Daniel Ellsberg, with his wife Patricia Ellsberg at his side, talks with reporters in 1973, when he was on trial in the Pentagon Papers case. AP photo, CC 2.0.
A life that matters: Daniel Ellsberg has terminal cancer
by Abby Zimmet — Common Dreams
With the radical transparency that has marked a long and principled life, Daniel Ellsberg — patriot, truth-teller, whistle-blower, anti-war and anti-nuclear activist — has announced he has inoperable pancreatic cancer; doctors say he has three to six months to live. As Ellsberg stressed his “joy and gratitude” for “a wonderful life,” many others offered moving tributes to “an American hero” and “a light for mankind.” “You made the world a better place,” said one. “What a life you lived.”
In a lengthy, eloquent post on Twitter,Ellsberg explained he’d written to friends in the anti-war and anti-nuclear movements with his news, but had decided to share it more widely. On Feb. 17, with little warning, he said he was diagnosed with cancer while doctors were looking for something else minor; he has chosen not to undergo chemotherapy, and is feeling well — especially now that his cardiologist has allowed him to abandon his salt-free diet, “which improved my quality of life dramatically.” He added he feels “lucky and grateful” both to have lived “far beyond the proverbial three-score-and-ten” — he will be 92 on April 7 — and to have a few more months to spend with family and work to avert nuclear war. “When I copied the Pentagon Papers in 1969, I had every reason to think I would be spending the rest of my life behind bars,” he wrote. “It was a fate I would gladly have accepted if it meant hastening the end of the Vietnam War, unlikely as that seemed.” Instead, thanks to Nixon’s illegal responses, he got to spend the next decades with his family and seeking to “alert the world to the perils of nuclear war and wrongful interventions.” “As I look back on the last sixty years of my life,” he wrote, “I think there is no greater cause to which I could have dedicated my efforts.”
Once a staunch supporter of the Vietnam War who worked in the Pentagon under Robert McNamara and as a defense analyst for the RAND Corporation, Ellsberg’s growing anti-war fervor led him in 1969 to photo-copy top-secret documents exposing government lies about the war that he eventually leaked to The New York Times. In 1971 they published nine excerpts, for which America’s first modern, high-profile whistle-blower was charged with 12 felony counts — all dismissed in 1973. Since then, Ellsberg has worked tirelessly — speaking, writing, showing up, getting arrested — for peace, First Amendment rights, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, and above all nuclear disarmament. Today, he argues, the risk of nuclear war, in Ukraine or elsewhere, “is as great as the world has ever seen.” Noting only China and India have adopted no-first-use policies, he charges the United States, Russia, NATO et al have yet to recognize that threats of nuclear war “are and always have been immoral and insane,” and blasts “the disastrous willful denial” that has led to inaction on both that issue and our catastrophic climate change. Giving thanks to the “millions of people (who) have the wisdom, dedication and moral courage to carry on with these causes,” he adds, “You’ll be hearing from me as long as I’m here.”
Heartfelt responses quickly poured in responding to Ellsberg’s news of his illness. People praised “a true American hero,” “a lifetime of service to humanity,” “a beacon of light and hope,” “a well-lived life of integrity and honesty,” “an outstanding world citizen,” “a voice of reason” who “always stepped up to teach and fight” and was “unafraid to reveal the truth, regardless of the consequences.” They called him a role model who’d long inspired them and many others, often including their students, to do the right thing, speak truth to power, hold the powerful accountable. They assured him of a well-earned legacy as “one of the heroes of the enlightened…You are a great American & your name will live forever as an example of how one brave man can change the course of history.” They offered simple tribute: “You are a good human,” “Our country is better because of you,” “Solidarity,” “You did good.” They wished him “strength and peace amongst family and friends,” “all the salty snacks (of) your heart’s desire,” “safe travels,” and, “May your remaining time here on earth be filled with wonder.” Above all, they offered thanks — for his courage, convictions, activism. “Thank you for your life. It has improved mine,” one wrote. Also, “Bless you, sir, you have lived a life that matters.” And, “Godspeed, sir.” In sorrow, we echo them.
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