Daniel Ellsberg

Former military strategist Daniel Ellsberg, famous for releasing the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret study of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, calls the United States’ nuclear weapons policy “dizzyingly insane and immoral.” In his new memoir, “Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner,” Ellsberg chronicles his years spent as a nuclear policy analyst, which included the near miss of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Ellsberg joins us to discuss his new book and why he calls for more risk-reduction measures around nuclear weapons. We’ll also get his thoughts on the new movie, “The Post,” which dramatizes the Washington Post’s decision to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971.

Ellsberg Takes on US Nuclear Protocol in ‘Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner’ 11 January,2018Michael Krasny

Guests:
Daniel Ellsberg, former Pentagon analyst, author, "The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner"

  • EIDALM

    Daniel Ellsberg is very good man, an icon of the Bay Area, very glad forum have on, love to hear what he has to say about the extremely dangerous, potential Worldwide nuclear holocaust instigated by Donald Trump.

    • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

      Hear hear!

  • Noelle

    I can’t understand why all nations can’t get together and ban nuclear weapons. Do countries make a lot of money from them? As they say, follow the money?

    • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

      Thanks, Noelle-Star. Please see my three primary comments elsewhere on this page, since you posted this one. Appreciations for your concern and direction. If you’re near Berkeley, our next STAR ALLIANCE public meeting is scheduled for 2-4 pm on Sunday February 4th. Details will appear on our “Events” page [at http://www.STARALLIANCE.org] when we overcome some technical hurdles we are experiencing. (or possibly some malicious hacking activity from unknown entities.)

      • Noelle

        Ward Wilson’s Five Myths About Nuclear War really influenced me. It was published 5 years ago so I guess it has not penetrated general consciousness, unfortunately.

  • NamelessBob

    In your book you described how Eisenhower and other presidents delegated the authority to launch nuclear weapons who in turn sub delegated to lower authorities. This was to prevent a decapitating attack on the US that would prevent a retaliatory counter strike. As I thought while reading this and as you pointed out later in the book, this is a deterrent only if the other side knows this. As in Strangelove, “Why didn’t you tell the world?” . This was kept secret for domestic political reasons but do you think the Soviets were made aware by back channels or knew from spies in the US military? Have you spoken with those who were in a position to know in the USSR if they knew this at the time or at least assumed that we would not leave ourselves paralyzed by a strike on the President? Was it a secret only domestically ?

  • EIDALM

    Our technical civilization have been around for less than 2 centuries, yet our reckless actions with overpopulation and fossil fuel is destroying our envirnment, as well as our primitive cavemen mentally while having tens of thousands of nuclear arsenal in the hand of reckless mentally ill leaders which have no hesitation to set the whole World in nuclear holocaust, I strongly believe that live on Earth will be extinct in less than a century……Good old man, Enrico Fermi was quite correct when is stated that technical civilization are very short because they always destroy themselves……That was Fermi explanation why with trillion of trillions planets in the universe we never received any sign of intelligent life or even radio signal from any……Where are they.

    • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

      I would hope that your “strongly believe” energy could be channeled into something like this: “Since extinction in one year (much less 100) is (shockingly) entirely possible; I therefore strongly believe there must be — and I will participate in — an uprising of humility, good will, common sense, and well-directed activism to counter this threat, in the interests of all people. [Please also see my three posts elsewhere on this page, and consider responding in some way.] I appreciate your passionate concern. Thank you.

  • Ben Rawner

    Shouldn’t we be more worried about weaponized A.I. than nukes? Recently Dan Rather was on this program warning about our susceptibility to hacking on key infrastructure and the use of AI in this area reflects a growing and more present danger.

    • e mckay

      AI may be a growing danger, but we should be very worried about nukes. Their use would effect large parts of the globe for many years, and possibly change life on the entire earth for evermore. This is not an over-exaggeration.

    • Brux

      The only artificial intelligence that is going to exist for hundreds of years is the human being, and so far we do not have a way to even define intelligence, and almost everything we have done proves that whatever it is we don’t have it, but we are massively dangerous, to others, to ourselves and to our planet, and probably others in the universe should we ever meet them. Can you call a species that destroys everything it touches intelligent? Look at our own media, does it appear like we have any love of education or information? We do not seem to be able to create life, we only destroy it, and the humans that actually can create life are bullied and harassed and have never had equal rights.

  • William – SF

    What is the upside to a retaliatory attack? Seems only to hasten making the planet uninhabitable.

    • chriswinter

      It depends on the magnitude of the attack, as I’m sure you know. But certainly, in the event that all nuclear weapons were used, a doomsday effect could not be ruled out. A case could be made for the losing side choosing not to retaliate for the benefit of future generations. Theodore Sturgeon made such an argument in “Thunder and Roses.”

      • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

        Please note that although no one knows exactly how many explosions it would take to trigger Nuclear Winter, it would be far, far fewer than “all nuclear weapons,” perhaps as few as fifty or a hundred, or even fewer, due to the huge, uncontrollable urban fires and smoke that would follow. This is the critical point that must rise in public awareness now and ongoing until they are truly and completely banned. Please look up the work of climatologist Dr. Alan Robock of Rutgers University, and colleagues: http://www.envsci.rutgers.edu/~robock/.

    • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

      You got it! That’s the predicament which all nuclear nations, and by extension, all citizens of Earth are in. [Please see my three primary comments elsewhere on this page.] With appreciations, PBD

  • e mckay

    I am so sick of the way Michael Krasny aggressively interrupts his guests in mid-sentence, as he just did with Daniel Ellsberg. I was listening to and was interested in what Mr. Ellsberg was saying, but you just had to jump in and say “excuse me….”. I would have preferred to hear Mr. Ellsberg continue his thought rather than hear you change the trajectory.
    Michael, restrain yourself! In your arrogance you have become a terrible interviewer!

    • marte48

      we won’t miss you if you go away.

      • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

        Ha Ha! OK I can take a joke. But then again, you might miss me!

        I don’t mean to be overly preachy about good will, and I’m not meaning to say “Don’t criticize at all.”

        It’s just that criticism is more likely to hit its constructive mark when the arrow is tipped with honey, and not with poison.

        That said, I probably overdid my reaction a bit, too. I’m sure Michael has a thick enough skin to take it in stride; but we should respect and appreciate this Star of Peace even when we deliver constructive criticism; and really, that style applies to anyone, for maximum effectiveness, in the world I want to live in.

        • e mckay

          Perhaps I reacted too vociferously. However, my feeling remains. More often than not, it is not helpful for an interviewer to interrupt an interviewee in mid-sentence and mid-thought. It often interferes with the flow of the conversation rather than enhancing it. Though often a good interviewer, I think Michael Krasny could be much better if he restrained his impulse to interrupt.
          Point taken that we all should stop and think a moment before letting our fingers fly over the keyboard. While I could certainly be more graceful, perhaps you are somewhat guilty of the same thing? Don’t you think that implying what I said is “evil” is a bit over the top?

          • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

            Dear M. McKay, Thanks for your response here which I just saw. In re-reading the sequence, I’m glad to clarify to you that my “Oh, come on…” response was really much more about the second comment, from Ms. Cassidy, that I really thought laid it on too thick. Perhaps you might agree if after rereading it, too. Starting with the original comment you made: “I am so tired…” I count about ten “bites” of criticism by the time one gets to the end of her comment. And perhaps seven of these “bites” are in hers. (These are just estimates, but I think you may agree, the gist of quantities and characterizations may be about right.) So yes, for sure, the “poison” and “over-the-top-ness” that had built up by the end, so far as to induce my sharing about “evil,” was not yet in effect by the end of your comment; and my response was more directed to Ms. Cassidy than to you. I’m sorry if that hurt your feelings in any way. Not intended.

            I do think this is a good case in point where groups of people, even as few as two, can kind of “pile it on;” and I think it’s good for sensitive people to notice this kind of thing and defend against the tendency. Otherwise, the whole tenor of public comment can be unduly degraded, as we see happening in vivid relief from the White House on down.

            Thanks again for engaging in this discussion to achieve a “second level” of deeper understanding together.

    • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

      Oh come on, lighten up! You can make a point more gracefully and effectively by not taking it over the top!

      Did you know that the roots of the modern word “evil” meant, simply: “Exceeding the proper limit.” Just as Michael may have in an odd moment, we should avoid in response.

      Mutual good will in the face of conflict may be the crucial leavening agent leading to progress with peace.

    • miriam cassidy

      Could not agree more! I even e-mailed Mr. Krasny personally about this awhile back, to no avail. The interruptions are usually either name-dropping, banal asides or meaningless free associations to supposedly show how “cultured” he is, but mostly what they serve to do is to cause the guest to lose his or her train of thought, while adding nothing meaningful to the conversation.

  • Noelle

    North Korea developed nukes as a way to be taken seriously by the US.

  • marte48

    Isn’t South Korea a nuclear power?

  • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

    Many thanks to Hero Ellsberg for enlivening public awareness of the outrageous risks and dangers of Nuclear Winter. Please emphasize the work of climatologist Alan Robock at Rutgers: Although no one knows for sure, it would appear that as few as fifty or 100 explosions (perhaps fewer with modern “sizes!”) in big cities would be enough to trigger the virtual annihilation of our planet via Nuclear Winter.

    • e mckay

      Unfortunately, Michael Krasny interrupted Mr. Ellsberg just as he was describing the effects of nuclear winter. This is critical information that many people are not aware of.

  • EIDALM

    Gama ray burst during the cold war in 1967 almost caused WW3 with Russia, ask Daniel about that.

  • Noelle

    “Updating” of our nuclear arsenal started ramping up under Obama. He did not deserve that Nobel peace prize!

    • William – SF
      • Noelle

        I think I heard Dan say Obama administration was involved in the updating of the arsenal….It doesn’t look like what was in that article happened.

        • William – SF

          Others searches show Obama reduced the arsenal and attempted to get the Russians to do the same.

        • Robert Thomas

          In 2009, the Obama administration under Energy Secretary Chu cancelled pursuit of the so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead program begun five years earlier and that was reasonably criticized as “busywork” for weapons lab personnel. In its place, something like a $1.2T over thirty years is proposed to maintain and support existing weapons designs and delivery systems that – distinctly differently from the inevitable consequences of RRW – will not require a resumption of underground (or any other) test detonations. Maintenance of the stockpile is costly and unavoidable.

          “New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) (Russian: СНВ-III, SNV-III) is a nuclear arms reduction treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation with the formal name of Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms. It was signed on 8 April 2010 in Prague and, after ratification, entered into force on 5 February 2011. It is expected to last at least until 2021 …
          “The document listed the intention of both parties to reduce the number of nuclear warheads to 1,500–1,675 units, as well as their delivery weapons to 500–1,100 units.
          “According to a Reuters report on February 9, 2017, in US President Donald Trump’s first 60-minute telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Putin inquired about extending New START. President Trump attacked the treaty, claiming that it favored Russia and was ‘one of several bad deals negotiated by the Obama administration’.”

          “New START”
          -WP

  • Kurt thialfad

    How would you compare yourself to Julian Assage or Edward Snowden.

  • Robert Thomas

    Nuclear weapons exist; as consequences both of world history and of human understanding of the nature of the physical world. The idea that they’re ever going away is a pipe dream.

    There remains nevertheless opportunity for nuclear arms reduction. Politicians must decide what the sizes of their nuclear armories will be but it will NEVER be zero. That state of affairs is impossible to achieve.

    It’s up to a lot of engineers and scientists now – as it has been since the days when 99% of all calculations were made using slide rules – to continuously improve the safety with which these devices are maintained and how their supporting systems are manipulated. I’ve never been directly responsible for any part of stockpile stewardship but I’ve seen it, close-up, during an extended period of my professional career. I saw how the seriousness and sheer quality of systems planning and engineering progressed and improved from the period of the early 1980s, well into the new millennium. Along with the military personnel I worked with in the same general realm of endeavors, I never was exposed to such an astonishingly dedicated and professional cadre of people – of both genders, incidentally. The task is very difficult and the execution of no task is immune to imperfection.

    The public imagines that the world’s political potentates or the world’s corporate Pooh Bahs or some other set of prominent entities are in charge of the of the universe of human affairs. They’re not. Engineers are responsible for everything, whether things go well for our species or ill. Trying to deny this requires magical thinking.

    It’s often mumbled around NASA, that in the popular conception, the Agency’s triumphs belong to its scientists while its failures are the fault of engineers. That’s okay. In general, no one I ever encountered in the world of stockpile stewardship was averse either to handing success in arms limitation and improvements in comity between nuclear powers to politicians (of any ideology) and diplomats; or to taking blame for nuclear disaster. It’s part of the job.

    • Noelle

      Well, the world did ban chemical weapons(no, it was not perfect, since some countries did use them after WW 1 and other countries continued to test them, I think, they do continue to test biological weapons too).

      • Robert Thomas

        I’m not very familiar with the world’s participation with chemical weapons bans but their use is pretty universally condemned and that’s good. Our century-long distaste for chemical weapons (including both irritants like chlorine and phosgene and also nerve agent and so forth) is largely romantic; people die just as horribly and just as indiscriminately from the use of incendiary bombs as any do from nerve agent. In any case, no significant world power considers any chemical or biological or even any radiological weapon to equal the “existential thereat” of nuclear weapons. The evaluated difference is one of several orders of magnitude.

        Though the existence and maintenance of tens of thousands of nuclear weapons is ridiculous on its face, I don’t believe that any way exists to ever approach their elimination, short of some apocalyptic armageddon. The penumbra of the United States’ nuclear capability (and that of its NATO allies) has protected several wealthy and sophisticated friendly states (e.g., Germany, Japan, Australia, Brazil and South Korea) from the necessity of developing their own nuclear capability and these states are quite capable of producing their own delivery systems as well. I strongly suspect (and I think recent behavior of the German body politic starkly confirms) that historical popular reluctance in these locales to spend on martial budgets and to humanistically refrain from such technological pursuits would rapidly wilt, were the U.S. to materially withdraw from maintaining its capacity to overwhelmingly prevail in case of nuclear war.

        • Noelle

          Read Ward Wilson’s 2013 book Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons.

          • Robert Thomas

            The only reason I recognize Wilson’s name is because of an article I read originally published The Boston Globe about the supposed ineffectuality of the 1945 nuclear attacks on Japan proposed by Tsuyoshi Hasegawa of UCSB. It outlined arguments I’ve heard before – that the firebombing of Tokyo the previous March and the press of “total war” against dozens of other civilian centers were in fact each equally ruinous and that the “special” aspects of the nuclear detonations were seen as “special” primarily by the Allied forces; that simultaneous maneuvering between Tokyo and Moscow was at least as responsible for the timing of Japanese surrender as were the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

            I’m not sure I disagree. I have argued in spaces such a this one that the attacks against civilian populations of Tokyo and Dresden have for decades been offered as examples of callousness – on both sides of the conflict – that are reasons to reconsider any “special” aspect of the nuclear attacks. In the event, however, I have the event of my own father’s service aboard the USS Cullman in the Pacific, that carried troops from Luzon to Tokyo between End of Hostilities on August 20th and September 2nd – V-J Day – to land them in Tokyo Bay. He became privileged to view the Signing of the Instruments on the deck of the Missouri from a short distance. The men his ship were moving had rather instantaneously changed from being assault troops into occupation troops, literally, as they were boarding the vessel in the Philippines. These men and very likely my father as well only barely escaped being placed not merely in harms way but also very likely, into oblivion. His experience in this had a rather profound effect on his view regarding the end of the War in the Pacific and subsequently, on my own.

            In any case, extension of these arguments – in which I gather that the mysteriously credentialed Wilson has participated – to suggest (still somewhat dubiously) that since the extraordinary aspect of nuclear weaponry used in 1945 was overblown at the time, that this serves to persuade that the profoundly devastating destructive power of modern nuclear weapons are equally exaggerated, is just completely ridiculous.

            “Little Boy” ~16kt TNT equivalence
            vs.
            W76 (100 kt, for Trident I) sea launched MIRV-able warheads
            W78 (300 kt, for Minuteman III) land launched MIRV-able warheads
            W87 (475 kt, for Peacekeeper)land launched MIRV-able warheads
            W88 (500 kt, for Trident II) sea launched MIRV-able warheads
            B61 (300 kt) gravity bomb
            B83 (1+ Mt) gravity bomb

            And note, devices ten to twenty times more powerful than these latter were built in the 1950s and were deployed as recently as the mid-1980s. Let’s see if we can achieve the goals of New START – a reduction in deployable weapons between the U.S. and the Russians from a peak of 80,000 weapons in the 1980s to fewer than 3,500 by 2020. I will count that as a ringing success.

    • William – SF

      Your observation that engineers realize (cause to happen) observations of scientists and theorists is certainly true, but I don’t see an argument for why nuclear arms can’t be zero, just a declaration that they will never be zero. If engineers do as they are told, can they not be told to not do nuclear arms? And granted, politicians are both less capable of realizing factual realities, and less willing than engineers to accept the consequences of their failures, is your argument that politicians are the impediment to the absence of nuclear arms, because it reads more ‘since engineers know how to make them they will be made’?

      • Robert Thomas

        Why should engineers do as they’re told? They will do as they please, according variously to their responsible or perverse attitudes; their mercenary proclivities; their financial imperatives; their pursuit of intellectual satisfaction; their patriotic impulse and their own personal consciences.

        I’m not sure I exactly understand the question in the last sentence.

        Yes, I see no way in which a seventy-year-old technology can be re-confined to the Jin’s bottle. The science has revealed the mechanisms and the engineering expertise is available. If an entity has the money and is sufficiently ruthless, the capability can be developed. Fortunately, where such an entity indeed has the resources to finance this sort of venture, it generally also has vulnerable assets – property, capital investment and people – that it will put at risk if it acts rashly. I say generally, accepting that alarming exceptions present themselves… the A.Q. Khan Network; the DPRK (where leadership’s disregard for the welfare of its people is mind-blowing); corrupt former Soviet republics; shadowy fanatical believers in supernatural worlds et al.. Eternal vigilance is required.

        • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

          Well that last sentence is totally agreed. I believe there is much hope via the path of virtually universal inclusion in the process of the global discussion required. I think we should have a regular series of Global Electronic Town Meetings on this and other topics, at least four times per year such as the turn of seasons, to accelerate the process of democratic social evolution. [Please see more at STARALLIANCE.org, Founder’s Blog, etc..]

    • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

      Thank you for these thoughtful comments, Mr. Thomas. Here are some thoughts in return.

      The railroad was thought impossible by some who felt it was unnatural to travel faster than a horse. Of course this is just one silly example of the important point that what seems impossible today becomes possible tomorrow, largely and precisely because of the persistence of brilliant and dedicated engineers.

      I must point out that Murphy of Murphy’s Law was also an engineer; and Murphy’s Law is the overriding reason why We, the People everywhere simply MUST rise up and demand an end to nuclear weapons altogether as the only “safe and sane” ultimate solution. Your perceptive point — “the execution of no task is immune to imperfection” — combined with the fact that so few actual explosions could finish us all off — is the principle which forces the Zero Nukes Future upon rational leaders and citizens, who must prevail via law.

      • Robert Thomas

        Good luck to us all, then.

  • Noelle

    a bale of marijuana with nuclear weapons? LOL?

  • Noelle

    The way we “draw the line” is by abolishing all nuclear weapons.

    • Robert Thomas

      How? Please explain.

      • Noelle

        A world wide treaty where all nations give up nuclear weapons, for the good of humanity. Why not?

        • ELZ

          Your naivety makes me laugh. Sorry to bust your bubbles but you should go and see the world outside. Before I became a US citizen, I lived in a few other countries. These governments are much more cunning and determined than you think. The only way to force such kind of treaty is to start another world war. For example, China, Russia, Israel, and India will never give up nuclear weapons, due to their experience in the past 2 centuries.

          • Noelle

            look up Ward Wilson’s 2013 book Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons.

        • Robert Thomas

          A world wide treaty where all nations give up all their belligerent conventional forces – and all supernatural religion, too – will be much easier to achieve. Why don’t we start with that?

  • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

    Both guest and host have commented to the effect, “What can everyday citizens do to help prevent Nuclear confrontation?”

    The STAR ALLIANCE Foundation in Berkeley [www.STARALLIANCE.org] has composed a brief citizens petition expressing good will toward the people of North Korea. In theory, this could be expanded to “all other people.” Pending more aggressive measures to promote this wish, here it is:

    “We, the undersigned, wish to express to the twenty-five million people of North Korea — aka “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” —
    that we wish you no harm! Instead, we wish for everyone’s lasting safety, health, integrity, welfare, creativity, harmony, and happiness according to all our Highest Civic Ideals.”

    • Noelle

      FYI, link doesn’t work with the “www” in front of it. It does without it.

      • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

        Oh wow! Thank you so much, Noelle Citizen Star, for this vital feedback at an important time!

  • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

    All people can celebrate and help promote the new Global Ban on Nuclear Weapons, passed in the United Nations General Assembly 2017 July 7th, a day that will surely go “up” in history. Now it remains for just 50 nations to ratify the treaty to give it the effect of International Law, and then it will remain for the nine nations which already have nuclear weapons to abide by it.

    This is indeed the “moment” to be building political will, and the nine nuclear powers are invited to play not the obvious resistance role, but instead to come on to the right side of history and provide a leadership role…Not only for the Global Ban but for the necessary quantum jump “Up” to a truer form of global democracy and an enlightened, unified global defense system firmly controlled by representatives of The People everywhere.

  • Scott Whittaker

    Whole Earth Catalog

    About their Sixties libs get mawkish,
    Only toward Americans are they hawkish.
    That crazy tyrant dare not supplant!
    That is unless he’s our president!

    From nuclear winter we’re all gonna die!
    If from man-made summer we don’t first fry!
    For every existential threat we are told,
    Libs have a morally equivalent war tax bold!

    • chriswinter

      Don’t give up your day job, Scott.

Host

Michael Krasny

Michael Krasny, PhD, has been in broadcast journalism since 1983. He was with ABC in both radio and television and migrated to public broadcasting in 1993. He has been Professor of English at San Francisco State University and also taught at Stanford, the University of San Francisco and the University of California, as well as in the Fulbright International Institutes. A veteran interviewer for the nationally broadcast City Arts and Lectures, he is the author of a number of books, including “Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life” (Stanford University Press) “Spiritual Envy” (New World); “Sound Ideas” (with M.E. Sokolik/ McGraw-Hill); “Let There Be Laughter” (Harper-Collins) as well as the twenty-four lecture series in DVD, audio and book, “Short Story Masterpieces” (The Teaching Company). He has interviewed many of the world’s leading political, cultural, literary, science and technology figures, as well as major figures from the world of entertainment. He is the recipient of many awards and honors including the S.Y. Agnon Medal for Intellectual Achievement; The Eugene Block Award for Human Rights Journalism; the James Madison Freedom of Information Award; the Excellence in Journalism Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association; Career Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and an award from the Radio and Television News Directors Association. He holds a B.A. (cum laude) and M.A. from Ohio University and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin.

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