This is only a sample page. Click here to order the full version of the book, printed or pdf

Daniel Ellsberg, USA, is an author and political analyst. He was a consultant for the Rand Corporation in 1969 and his publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 helped end the Vietnam War and bring and end to the Nixon Presidency in 1974. (More on


Daniel Ellsberg

One afternoon in 1961 I held in my hand a written answer to a question I had drafted for President John F. Kennedy to address to the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. The question was: “If your present nuclear war plans were executed as planned, how many people would die in the Soviet Union and China?”
The top secret, “For the Presidents Eyes only”, answer was in the form of a graph, a straight line rising month by month for six months as continuing deaths from injuries and fallout added to the immediate fatalities from blast, heat and radiation.
The figure for immediate deaths from the first hours and days of US attacks was 270 million. The graph rose over six months to 320 million dead.
After subsequent questions from the White House, the Joint Chiefs provided estimates for the numbers of people outside the Soviet Union and China that US attacks would kill if they carried out their current plans for general nuclear war. Another hundred million in East Europe; close to a hundred million from fallout in neutral countries bordering the Soviet Union, such as Finland, Austria, and Afghanistan, along with Japan, even though no warheads fell in those countries; and up to a hundred million in West Europe, depending on the season and the direction of winds carrying fallout from the explosions in the Soviet Bloc.
The total death-toll from US attacks in a US first strike—responding not to Soviet nuclear attacks but to conventional conflict with Soviet forces anywhere in the world—was estimated by the Joint Chiefs to be in the neighborhood of six hundred million dead. One hundred Holocausts.
These plans were not intended solely for deterrence, nor were they bluffs. They were operational plans intended to be executed in a wide variety of circumstances; full preparations had been made and frequently rehearsed to start producing these effects within minutes to hours of a presidential decision.
How ordinary, patriotic, conscientious Americans, men I worked with every day and drank beer with at night, could have brought into being a machinery for destruction on this scale, with the readiness to use it, is a horror and a mystery to me that I have struggled to understand ever since. But it is a reality which persists to this day, not only in the US and Russia but to a lesser but still appalling degree in every nuclear state, declared and undeclared. It is a reality whose existence in each one of these states has depended from its beginning on governmental secrecy, on people keeping secrets from their fellow citizens.
What should I have done with this knowledge in the early Sixties? It seems to me now that I should have copied that piece of paper and given it to every member of Congress, and to major newspapers, along with much of the underlying war planning available to me. I should have done that even though I would have expected to go to prison for the rest of my life.
That might not have prevented the next thirty years of massive nuclear arms buildups in the US and the Soviet Union, or the proliferation of nuclear weapons to other countries that is still continuing and threatens to speed up. But it would have improved the chances of doing that, by contributing to informed public discussion of our nuclear policies and our nuclear predicament of a sort that has never occurred and has never even been possible in any nuclear state or elsewhere during the nuclear era. Given the stakes, that contribution would be worth one’s life, a life in prison.
Unfortunately, the thought of going outside the Executive branch to inform the public never occurred to me then. So the question of giving up my clearance and career, let alone of going to prison, didn’t arise in my mind.
I’ve learned since that individuals can decide to pay such a price to warn their fellow humans of the truth, and can conclude they had done the right thing. In Israel Mordechai Vanunu remains in prison, after almost tw