Daniel Ellsberg is a whistleblower and activist most famous for leaking the Pentagon Papers in 1971. His release of those papers exposed U.S. involvement in Vietnam and eventually led to the end of the war, and he just made a stunning admission about his role as a Pentagon consultant in a recent interview with Democracy Now!
According to the interview, and as he detailed in his new book, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, Ellsberg was a high-level defense analyst, as well as a Pentagon and White House consultant who drafted plans for nuclear war.
Ellsberg told Democracy Now! that he briefed President Kennedy’s aide, McGeorge Bundy, in his first month in office on the nature of the plans for nuclear war under President Eisenhower. Ellsberg noted that the problems with these plans included the delegation of authority to theater commanders on various battlefields to use nuclear weapons. According to Ellsberg, Mr. Bundy found this shocking, but Kennedy chose to renew the delegation, anyway, as most presidents have done. Ellsberg also made the terrifying admission that there are most likely numerous fingers ready to press buttons at any given time:
“How many fingers are on buttons? Probably no president has ever really known the details of that. I knew, in ’61, for example, that Admiral Harry D. Felt in CINCPAC, commander-in-chief of Pacific, for whom I worked as a researcher, had delegated that to 7th Fleet, down to various commanders, and they, in turn, had delegated down to people. So when you say, ‘How many altogether feel authorized?’ if their communications are cut off — and that happened part of every day in the Pacific when I was there — communications got better, but the delegations never changed. There’s — we’ve never allowed it to be possible that an enemy could paralyze our retaliation by hitting our president or our command and control.”
Ellsberg said he was given the job of improving the Eisenhower plans, which were in his opinion “the worst plans in the history of warfare.”
“They were insane. They called for first-strike plans, which was by order of President Eisenhower. He didn’t want any plan for limited war of any kind with the Soviet Union, under any circumstances, because that would enable the Army to ask for enormous numbers of divisions or even tactical nuclear weapons to deal with the Soviets. So he required that the only plan for fighting Soviets, under any circumstances, such as an encounter in the Berlin corridor, the access to West Berlin, or over Iran, which was already a flashpoint at that point, or Yugoslavia, if they had gone in — however the war started — with an uprising in East Germany, for example — however it got started, Eisenhower’s directed plan was for all-out war, in a first initiation of nuclear war, assuming the Soviets had not used nuclear weapons.”
This “first strike” plan involved “hitting every town” in Russia and every city in China.
According to Ellsberg:
“I couldn’t believe, when I saw these, that the joint chiefs actually had ever calculated how many people they would actually kill in this course. In fact, colonels who were friends of mine in the Air Staff told me they had never seen an actual figure for the total casualties. We had exact figures of the number of targets and how many planes would be needed and every sort of thing, many calculations. But not victims.”
However, once Ellsberg posed the question regarding civilian casualties, he was given a response very quickly: 325 million people in the USSR and China alone would have died from this ill-conceived strike proposal.
“Well, then I asked, ‘All right, how many altogether’ And a few days later, 100 million in East Europe, the captive nations, another 100 million in West Europe, our allies, from our own strikes, by fallout, depending on which way the wind blew, and, however the wind blew, a third 100 million in adjoining countries, neutral countries, like Austria and Finland, or Afghanistan then, Japan, northern India and so forth — a total of 600 million people. That was a time, by the way, when the population of the world was 3 billion. And that was an underestimate of their casualties — a hundred Holocausts.”
Ellsberg says that when he briefed President Kennedy about his findings, his own initial thoughts were “this is the most evil plan that has ever existed.”
He believes this is only the beginning of the truly horrific nature of nuclear war, noting that every president has had the authority to delegate, and throughout the Cold War, every president did delegate to theater commanders in case communications fell apart. If it wasn’t bad enough that someone as hot-headed as Donald J. Trump has the ability to plunge the world into a nuclear holocaust, we should take note of the fact that he is not the only one able to do so.
As Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman explained in the interview, Rex Tillerson allegedly called the president a “fucking moron” in response to Trump asking three times in a meeting “If we have nuclear weapons, why don’t we use them?”
However, according to Ellsberg, it is not a question of whether or not Trump might use nuclear weapons. He already is.
“And he is using them right now,” Ellsberg stated.
“It’s not a question of whether the president might use them. He’s using them the way you use a gun when you point it at somebody in a confrontation, whether or not you pull the trigger. And both Trump and Kim are using their weapons in that encounter right now, as many presidents have done, as I discovered later — as there’s a chapter in the book of a couple dozen, perhaps three dozen cases, mostly in secret, where presidents have actually pointed the gun, aside from wearing it ostentatiously on their hip at all times, as in NATO. I think the — one of our commanders just said, ‘Oh, we use the weapons every day, every hour of the day,’ which is true. We use them on the hip.”
Thankfully, a U.S. commander already made it clear he would be inclined to defy the president if he attempted to proceed with an illegal nuclear strike.
Ellsberg also drew comparisons between what has been happening with North Korea and the Cuban Missile Crisis, stating:
“Kim does not have a Cuba now to put — and probably couldn’t anyway, in the case of Cuba — so he’s building ICBMs that can reach the US, even though he can already destroy entirely our ally in South Korea and in Japan…Kim Jong-un seems to have a very similar belief, that he could initiate war against our forces in South Korea and keep it limited. That’s insane. But it’s no more insane than our plan to initiate nuclear war against Russia, which would kill nearly everyone in the world.”
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