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The Post

Refusal to Submit has three key references to Daniel Ellsberg. They give deeper insight to the scene in Spielberg's 2017 movie The Post, where Daniel Ellsberg says to Ben Bagdikian, National Editor of the Washington Post, "Wouldn't you go to prison to stop this war?" Below are the relevant excerpts from Refusal to Submit.

Pages 75–76:

...the tonnage of American bombs dropped in Vietnam surpassed even in 1967, the tonnage dropped in the Pacific theater during all of World War II. In a secret memo to the president shortly before he resigned, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara wrote: “The picture of the world’s greatest superpower killing or seriously injuring 1,000 noncombatants a week, while trying to pound a tiny backward nation into submission on an issue whose merits are hotly disputed, is not a pretty picture.”

Much later in the war Daniel Ellsberg, a Defense Department and Rand Corporation analyst with top-secret clearance (and cousin of Frumess [Richard Frumess]), covertly xeroxed 7,000 pages of a secret study ordered by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara which exposed many of the fundamental deceptions surrounding the war. Before he released what became known as the Pentagon Papers in 1971 to the New York Times, however, he anguished over the consequences of revealing them. Seeking her advice, he showed excerpts to his wife, Patricia, who took them into the bedroom and read them over. She returned shaken, and turned her husband’s attention to the language of the strategists: “the need to reach a threshold of pain;” “DRV pain in the North;” “VC pain in the South;” “Fast/full squeeze option” versus “Progressive squeeze and talk”; “the hot-cold treatment”; “one more turn of the screw.” “This is the language of torturers,” she said. Her eyes were filled with tears. “These have to be exposed. You’ve got to do it.” Readers of the mainstream media gasped in disbelief when they read about the web of disinformation the war entangled us in. The new information certainly confirmed some suspicions and exposed some inside dialogue, but basically we had known for years that the whole operation was based on manufactured myth and disinformation. The Pentagon Papers filled in some gaps, but we resisters knew the gist already. 

In the mid ’60s, we were unaware of the backroom talk of the generals and political strategists, but we were already cognizant of the devastating results of their decisions. 

Pages 287–288:

...a couple of other notable inmates wound up in the La Tuna lock-up [medium security federal prison] not long after we left. There was Joe Maizlish who completed his national prison tour in the segregation unit at La Tuna. There was Randy Kehler whose influence would soon reverberate far beyond La Tuna’s walls. Maizlish recalls asking Kehler about a visitor the latter received late in 1970. “I know I asked Randy, ‘Who was your visitor?’ and . . . he said it was a guy who was trying to figure out a way to make sure the American people learned what had happened in Vietnam and would never permit it to happen again ...(He told me who the visitor was) but I forgot his name by the time I got out of prison in 1971.”

The New York Times headline in June of 1971 jolted Maizlish’s memory. Kehler’s visitor at La Tuna was Daniel Ellsberg—the man who finally and forever exposed the web of lies—the covert American support for the over- throw of Diem, the deliberate fog created around the Gulf of Tonkin incidents, the suppression of LBJ’s true intentions during the 1964 election campaign, the inflated body counts of Vietcong dead— that got us entangled in Vietnam in the first place. Ellsberg had surreptitiously copied 7,000 pages of a Pentagon study ordered by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, then released the material to the press in a devastating exposé entitled the Pentagon Papers.

It was the East Coast draft resister, Randy Kehler, who had provided Ellsberg with an inspirational turning point. Ellsberg met Kehler at a 1968 War Resisters League conference in San Francisco. As Kehler addressed a small crowd about his feelings toward his upcoming imprisonment, Ellsberg underwent an epiphany—a moral awakening that left him sobbing uncontrollably. “What I remember most vividly,” wrote Ellsberg, “is not the content of what he had said but the impression he made on me as he spoke without preparation from the platform . . . I was experiencing a feeling I don’t remember having had in any other circumstances. I was feeling proud of him as an American. I was proud, at the end of this conference, that this man on the platform was American . . . The auditorium was filled with people from all over the world. I was thinking as he spoke, I’m glad these foreign visitors are having a chance to hear this. He’s as good as we have . . .

“When he mentioned his friends who were in prison and remarked that he would soon be joining them, it had taken me several moments to grasp what he had just said. Then it was as though an ax had split my head, and my heart broke open . . .

“We are eating our young . . .we are using them, using them up, ‘wasting’ them. This is what my country has come to. We have come to this . . . What I had just heard from Randy had put the question in my mind: What could I do, what should I be doing to help end the war now that I was ready to go to prison for it?” *

Sensing the results of Kehler’s impact on Ellsberg, stunned by the headlines in the New York Times, Maizlish too stopped to think about the way unpredictable connections can produce unforeseen ripples. “In some small way,” he said, “or maybe some big way, Randy’s posture helped encourage Ellsberg to go farther with what he was doing . . .The effects that your actions have—you just never know.”

* See also