Daniel Ellsberg: Still blowing the whistle

The legendary activist who leaked the Pentagon Papers says officials need to speak out against administration lies now.

By Bill Katovsky
April 17, 2006 3:30PM (UTC)
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Daniel Ellsberg is perhaps the most famous whistle-blower in American history. In 1965, the former Marine and Pentagon analyst went on a State Department fact-finding mission to Vietnam. During that mission, which lasted 17 months, Ellsberg realized that the official line on Vietnam was false. Villages were not being "pacified," "hearts and minds" not won over. Field reports were being doctored, enemy casualties inflated. Furthermore, the South Vietnamese government was riddled with corruption, and its army suffered from low morale.

Two years after he returned to the United States, Ellsberg found himself living a double life. He was a Pentagon insider briefing top officials, including National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger -- and a participant in antiwar gatherings. Finally, Ellsberg decided he had to act. In his office safe was a 7,000-page top-secret Pentagon study -- commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who ordered the study because of his own increasing doubts about the war. The study, which came to be known as the Pentagon Papers, documented a consistent pattern of exaggeration and deliberate falsehoods about Vietnam policy dating back to the Truman administration. Ellsberg copied the report. "I saw [Vietnam] first as a problem, next as a stalemate, then as a moral and political disaster, a crime," he writes in "Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers," which won the 2003 American Book Award for nonfiction.


At first, he tried to get antiwar senators like William Fulbright interested in the Pentagon Papers. After being rebuffed on Capitol Hill, Ellsberg went to the press.

Did the papers' publication shorten the Vietnam War? At the outset, they became the center of an intense freedom-of-the-press struggle. The Justice Department sought an unprecedented injunction to prevent the New York Times from printing them. When the Supreme Court voted 6-3 in favor of the Times, it was a victory for the First Amendment, though their continued publication in the Times and 18 other newspapers failed to generate the impact Ellsberg hoped they would have. He explains why in "Secrets":

"Starting the day after Christmas 1971, [Nixon] launched a thousand U.S. bombers during five days of bombing against North Vietnam, in the heaviest raids since 1968. Thus, six months later after the publication of the Pentagon Papers, when people asked me at the end of the year what I thought I had accomplished, I said, 'Nothing.' Nothing in regard to the war, my overriding concern. It wasn't public opinion I had been ultimately seeking to change. It was the bombing, the war, Nixon's policy. None of those had been influenced by American public opinion since the start of his term in office, as far as I could see, or by the release of the papers. Most Americans in truth had wanted out of the war long before the papers were published; a majority had come to regard it as immoral. In the face of that majority sentiment, the president had kept the war going by reducing ground troops, while he increased the bombing, and by recurrently convincing the public that he was on the verge of a settlement."


While the papers stopped short of covering the years of his own presidency, Nixon feared that Ellsberg or others might come out of the woodwork with potentially damaging evidence. Nixon wanted to plug these leaks. This led to the creation of a new cloak-and-dagger unit called the Plumbers. Its first covert mission was breaking into Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office to find dirt to use against Ellsberg. It was this same group -- Cuban exiles working for E. Howard Hunt -- who later bungled the break-in of the Democratic National headquarters at the Watergate Hotel.

Ellsberg's trial for leaking the papers lasted five months. He faced 115 years in prison if convicted on all the charges. But on May 11, 1973, the judge dismissed Ellsberg's case outright. He cited "improper government conduct" (illegal wiretapping and evidence tampering came to light). On that very same day, Nixon sat down with his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, in the Oval Office and vented his fury. An excerpt from that secretly taped conversation appears on the last page of Ellsberg's memoir:

"For example, on this national security thing, we have the rocky situation where the sonofabitching thief is made a national hero and is going to get off on a mistrial. And the New York Times gets a Pulitzer Prize for stealing documents. They're trying to get at us with thieves. What in the name of God have we come to?"


The Senate Watergate hearings commenced the following week. It was the subsequent cover-up, not the crime itself, which set into motion Nixon's resignation. (The articles of impeachment that were then being drafted included the Ellsberg break-in.) The war ended on May 1, 1975, under President Gerald Ford. Would the Plumbers unit have been formed if Ellsberg hadn't pulled off one of the most important whistle-blowing acts in American history? Would there have been a Watergate scandal? How much longer would the war have lasted? How many lives were ultimately saved?

In a Sept. 28, 2004, New York Times Op-Ed piece called "Truths Worth Telling," Ellsberg encouraged officials in the Bush administration to step forward with documentation detailing how the White House had misled the American public into supporting the Iraq war. Citing himself as an example who had failed to act until it was too late, he described a conversation he had had in 1978 with Sen. Wayne Morse of Oregon, one of the two senators who had voted against the Tonkin Gulf resolution:


"Seven years and almost 50,000 American deaths later, after I had leaked the Pentagon Papers, [Morse told me that] if I had leaked the documents then, the resolution never would have passed. That was hard to hear. But in 1964 it hadn't occurred to me to break my vow of secrecy. Though I knew that the war was a mistake, my loyalties then were to the secretary of defense and the president. It took five years of war before I recognized the higher loyalty all officials owe to the Constitution, the rule of law, the soldiers in harm's way or their fellow citizens."

Today, Ellsberg -- who was the subject of a 2003 FX cable movie, "The Pentagon Papers," starring James Spader -- lives in Kensington, Calif., just north of Berkeley, with his wife, Patricia. He continues to be outspoken, giving antiwar lectures, attending peace rallies and mentoring government whistle-blowers like former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds. He has been arrested 70 times.

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James Spader doesn't look like me in the movie, but he caught my intensity. Patricia and I watched it hand-in-hand. We loved its love parts. I asked her, "Did I really look that good?" And she said, "Better." I have one child with Patricia. Michael is now twenty-eight. He's a writer actually. He is up most nights writing. He is writing a memoir, of all things. His growing up. Various intellectual and emotional concerns. He is a very good writer. And a savage editor. Michael slashed "Secrets" almost in half. He calls himself Jack the Ripper. My older son, Robert, is editor-in-chief of Orbis Books. He did a lot of editing on my book. In the movie, Robert is running the Xerox machine, and my daughter, Mary, who was ten, is cutting the "Top Secret" off the documents. That really happened.

FX never approached me when they made the film. I am sure one reason was not to pay me any money. The other was probably to not get any interference from me -- which I would have almost had to do because every scene was wrong essentially. My former wife did not come to the place where we were copying documents and confront me.

At the beginning of "Pentagon Papers," Spader is speaking to the camera and more or less quoting a description in an essay that I wrote in which I quoted from "Toilers of the Sea," by Victor Hugo, about people walking into quicksand. As usual in that movie, he gets it almost exactly backwards. My essay is called "The Quagmire Myth and the Stalemate Machine." It got a prize for the best paper presented at the American Political Science Association in 1970. Its thesis was that the notion we got into Vietnam as into a quagmire -- without noticing that we were getting deeper in and it was harder to get out of -- was a myth. Whereas the movie says that is how we got into Vietnam. What I said in my paper, which has been reprinted a lot, is that it's a very arresting image and very plausible, but is wrong in every respect. It is nothow we got into Vietnam. It may have been how the public thought we were getting into Vietnam. It was told that we were about to win any day. But inside the White House, the president was never told that. Never. Never told it was gonna be quick or easy or cheap. Nor that the next step would be sufficient to win.


I was also rather furious at the movie's end. It ends by my character saying, "If my greatest act of patriotism was an act of treason, so be it." Two or three times in the movie, I'm heard using the word "treason." "Gee, this is treason." And "I'll be tried for treason." I was, of course, not indicted for treason. I did not expect to be indicted for treason. I really don't appreciate people legitimizing the idea that what I did was treason. When people do say it, I correct them. So for my character in the movie to say it was an act of treason again reverses my actual attitude.

As we approached going to war in Iraq, I realized that whistle-blowing by officials was really very urgent, as it had been in Vietnam. My message was: "Don't delay telling the truth to Congress and the press. Not just Congress, because without pressure from the press, Congress doesn't move on these truths. They just hold them to themselves and keep silent about them. Don't wait years into a war. Don't wait until the bombs have been falling. Don't wait until thousands more have died, if you know that the administration is lying to the public, is deceiving the public, is leading them into a wrongful, unnecessary war."

When I released the Pentagon Papers, I was trying to avert a disaster. It has nothing to do with wanting to be a martyr. And in my case, of course, Nixon failed in his efforts to martyr me. You might say, I didn't suffer any major loss. There was the loss of friendships; my friends having had security clearances. That was a loss. But it wasn't what Nixon had in mind for me. What he had in mind was 115 years in prison, or even before that, beating me up. Slandering me. But he didn't succeed in any of that.

I am not claiming to be totally prescient about the Iraq War. But within a couple of months, I could see that this was going to develop like Vietnam. Which is a thoroughly stalemated war. It is a quagmire. It's not a question of our being driven out, but of it being impossible for us to eliminate the insurgents. As was true in Vietnam. We got into Vietnam with our eyes open internally as to how bad it would be. In this case, the military could see that there would be a terrible occupation problem. General Shinseki, of course, was strongly rebuked as chief of staff of the Army for saying that it would take several hundred thousand troops to occupy instead of the 130,000 that they were sending over. Wolfowitz said that's wildly off the mark. And Shinseki's replacement was announced. He didn't retire immediately, but was made into a lame-duck general. Now, looking back, I'm sure that Shinseki had a six-foot-high stack of studies telling him why you needed several hundred thousand troops. I wished he would have released those at the time. They are documents that need to be leaked.


The blitzkrieg part was done very competently. Very effectively. And it was a Nazi-like blitzkrieg. Very well-executed war of aggression. To look back at what my judgments were in May 2003, I wouldn't know one way or another how Iraq was going to develop. By the fall, I could see that the insurgents had an effective tactic here -- the suicide bombing. Effective in a military sense. That's not to excuse terrorism when it's targeted on civilians, which is murder. Suicide bombing is like precision-guided munitions. Where you want it. And it is very hard to stop. It was also very clear to me right away that we were not getting intelligence from the people who knew about those ambushes. In other words, we were facing the same ambush problem that the French faced and we faced in Vietnam. The Iraqis weren't prepared to give information to a foreign occupier in order to save any of the lives of the foreign occupiers. My Vietnam experience prepared me to think, "Okay, this is a war that can go on forever." People say, "Oh, you're prejudiced. You're just looking through the lenses of the past." Well, I was using my own experience, but I wasn't confined by it. I was just ready to perceive similarities. People ask me, "But aren't there differences?" I say, "Sure. It's a dry heat. The language we don't speak is Arabic rather than Vietnamese. And the ambushes are in the city rather than the countryside." But the similarities are more important than the differences.

It was obvious to me that we were being lied to about the reasons for going to war. Even though I did think they had WMDs. Trying to say that Saddam Hussein, after ten years of sanctions, is the number-one threat to the U.S. and world security was an absurd statement. It was just ridiculous. In a world where Russians have loose nuclear weapons, and with India and Pakistan facing each other with nuclear weapons, to say that Saddam was the number-one threat, I could not believe Powell believed that. I felt he had to be consciously lying.

The press had been compliant right along. They are getting a little critical now. There is a synergy between public dismay and disillusion and the press. When there is more unrest in the public, the press gets a little nerve to criticize the president. But they have been very dismayingly compliant -- and essentially passing on government handouts and cheering things on.

It was the same thing with the Democrats in Congress. They were afraid of being called names. The fear is a well-justified expectation that they would be called unpatriotic by the White House. Dick Armey was calling Tom Daschle unpatriotic and giving aid and comfort to the enemy by criticizing the president or questioning strategy.


People like Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter and others are great name callers. Coulter writes a book with the title "Treason." And I am in that book not only as a traitor like everybody else, but she also describes me as a felon. That is interesting. Isn't Ann Coulter supposed to be a lawyer? You don't have to be a lawyer in America to be aware that you are not a felon if you haven't been convicted of anything.

I don't want to label Republicans in general, but these people are extreme slanderers. They are very vicious. These people are unusual. In many respects we have a White House now that is extremely dangerous. And among other things, I would say very anti-democratic. They don't believe in democracy, in my opinion. And that's why I am very, very concerned that they will exploit the next 9/11. I expect there to be another 9/11. They will use that as a Reichstag fire to close down democracy very seriously in this country. I don't use that analogy lightly either. We really are in a pre-authoritarian situation here.

This is the time for people to show courage. People have more courage than they realize. It is the situation that challenges them. I think a lot about what happened in Germany in 1933 and I also wonder what people could have done in '32 to try to avert that in Germany. With each year it got much harder, and after that it was very hard to do anything about it. It took increasing courage. Now is the time for people to show that courage, and one thing specifically that I would like to see is a lot more whistle-blowing.

For the past three years, I have been calling for whistle-blowing and truthtelling within the government. One obvious example was the Downing Street memo, which was leaked to the British press. It revealed that Prime Minister Blair had been briefed in July 2002 that President Bush had decided on a war against Iraq and that intelligence was being fixed around the policy. It got almost no attention over here. Nearly a month went by before anybody even mentioned it. The New York Times eventually gave it a certain amount of discussion. But very little from the media. It almost blanked out. Second, the Downing Street memo was written in July of 2002. If it had been leaked then, instead of several years later, that probably could have prevented the British participation. Although Bush was so determined to go in, he would probably have gone in alone even without the British. The same is true of a lot of the stuff that came out from Richard Clarke in his book, "Against All Enemies." Or Mike Scheuer of the CIA who wrote a book under the name "Anonymous." Both are good books and definitely worth having even at this late date. But there is nothing in them that they could not have told back in 2001! Let alone in 2002. If they had put out documents that backed up what they later said in those books, I believe either one of them would have prevented this war. They probably would have gone to prison if they had put out those documents. But you can't tell somebody, "You should give your life. You should go to prison. You should do this." But I do tell people you should consider doing that when there are so many lives at stake. And I wish they had.


When Clarke was speaking before a congressional committee, someone asked him, "You told us a year ago that the president was doing a great job against terrorism. Now your book is saying he wasn't doing anything that needed to be done, that he was tremendously incompetent and wrongly directed. Which should we believe? How can we believe you now?" And so Clarke said, "Well, I'm not an official now. I'm not being told what to say. If I had told you then what I am saying in my book, I would have been fired before I got back to the office." That's probably true. But given the stakes, should that have been an absolute bar to telling the truth?

I don't begrudge him the money he got from the book. But I do wish that it occurred to him to put the book out before the war, rather than wait all that time. I'm not being invidious when I say that, because I behaved the same way in '64, '65. I had information in my safe in the Pentagon from the weeks I started in August of 1964. I had information that we were being lied into a war. Although I was not against the war at that point, I was very much against the way I saw it was going to be prosecuted by heavy bombing. From the very beginning, I was against the bombing of the north. Again, I didn't object as I might have, because the president was facing a candidate, Goldwater, who in all sincerity was calling on us to enlarge the war. So I thought it was important that Johnson beat him, and it wouldn't have occurred to me to undercut the president at that time by exposing him as a liar. That's the way I felt.

But I don't admire my actions in retrospect. My conscience and prudence about my career told me to keep my mouth shut. But I was wrong. What I am saying is that conscience is so much socially constructed that even your own conscience should be looked at skeptically in situations of life and death. If you find you've been wrong, change the decision you made there. Change direction.

As I get older, I realize that people act according to their conscience most of the time. And it isn't always the right way to act. One's conscience is very much shaped by society. Very often people put obedience at the height of their conscience and values. Obeying the president as a matter of conscience. Keeping a promise, even when that promise turns out to involve you in participating in great social evils and war. Promises to keep secrets -- which of course are made many times in the government, and which I ultimately broke.

I have done a lot of lecturing -- for thirty years -- but for a long time, I didn't speak about whistle-blowing specifically because it seemed as though I was blowing my own horn. I was being defensive about what I did, or in effect, saying, "Do what I did." Most people in my audience were not in a position to be a whistle-blower ready to go to jail. But then I realized it is one of the most important actions a person can be called on to make. I now like to complicate the lives of people who hear me speak by encouraging them that they should not regard promises or expectations of obedience or silence as absolutely obligatory. The meaning of whistle-blowing is to warn people. Policemen were equipped with whistles. If there was a wrongdoer in the neighborhood, the policeman would shout, "Help me get him! Stop this man! Don't let him get away! Watch out! You're in danger!"

The thing that keeps people in line is very much like what they used to say to us in the Marine Corps: "You volunteered. You stepped over the line. Now you have to stay. That is the price of signing up in the Marines." I did observe combat enough. I was with the State Department in Vietnam using my Marine training. I walked with troops under fire in combat. And you see great courage all around you. Routinely. And that's taken for granted. A very small percentage of people get medals for it. Civilians somehow seem to think it is almost not right for them to risk their careers. Or to risk their family's livelihood and security.

To a large extent that silence is dictated by conscience. It's wrongful silence. But people say, "I signed an agreement." People really feel they are doing the right thing when they keep their mouths shut even when they see these things going on. They think that it would be bad for their company, or the president, if they exposed any of that. They are not lying with a guilty conscience to protect these people. They are doing it because they feel it is the right thing to do. So conscience isn't a totally reliable guide either. Where do you turn then? For example, Bush said, "God told me to strike the Taliban. And I did. God told me to attack Iraq and I did." My opinion on that is, "That wasn't God. It was a wrong connection." When you hear the voice of God telling you to do something -- in Bush's case, an unprovoked attack on another country -- get a second opinion. Look skeptically. Paradoxical as it may seem, even your conscience is not the last word, especially when it tells you to be obedient to leadership that is leading you astray or to keep their secrets.

Frankly, we've reached the point where it would be very hard to change under this current administration, though we need to get Bush out of office before 2008. That is too long. Impeachment is well deserved but not possible under a Republican Congress. I was not exactly surprised by the government response to Hurricane Katrina. Its performance shows the same priorities that underlie Bush's policies start to finish -- which include a great disdain for the poor of the world. He initially referred to people in the Gulf coast region as "people in this part of the world" as if he were speaking of a Third World country. He didn't seem to feel any identity with them, even if they lived in his own country.

Lately, I have been doing a lot of thinking about how wars are so much a part of human experience. As a species, we are given to mass violence and war and empire. How easy it is for our species to be fooled, and to fool each other. There are two primates which regularly kill their own species. While ants have wars actually, as for primates, it is chimpanzees and humans. If a group of chimpanzees catches a single, isolated male of a different tribe in its territory, it will kill him by beating him. Everyone beats him. Or it will even raid into a neighboring territory. Apparently, its evolutionary function is by reducing the number of males in a neighboring tribe, it restricts the feeding area of the neighboring tribe and enlarges its own. What about the other 4 percent genetic inheritance that we don't share with the chimpanzees? There's our speech and walking upright. Specifically we are the only animals that use weapons. Tools to kill with, thanks to our opposed thumb. We are the only ones that throw rocks. Chimps do a little throwing, but not accurate or strong enough to kill.

We are the only animals that kill at a distance beyond our own arm length. And to kill, we need weapons. Not 100 percent of the time, as chimpanzees show. But we can kill at a distance. Our ability to be concerned about the harmful effects of our actions on other humans especially falls off very quickly with physical and social distance and visibility. With the rock and spear and club and knife, we are still pretty close in. With the bow and arrow you definitely get a lot of distance. When you are talking about the longbow, you are killing people you can barely see. That's the start, of course. With bombing and missiles, you're harming people you don't see -- and that is very easy for humans.

I'm not aware of any bomb crews in the Second World War having a problem with bombing through clouds when they got to radar bombing. In fact, the people who had the most problems were those flying low over Tokyo. They could see the fires. The updraft from the smell of burning human flesh below hit their nostrils and made them throw up. It smells like roast pork.

Unlike other animals, we have the capability of foreseeing long-term consequences, and even being concerned about them. We have the ability to act on them, and God knows, we have a unique ability to cause long-term consequences. The chimpanzees don't do that, let alone any other primate. They don't threaten themselves and they don't threaten other species the way we do. And so, we have this ability to cause harm in the long run and at a distance, and this ability -- if we used it -- to foresee that harm. Yet we don't worry that much about the long run or distant victims. So if the victims in wartime are foreigners, we talk about collateral damage as if we were not sure what would happen. That it's just an accident.

And here, I think, other things come into play for people in power. The first is their tendency not to look beyond the next election or to look beyond to the long run. Another thing is their willingness and determination to keep their jobs. Men in power are willing to gamble with any number of human lives in order to keep power. There is virtually no limit to the number of people they will risk killing in the future in order to keep their jobs. There is no real limit to it.

When I say there is no limit, I am ultimately referring to nuclear war. The willingness to contemplate the use of nuclear weapons is the willingness to contemplate something that goes beyond what any earlier humans or any earlier species had any reason to contemplate. There would have been a genuinely inadvertent and unforeseen effect if the U.S. government had carried out its plan for general nuclear war while I was in the government, say, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. There would have been nuclear winter. Bombs would have hit every city in Russia and China. They would have caused so much smoke to rise that all highly complex life on Earth would have been wiped out.

Well, I hope to live another ten to twenty years -- I could die anytime -- but my father lived to be ninety-six, and I'll be very surprised if there are not some more Hiroshimas during that time. Really surprised. In fact, I would say within ten years. The promise made to the dead of Hiroshima -- "Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil" -- is not going to be kept. At this moment, I think that it will probably be a terrorist weapon. Katrina is a pretty good taste for what will happen when we lose a city. Of course, the death rate will be much bigger.

Let's say a small terrorist weapon goes off, and because Bush has done his best to cut funds for safeguarding Russian nuclear materials, that action is exactly comparable in its irresponsibility to flood control in New Orleans although the effects will be much greater. After all, if a hole occurs in that dike around Russian nuclear materials, there's really no limit to what can come out of it in the way of plutonium and uranium. Which takes us back to the market theory. If terrorist organizations can't use Saudi money and drug money to buy a Russian nuclear warhead, then Adam Smith's theory of markets can be almost discarded. If you can't buy warheads that are guarded by people who are raising vegetables in their back gardens for the nourishment of their families, then the notion that everything has a price can be decisively refuted. I think they are going to get that material. And who knows how long it will be before Pakistan or North Korea will sell full warheads?

Practically speaking, can it be said that this country is likely to prevent these things? No. That can be said very quickly. Is it impossible that we will? No. Nothing's impossible. Can other countries prevent proliferation? Can they hold the tide back entirely? You see, I am plagued with the kind of knowledge that almost nobody has. I've read some secret documents. Almost nobody else has actually seen these actual plans and the calculations that go with them. When I say that our plans called for killing 500 to 600 million people, nobody knows that. Nobody has seen such calculations. But I held that piece of paper in my hand. They all called for simultaneous attacks on China and Russia. So take the notion of attacking North Korea, which I am sure the current administration is still entertaining, though they may have rejected it for the moment. It quickly involves possible nuclear weapons. Here's my guess. If they decide for whatever reason to attack North Korea, it will be proposed to the president and he could well accept it that he must use airburst tactical weapons in rather large numbers against their artillery that threatens Seoul, that nothing else will prevent the embedded artillery pieces in their concrete emplacements from coming out. They are arranged so that they can pop out and fire. To destroy them, you need nuclear weapons. And if you can't get rid of that artillery, you can't attack because you will lose Seoul. Now could the president take that gamble? And perhaps lose Seoul? Well, yes. That's what humans do, in power, under various circumstances. And we have made gambles like that in the past.

North Korea is one case. What if Saddam had WMDs? I am sure the White House did believe he had them. And what if he'd used them? There would have been a good chance we would've replied with nuclear weapons. Not against Baghdad probably. Unless it was the Israelis replying. But against their supposed underground sites. Of which we found that they didn't have any. But we believed we knew where they were and that they were underground and we needed nuclear weapons to attack them. A former CIA agent, Philip Giraldi, has said that there are plans to hit underground sites for nuclear materials in Iran with our tactical nuclear weapons. Under what event? The next 9/11? Well, our response will be, among other things, to attack Iran even if it wasn't responsible just as our response after 9/11 was to attack Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11. But that is where the White House wanted to attack.

Most of my civil disobedience arrests have been in connection with nuclear weapons demonstrations of various kinds. Except for the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War, my first act of civil disobedience was in 1976, just after the war. It was at the Pentagon at the end of the Continental Walk for Peace and Social Justice, which was really an anti-nuclear weapons walk across the country. I've been arrested at various nuclear test sites and laboratories. My oldest son was arrested with me at Rocky Flats outside Denver. That was very nice. To feel it's a family business, you know. It was very bonding. My younger son was arrested with me outside the U.S. Mission to the United Nations before we invaded Iraq.

I continue to do civil disobedience against the Iraq War. The latest was in Crawford, Texas, where Cindy Sheehan took her stand. I like to take part and encourage other people as well. Each person has the ability, though they may not know it, to encourage others to speak out or to take a stand or to go beyond what they've done before. So there is a kind of chain reaction here. That's essential.

Katrina reminds us that large dangers are not just hypothetical. They are not all in the distant future. They are not to be shunted aside simply because they are uncertain and we don't know exactly when they are going to happen. There is a great gap between what we are capable of and what we actually do to avert dangers and to help other people.

We are in a crisis in this country, and the world is in a crisis right now, in large part because of our country. It calls for fast change in many respects. To a large extent we as a people do share the responsibility, though we are not all equally responsible. But President Bush is very responsible. I would despair of changing Bush's behavior very much in itself. To think that our Democratic leadership right now would do an adequate job of dealing with these problems is absurd. Reid, Hillary, Lieberman, and Biden are all calling for more troops in Iraq and a more muscular reaction to North Korea and Iran. That's predictable and outrageous, and we Democrats cannot allow that. It is up to us to get different leadership in there.

While I am going to continue working against the war in Iraq, it is not with the hope or belief that it will change quickly. But we do need to see how all the global issues go together. We need to look at the world as a whole, rather than disclaiming our miserable commitment to 0.7 percent of our GNP for developing countries. That's not acceptable. That's not tolerable. We need to address the issues of poverty, the issues of empire, the issues of nuclear weapons, the issues of health and of education -- which, of course, means sex education and health education and AIDS education. It is not acceptable that we should be coercing countries like Uganda to turn away from the free distribution of condoms in order to pander to a crazy fundamentalist Christian sect here in America.

Now, is anything going to change right away? No. Actually it isn't. We're dealing with powerful institutions. But that's why we've got to be trying to change. And not just the Iraq War. I'm going to do whatever I can. My wife says, "You're not up to that." There's the lectures, meetings, and rallies. It's too much traveling. Jet lag is hard on me. I don't sleep well. But at this moment I have to do whatever I can -- which virtually requires getting a Democratic majority in the House in 2006.

Excerpted with permission from "Patriots Act: Voices of Dissent and the Risk of Speaking Out," by Bill Katovsky. The Lyons Press.

Bill Katovsky

Bill Katovsky is the co-author of Embedded: The Media at War in Iraq, which won Harvard University's Goldsmith Book Prize.

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