come–and to discover that the men to whom they gave so
respect and trust, as well as power, regarded them as contemptuously as
regarded our Vietnamese allies.
CRONKITE: What about the immediate effect [of these
revelations] on the war
as of these days in June, 1971?
ELLSBERG: Yes, the war is going on. . . . I hope the Senate
will go much
further. I hope they discover that their responsibilities to their
the citizens of this country and to the voters, do go beyond getting
re-elected, and that they’re men, they’re free men who can accept the
responsibility of ending this war.
My father had a favorite line from the Bible, which I used
to hear a great
deal when I was a kid: “The truth shall make you free.” And I hope that
truth that’s out now–it’s out in the press, it’s out in homes, where it
be, where voters can discuss it–it’s out of the safes, and there is no
way to get it back into the safes–I hope that truth will free of us
this war. I
hope that we will put this war behind us. . . . in such a way that the
of the next 20 years will read nothing like the history of the last 20