CHALMERS JOHNSON AND DANIEL ELLSBERG are roughly the same age of slightly more than 70 years. They both worked for America’s military-industrial complex, Johnson as a CIA consultant and Ellsberg as a Marine and then an an intelligence analyst and strategist.
Ellsberg broke loose earlier than Johnson from his hawkishness and his belief in the mission and practice of American empire, and put his life and career in jeapordy by leaking secret files, known as the Pentagon Papers, from the RAND Corporation on the conduct of America’s war with Vietnam.
Chalmers Johnson defected from his role as ‘spear-carrier for American empire’ in 1995 after the 1995 publication of the East Asia Strategy Report by the Pentagon’s Office of International Security Affairs (known as the Nye Report, named after then DOD/ISA Director Joseph Nye). In this report, Johnson saw that America was committing itself to permanent global military engagement despite the fact that it’s chief rival in global affairs, the Soviet Union, had collapsed.
Johnson’s provocative Foreign Affairs article, “East Asian Security: The Pentagon’s Ossified Strategy,” argued that such places like Okinawa which then hosted more than 40 separate U.S. military installations on a small island were a crisis waiting to happen. He was prescient. In September of that year, a 12-year old girl was raped by three U.S. military servicemen which helped ignite the largest anti-American, anti-base protests in Japan in more than 40 years.
Chalmers Johnson, who was Chairman of UC Berkeley’s Political Science Department during the Vietnam protests and who was not sympathetic with the students, followed this important essay with two best-selling treatments about the blindspots and hubris of American power in the world. The first was Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Power, whose publication preceded 9/11 by about 18 months but like the prescient Hart/Rudman Commission on National Security in the 21st Century, predicted some major shock or blowback to be hurled at America. The second was Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the Loss of the Republic which is still selling strong in bookstores around the world.
Chalmers Johnson and I have collaborated for a long time and have directed together, with his wife Sheila Johnson, the Japan Policy Research Institute — and for more than a decade have wrestled with the issue of how to get American foreign policy back on track. Chalmers and Sheila are the conveners and cultivators of an alternative assortment of smart thinkers, writers and artists who make a modern foreign policy Bloomsbury Group — but instead of Bloomsbury Square, the exchanges and debates occur at their home in Cardiff, California — near San Diego.
As self indulgent as this may sound, visiting them each time I have has the feel of historical importance. I’ve engaged in discussions with the late Francis Crick in La Jolla — because of my connections to the Johnsons; had dinner with the late Haru Matsukata Reischauer at their home; and not too long ago enjoyed a provocative evening and dinner with Daniel Ellsberg.
Ellsberg brought with him the very last RAND report he produced in early 1971 — which was never published by RAND — which analyzed Johnson’s Peasant Nationalism and Communist Power: The Emergence of Revolutionary China.
These two now aged cold warriors had never met before that night and had provoked each other over the years — and both felt that America was on a course that would harm liberal democracy and replace the republic with an empire committed to permanent global military engagement that would always seek new rationales to justify the high costs of military expenditures and deployments.
What struck me — and I mean this as no slight to Ellsberg — is that he seemed to be tired of the battle. He had just published an important and interesting new book, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers but was not seemingly ready to become a high octane policy activist engaged in similar battles raging today about the proper conduct of American foreign and defense policy abroad, but particulary in Iraq.
Johnson, on the other hand, seemed practically teenager like in his youthful zeal to take on the Bush administration and any one else, Democrat or Republican (or Independent), who shared Bush’s illusion of American post-Cold War righteousness in global affairs.
My single contribution at that dinner was to suggest to Ellsberg, who had clearly suffered personally on many fronts because of the stigma associated with leaking national security documents, that he write an article that argued that America should treat as a hero any of the 300 or so personnel in government with a foot-thick set of super secret files that would expose some of the contradictions, fabrications, and lies about the so-called many fronted war on terror. I believed that Ellsberg could help inspire patriotic selflessness in some bureaucrat or analyst who would put career and reputation on the line to fill in the many blanks we have about our engagement in Iraq and about the entire buildup to the war, before and after 9/11.
He liked the idea, and about 18 months ago, I contacted the Washington Post and New York Times who both seemed cautiously interested. But the article never appeared — mostly because Dan Ellsberg didn’t get to writing the piece for some time. I know that the Washington Post Outlook Section did try and commission a piece.
But today, that article — similar to the one that we discussed at the home of Chalmers and Sheila Johnson — appears in the New York Times.
I thought that Richard Clarke’s Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror was the best America could hope for in terms of a guy who let average Americans have a peek inside the realities of Oval Office politics. Ron Suskind’s The Price of Loyalty also helped spill some of the insider thinking and behavior of the administration.
But we still haven’t had the equivalent of the Pentagon Papers.
I think it is time that we join Ellsberg’s call for a national hero — as yet unknown in the bowels of this administration — to come forward with the truth of what has been going on.
Someone leaked Valerie Plame’s identity over phone lines of the most intelligence-watched place on the face of the Earth, the White House, and has not yet had to pay a price.
Think about leaking something that would actually help get America back on track — rather than to harm her interests as the divulgence of a covert agent’s identity did.
Here is part of the note in today’s article written almost as a letter of support to next Bush Administration “Ellsberg of this era”:
Technology may make it easier to tell your story, but the decision to do so will be no less difficult. The personal risks of making disclosures embarrassing to your superiors are real. If you are identified as the source, your career will be over; friendships will be lost; you may even be prosecuted. But some 140,000 Americans are risking their lives every day in Iraq. Our nation is in urgent need of comparable moral courage from its public officials.
I happen to be in New York again courtesy of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund at a conference organized by Leon Fuerth on the challenge of what he calls “Forward Engagement,” or forecasting public policy challenges and choices. And one of the great problems of our world is the inability of complex systems, driven mostly by inertia and some sense that what they do tomorrow needs to look mostly like what they did yesterday, to adapt to new information or bugle calls to change course before a collision.
The fact is that American policy makers treat the Daniel Ellsberg’s and Chalmers Johnson’s of the country as oddities to be avoided — stepped around — when in fact they see much more than most of those I know in Washington and have been willing to bet their lives and reputations on their views.
Regrettably, such inspired risk-taking exists only in the smallest nooks and crannies of our government and usually earns expulsion rather than reward.
— Steve Clemons