Former Pentagon official Daniel Ellsberg '52, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers, yesterday alleged that the United States "would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons in the event of a large scale war," and urged Harvard students to consider non-traditional means of achieving political goals when normal channels are insufficient.
"United States initiation of nuclear war is a very urgent possibility, and quite probably the biggest public threat of your lifetime," Ellsberg told a group of about 40 students in the Adams House junior common room.
Ellsberg, who left his Pentagon position to protest the Vietnam War and later leaked the contents of a secret history of the war to the New York Times, said that the U.S. simply does not have the non-nuclear capabilities to fight a large scale war, and within days would resort to nuclear weapons.
Ellsberg criticized the belief that the U.S. is reluctant to initiate nuclear warfare, which he called a "cultural bias." "We have done so in the past, and have come very close to doing so many times since," he said.
Predicting that "arms would be a safe investment" whether Carter or Reagan were elected, Ellsberg warned of the militaristic path which he believes both candidates are following.
"At Harvard you must learn why it is important to risk your job or go to jail to change things like this when playing by the rules of the game doesn't work," Ellsberg said.
At one point in the discussion, Ellsberg began to cry as he recalled a friend who was jailed for refusing to go to Vietnam. Describing the need to show similar courage today to avoid nuclear war, Ellsberg said such courage will not guarantee our survival. "But it can work, because it did before, and given the stakes, it must," he said