Shakyamuni Buddha

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Exemplars of bodhisattva Shakyamuni (continued)

Daniel Ellsberg

Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers. is another example of the archetype of spiritual choice and renunciation. Ellsberg was a senior consultant for the Rand Corporation military think tank and an important civilian official in the Defense Department. His special expertise was command and control of nuclear weaponry, and he was privy to military knowledge sometimes shared by only a handful of other people. While working for the Defense Department, he had prepared a top-secret history and analysis of U.S. decision-making that demonstrated how several administrations had lied about their prosecution of the Vietnam War. Despite their own clear estimation that the war could not be successful, they nevertheless expanded the conflict, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent Indochinese civilians along with tens of thousands of American soldiers. Ellsberg released this study, which became known as the Pentagon Papers, to the New York Times in 1971.

Ellsberg has written about the seductions of power and the fear of losing it. Like him, many in the bureaucracy carrying out the Vietnam War came to abhor it but were afraid of losing their comfortable jobs and worldly power. They continued to meekly hope that they could alter the situation from within the system. But Ellsberg had witnessed the suffering in refugee camps during his service in Vietnam. He came to see how ongoing atrocities were supported and made possible by policies and practices of secrecy, which kept important information hidden from the public and from Congress.

Ellsberg met a young Indian woman in 1968 who was a dedicated student of the nonviolent and truth-telling teachings of Gandhi. Ellsberg was astonished, and his years of military calculations were unsettled, by her clear articulation of a cogent theory of militant but nonviolent political action in which no human was treated as an enemy to be harmed, even though his actions and attitudes might be strongly opposed.

A year later Ellsberg sat in on a conference of pacifists and was greatly impressed as he listened to an idealistic young American eloquently speaking of his faith that those working for peace would persevere. Then the young man announced, to the surprise of his friends in the audience, that he was about to enter prison rather than participate in murder in Vietnam. At the time, Ellsberg had secret knowledge that President Nixon was about to covertly expand the war. Stunned and sobbing silently, Ellsberg staggered out of the conference room, and after an hour of convulsive weeping asked himself calmly what he could do to stop the war now that he too was willing to go to jail. As a result of these encounters with nonviolent peace workers, Ellsberg felt compelled to leave the palaces of power and reveal the truth to the American people, regardless of the consequences to himself. Many brave people made sacrifices to protest the Vietnam War, but Ellsberg's stands out as one of the most dramatic and significant. When Ellsberg decided to release the Pentagon Papers, he firmly believed he would spend the rest of his life in prison, and he was willing to endure this eventuality.

The release of the Pentagon Papers had an ultimately ruinous impact on the Nixon White House. Enraged by the release of the Pentagon Papers and concerned about keeping his policies secret, Nixon unleashed a campaign to blackmail Ellsberg into silence and prevent further revelations. All charges against Ellsberg were eventually dismissed by a federal district judge, because of the prosecution's "pattern of governmental misconduct," beginning with a burglary of Ellsberg's psychiatrists's office (by the same team who later committed the Watergate burglary). This led to the convictions of a number of Nixon's top aides, impeachment proceedings, and Nixon's eventual resignation.

Since then, Ellsberg has continued his energetic practice of truth-telling in the interest of saving beings from war and nuclear holocaust. He has called attention to the dangers of our nuclear policies, based in part on his classified knowledge, campaigning for the reduction and final abolition of nuclear weapons,.