According to recent opinion polls, most Iraqis
don't believe that we're making things better or safer in their country. What
does that say about the legitimacy of prolonged occupation, much less permanent
American bases in Iraq? What does it mean for continued American armored patrols
such as the one last November in Haditha, which, we now learn, led to the deaths
of a Marine and 24 unarmed civilians?
Questions very much like these nagged at my conscience at the height of the
Vietnam War, and led, eventually, to the publication of the first of the Pentagon
Papers in June of 1971, 35 years ago.
As a former Marine Commander and defense analyst in 1970, I had exclusive access
to highly classified defense documents for research purposes. They came to be
known as the Pentagon Papers and constituted a 47-volume, top-secret Defense
Department history of American involvement in Vietnam titled, "U.S. Decision-making
in Vietnam, 1945-68." The Pentagon Papers made it very clear that I, like the
rest of the American public, had been misled about the origins and purposes
of the war I had participated in – just as are the 85% of the troops in Iraq
today who still believe that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11 and that
he was allied with al-Qaeda.
That period had several similarities to this one. Congress was debating the
withdrawal of U.S. armed forces from Indochina while President Nixon was making
secret plans to expand, rather than exit from, the ongoing war in Southeast
Asia – including a major air offensive against North Vietnam, possibly using
nuclear weapons. Today, the Bush administration's threats to wage war against
Iran are explicit, with officials reiterating regularly that the nuclear "option"
is "on the table." Americans saw the color photographs of the My Lai massacre;
now we are seeing photographs eerily similar to those from Haditha: women, children,
old men and babies, all shot at short range.
What was it that prompted me to begin copying 7,000 pages of highly classified
documents – an act that I fully expected would send me to prison for life? I
came to the conclusion that the system I had been part of, giving my unquestioning
loyalty to for 15 years, as a Marine, a Pentagon official and a State Department
officer in Vietnam, was a system that lies reflexively, at every level, from
sergeant to commander in chief, about murder. And I had the evidence to prove
The papers showed very clearly how we had become engaged in a reckless war
of choice in someone else's country – a country that had not attacked us – for
our own domestic and external purposes. It became clear to me that the justifications
that had been given for our involvement were false. And if the war itself was
unjust, then all the victims of our firepower were being killed without justification.
Today, there must be, at the very least, hundreds of civilian and military
officials in the Pentagon, CIA, State Department, National Security Agency and
White House who have in their safes and computers comparable documentation of
intense internal debates – so far carefully concealed from Congress and the
public – about prospective or actual war crimes, reckless policies and domestic
crimes: the Pentagon Papers of Iraq, Iran or the ongoing war on U.S. liberties.
Some of those officials, I hope, will choose to accept the personal risks of
revealing the truth – earlier than I did – before more lives are lost or a new
war is launched.
Haditha holds a mirror up not just to American troops in the field, but to
our whole society. Not just to the liars in government but to those who believe
them too easily. And to all of us in the public, in the administration, in Congress
and the media who dissent so far ineffectively or who stand by as murder is
being done and do nothing to stop it or expose it.
Americans must summon the civil courage to face what is being done in their
name and to refuse to be accomplices. The Voters' Pledge is one way to do this.
The Voters' Pledge is a project comprising many of the major organizations in
the antiwar movement, United for Peace and Justice, Peace Action, Gold Star
Families for Peace, Code Pink, and Democracy Rising, as well as groups with
broader agendas like the National Organization for Women, Progressive Democrats
of America, AfterDowningStreet.com, and magazines including the American
Conservative and The Nation. The goal of this coalition is to build
a base of antiwar voters that cannot be ignored by anyone running for office
in the United States. We want millions of voters to sign the pledge and say
no to pro-war candidates.
You can help right now by visiting www.VotersForPeace.US
and immediately signing the Voters' Pledge.
Daniel Ellsberg is a former American military analyst who helped bring
about an end to the Vietnam War when he released the Pentagon Papers, the US
military's account of its scandalous activities during that war.