Daniel Ellsberg, others arrested at Hiroshima Day protest at Lawrence Livermore; interview transcript
screenshots - photo credit: Jim Stevens/Bay Area News Group, MercuryNews.com
From The Scott Horton Show program notes:
Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg discusses his recent arrest during Hiroshima Day protests at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; why land-based nuclear weapons have no good reason to exist; the effects of nuclear winter; and how ICBMs equipped with conventional warheads (so the US can kill anyone in the world in 1/2 an hour) could start a nuclear war.
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Scott Horton Interviews Daniel Ellsberg
The Scott Horton Show
August 7, 2013
SCOTT HORTON: All right, y’all, welcome back to the show. I’m your host and your very good friend, Scott Horton. My website is scotthorton.org. I keep all my interview archives there, more than 2900 of them now going back to 2003, and also you can follow me on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube at /scotthortonshow. Our next guest is the American hero Daniel Ellsberg, heroic, I said hero already, leaker of the Pentagon Papers, ender of the Vietnam war, antiwar and antinuclear activist and a lot of other things. His website is ellsberg.net. His movie is The Most Dangerous Man in America. His book is Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers. You can read Chapter One online, all about the Gulf of Tonkin incident, if you want to. It’s Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers. Google around a little bit. And he wrote this great series, what, back about four years ago now, for Truthdig.com about America’s nuclear policy. The first one is called “A Hundred Holocausts: An Insider’s Window Into U.S. Nuclear Policy.” And then I want to also point you guys to this article, “Daniel Ellsberg Among 31 Arrested at Livermore Lab During Hiroshima Day Protest.” That’s from yesterday. Welcome back to the show, Dan. How are you doing?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: I’m okay, Scott. Thanks for that glowing introduction.
SCOTT HORTON: Well, you’re my favorite, so there you go. Why would you go and get yourself arrested protesting America’s nuclear policy? They’re just trying to keep us all safe.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Well, I’m part of a community of resistance, as Dan Berrigan used to call it. In a way, getting arrested is a ritual of that community. It binds us together and reminds us that we’re all still at it, because the problem is still there; they’re still at it. The possibility of human extinction as a result of American or Russian, and/or together, nuclear weapons that are on alert facing each other right now still exists and still reflects American policy under our current president, as under his predecessors.They aren’t aware that in fact despite reductions in our strategic weapons, each side maintains on alert right now the capability to end most life on earth based very possibly on a kind of false alarm that has happened a number of times in the past.
I think most Americans are aware that there are nuclear dangers in the world, but they have the false impression that it has nothing to do with American policy, that it’s a matter of terrorists or proliferation, it doesn’t reflect our policy, or simply that the actual possibility of an American-Russian nuclear exchange which would cause a nuclear winter, nuclear famine, and end most life on earth, just doesn’t exist. They aren’t aware of it, that in fact despite reductions in our strategic weapons, each side maintains on alert right now the capability to end most life on earth based very possibly on a kind of false alarm of the kind electronic radar or infrared false alarm of various kinds that has happened a number of times in the past and that thus our very existence is contingent on the continued working of a system that’s failed very frequently in the past.
SCOTT HORTON: Isn’t it interesting how everyone in the world, and certainly everyone in America, knows that our government possesses enough nuclear weapons to at least threaten the future of mankind’s very existence, as you said there, and we all know that the Russians do too, and yet this is not a priority. How can it not be a priority?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Well, in the first instance, I think I’d have to differ a little with your saying everyone knows that. I found that when we got arrested protesting a Minuteman launch – that’s a land-based missile of which we have over 400 on alert right now, that very many people were surprised to hear that we still had land-based missiles. Indeed, they have been essentially obsolete from a strategic point of view for over half a century, since we had submarine missiles that were essentially invulnerable, and these land-based missiles are definitely vulnerable and put a pressure on a decision-maker faced with indications of attack, or the fear of attack, to use them rather than lose them. In other words, there’s really no excuse for these to continue to exist, and most – I think a lot of people are really not aware that they do exist and that they’re really still on alert, and they’re more conscious of the fact that the numbers have decreased, both the numbers of warheads and the numbers of missiles, and yet what I think very few people are aware of is that even the land-based missiles alone could cause a nuclear winter. In other words, the reductions have had essentially no effect on the danger to the human species and to most other species. They have the feeling that, “We’re going down, we’re going in the right direction, we have a president who’s talked about the goal of a nuclear-free world even though he puts it beyond his own lifetime, and it’s okay, we’re going in the right direction, we don’t have to do anything and our leaders are doing as much as they could to reduce this danger.” That’s not true at all. And I do agree with you that the American people haven’t probed very deeply, are distracted by a lot of other things, into the remaining danger and that their beliefs are not very credible, but still the media and the government has done what they could to promote them.
SCOTT HORTON: All right, now, talk just a little bit about the difference between an A-bomb and an H-bomb. You’ve told me before that when you talk about this to students or whatever other groups, you ask for a raise of hands, who can tell me the difference, and nobody even knows.When you talk about an atomic bomb or what’s known as a fission bomb, the kind of bomb that destroyed Hiroshima or Nagasaki which depend on the splitting of heavy atoms, uranium and plutonium, and release energy at about a thousand times the explosive power of the high explosives before them, a bomb like that is now the trigger of an H-bomb, a hydrogen bomb, which relies on the fusion of very light atoms of hydrogen which releases explosive power again a thousand times more than that of the A-bomb trigger.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Right. Okay. This is sort of all part of day one of a course, an elementary course in the nuclear era, but when you talk about an atomic bomb or what’s known as a fission bomb, the kind of bomb that destroyed Hiroshima or Nagasaki – and those were two different types of fission bombs which depend on the splitting of heavy atoms, uranium and plutonium, and release energy at about a thousand times the explosive power of the high explosives before them. Those bombs are the trigger – a bomb like that is now the trigger, the detonating cap or the percussion cap, you might say, of an H-bomb, a hydrogen bomb, a fusion bomb, which relies on the fusion, the bringing together, of very light atoms of hydrogen, which releases explosive power again a thousand times more than that of the A-bomb trigger. Not all of them are that large. In fact, most these days are much smaller than that because they’re carried by much more accurate missile warheads, but the early H-bombs were in fact a thousand times more than the explosive power of Hiroshima or Nagasaki, or a million times the largest blockbusters of World War II. So when you see the devastation of Hiroshima or Nagasaki in pictures, as most people have done, that symbolizes for them the dangers of the nuclear era and it is extremely misleading. What you’re seeing is the destruction of a city by the detonating cap or the percussion cap of a modern thermonuclear weapon, fusion weapon, an H-bomb, which comprise all of our strategic arsenal. So when we go from 1500 weapons, as we still have after many, over 10,000 earlier, the 1500 that we have now on alert still represents the capability of causing nuclear winter, which is the reduction of sunlight due to the burning of cities, the smoke and debris from cities where a thermonuclear weapon has been exploded in its vicinity, and that reduction in sunlight ends harvests worldwide, essentially, in a world where our actual stored food for humanity is in the order of 30 to 60, at most 90 days. The loss of harvests in a single year is absolutely catastrophic, and the nuclear famine that would result might leave some thousands, tens of thousands, even millions of humans somewhere in the world still able to fish or to survive, we’re such an adaptable species, but most humans would go, by far the overwhelming majority, and many other species would be totally extinct, those that depend on vegetation, which would be destroyed by this nuclear winter, and animals that feed on, predators that feed on the animals that rely on vegetation. In other words, we’d lose most of our larger animal family here, of which we’re part, leaving a lot of bacteria and viruses and some insects. Life would go on in that sense, but civilization would be gone almost very rapidly, and most humans. This remains, this was really only discovered as a possibility or the likelihood of our nuclear war plans some 30 years ago.
But that was 30 years ago, and people can raise a cloud of dissent around it just as they did about it, sometimes the same people as were arguing that tobacco was not carcinogenic or that climate change is a myth. Oddly, some of the same scientists and propagandists are on all three of those cases.
But the fact is that of course they’re all valid and particularly nuclear winter is still a real possibility or likelihood, depending on targeting of our current arsenals, depleted as they are, and would still be true if we went through, if the Russians agreed to us to cut from 1500 to 1000, a reduction of one-third, which President Obama proposed some months ago, hasn’t actually gotten started, could, should be done unilaterally and far more than that unilaterally. But in any case, even if it were done, it would essentially make no difference to the prospects. It’s a little like what I just read minutes ago that the judge in the Bradley Manning case has reduced his possible sentence from 136 years to 90 years. Yeah, right. From a couple of life sentences to one life sentence. It really, it makes no essential difference humanly.
SCOTT HORTON: Although on that minor point, I did see where Col. Morris Davis said that for good behavior and whatever, that could amount to only 20 or so. So there’s that, hopefully.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Twenty out of 90 years, if he got 90 years? That’s – things have gotten better. In my day I faced 115. That would have gotten down possibly to 35, but I don’t see how you get down to 20, actually. Anyway, and I think we can assume good behavior by Bradley Manning, but that doesn’t mean he would get out at that time. Anyway, coming down, good behavior will not protect us from nuclear winter.
SCOTT HORTON: Right. Okay, now, so World War II, approximately 60 million people were killed, and most of them civilians, but you reprint this chart here from the Pentagon, formerly Top Secret, Joint Chiefs of Staff, for the President’s eyes only, within the first month of a nuclear war between America and Russia, it’s estimated by the Pentagon in this chart, 275 million people will be dead, 325 million will be dead in six months, and how old is this and what was the population of the earth at the time that this was made?
[The chart is for deaths in the Soviet Union and China only, from U.S. preemptive attack. Total deaths worldwide from U.S. attacks were estimated at about 600 million.]
Edward Teller used to say, “Only a quarter of humanity would be destroyed” if his weapons – he was known as the father of the H-bomb – were used. But even that was totally mistaken, because that calculation was made before the effects of smoke from these burning cities was taken into account. It was not 600 million that was at stake, it was all of humanity. And they didn’t know that.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Well, that was then about a quarter of the earth’s population, which was something that Edward Teller used to point to. He used to say, “Only a quarter of humanity would be destroyed” if his weapons – he was known as the father of the H-bomb – were used, and that was sort of the glass three-quarters full, you might say, in Teller’s words. But even that was totally mistaken, because that calculation was made before the effects of smoke from these burning cities was taken into account. It was another 20 years before that happened. So that was a huge underestimate. The fact is that the plans in those days would not have killed 600 million people, as they assumed, but you talked about the first 300 million but actually there were about 600 million irrespective when you put in the effects outside the Soviet Union and the Chinese and you added those in. But the fact was that it was not 600 million that was at stake, it was the entire, it was all of humanity and it’s been so ever since because of this smoke effect, totally unconsidered at the time, but, you know, nobody’s perfect. They hadn’t noticed that little consequence. Collateral damage. The collateral damage of our attack at that time would have been our own population and everybody else. And they didn’t know that. But even the acceptance of, as I say, of hundreds of millions (laughs) – and it’s funny to have to say “even the acceptance of 600 million dead,” sounds a little like Teller – but even that I think was enough to show the nature of the values and the priorities and the concern for humanity. They weren’t aware that Americans would be destroyed by this, and when it came to other people, even our allies who would be devastated by the fallout, which is what they were looking at, was not a matter that ruled out this as an instrument of policy. And in fact it was used as it became as a real possible imminent event just a year after those calculations, in the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cuban Missile Crisis in short which could, everyone understood, have led to an all-out U.S. attack on Russia.They did have the capability to destroy Europe. And that simply didn’t deter us.
They didn’t have at that time much capability to attack us, especially after we struck first, but they did have the capability to destroy Europe. And that simply didn’t deter us from thinking of either the threat or the possible use of these weapons as an instrument of policy.
So what we were talking about yesterday at Livermore, which has always been one of the two places that designs these weapons, the two campuses of the University of California named Livermore and Los Alamos, those are actually segregated campuses of a single American university which has designed all of our weapons. Well, our protest there was at the continued design, actually of a redesign of weapons that can destroy life on earth. And the problem is not just that they’re made at a university, ironic as that is, but that they are still in business. And we were saying that that shouldn’t be going on without protest, without Americans being aware of it. To the extent we can make them aware, this program reflects that arrest, so that’ll affect more people than were there or would hear about it immediately, but we’re doing what we can to make people aware that that shouldn’t be happening in this country or any other country without having to arrest people to do it, without saying, “This is without our consent, you have to do this over our bodies, it has to be done in the course of arresting Americans.”
SCOTT HORTON: Yeah. Well now, one thing that just bothers me so bad, I almost can’t believe it but then part of me knows it’s true too. I interviewed a guy named Darwin Bond Graham from the Los Alamos something or other antinuclear group [Los Alamos Study Group], and he talked about the power and influence of the nuclear weapons lobby in this country, and they’re really no different than any other group of government contractors. Once they get on the dole, they want to stay paid. And they will do anything to make sure that even if there is a new START treaty, that it’s bogged down with so many riders promising them more nuclear weapons production and more money, that they make it worthless.A large part of the overall military-industrial-congressional complex is what’s called the ICBM caucus – the eight senators from the three states that house land-based Minuteman missiles and the one state, Utah, that refurbishes them and maintains them.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Well, you know, there’s an even – that’s true, and there is, it’s a part, a large part of the overall military-industrial-congressional complex, but particularly ironic, a very important part is what’s called the ICBM Caucus – that’s I think what they call themselves, eight senators only, but then they have very little opposition so they’re very, you know, influential – the eight senators from the three states that house land-based Minuteman missiles and the one state, Utah, that refurbishes them and maintains them. So those eight senators alone are maintaining this totally obsolete, dangerous lightning rod for attack in the case of a false alarm or any other motive for the Russians to attack, and moreover the possibility of a U.S. false alarm that sends our missiles off. The reason for the efforts of these people, who all come from rather sparsely populated states, is the votes and the jobs that are involved in maintaining these missiles and keeping them on what they call hot alert. These eight senators have actually lobbied the – written the president and urged him not to take them off hot, minute-by-minute, alert.These eight senators have actually written the president and urged him not to take them off hot, minute-by-minute, alert. Because that takes more people, more jobs in the area. It’s like keeping Auschwitz in running order – not actually gassing people in it, but keeping it ready to use in case it’s needed in future years – for the jobs locally in the community. It’s an obscenity. And an extremely dangerous one.
Because that takes more people, more personnel, more real estate jobs in the area locally, more restaurants, more barber shops, whatever, that’s involved in places like Montana and Utah, and that’s enough. It’s like keeping Auschwitz in running order – not actually gassing people in it, but keeping it ready to use in case it’s needed in future years – at full running order, for the jobs locally in the community. It’s an obscenity. And an extremely dangerous one.
SCOTT HORTON: Well, and it’s almost unbelievable. I mean, if I was brand new at this and you told me that, you know, Lockheed really likes selling fighter planes to the military and they work really hard on making sure that the congressmen are bribed enough to keep buying fighter planes, okay, fine. But H-bombs?! The future of all of humanity?! Is there no morality or national interest at stake here at all? There’s only personal individualized greed?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Small countries that are threatened by nuclear attack, or even a large-scale attack, invasion by their neighbors, have a rationale for having a handful, let’s say, of nuclear weapons to deter that attack. How many does it take to deter, really in fact? How many weapons would Saddam Hussein have needed to deter our invasion of Iraq? Well, one would go pretty far. He didn’t have it. We might figure on getting that one or finding it. Five, ten would give him some insurance. But would he need 100? 200? 300? No, no. That’s, by the way, what Israel has. And Israel can claim a rationale for having, as I say, a handful, but it has hundreds, far more than has ever been estimated, I believe, officially. So we don’t know, exactly. But according to Mordechai Vanunu, it had several hundred back when he made his revelations back in the the ‘80s, so I don’t think they’ve destroyed a lot since then. Do they have a rationale for having hundreds? India and Pakistan – and this ties into what I was saying earlier, by the way – Pakistan is going over 100, India is going in that direction. These are fission bombs, fortunately, still, not fusion, but even so it’s been estimated that an attack using only, quote, 50 or so A-bombs, fission bombs, the kind that destroyed Hiroshima or Nagasaki, on each side, 100 altogether, would not cause nuclear winter. It would cause, however, from the smoke, a darkening of sunlight that would reduce worldwide harvests to the extent – and the calculation has been made and scientifically published, it would kill a billion people. Now, those billion people are all over the world, the people who live marginally already in harvest – does Pakistan and India really have a right to threaten, in their political rivalry and opposition to each other, the possibility of causing the deaths of a billion, or half a billion or anything like that, people? And the answer is of course not. And yet we’re talking about 100 triggers of the 1500 thermonuclear weapons that we maintain on alert, and the Russians a comparable amount.What I’m saying is that neither Russia nor the U.S. nor really almost any country of the nuclear states has a justification remotely for the kind of threat they pose to the world.
What I’m saying is that neither Russia nor the U.S. nor really almost any country of the nuclear states has a justification remotely for the kind of threat they pose to the world. As a matter of fact, one country that can’t probably cause casualties on that order is North Korea with their handful of weapons, if they have any. And China, actually, has kept a relatively small arsenal. But the other countries of the nine states that have nuclear weapons maintain arsenals that go incredibly beyond what can be justified from the point of view of the human community or even of their own neighborhood.
SCOTT HORTON: Mmmhmm. Yeah, and that goes for Britain and France too, and.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Absolutely. Britain, France, India, Pakistan, and definitely Russia.
SCOTT HORTON: Mmmhmm. Okay, now –
DANIEL ELLSBERG: But – yeah. This is not to say, I’m not dismissing the need for a world free of nuclear weapons, as Obama has proclaimed, as did Reagan and Carter before him, to pretty much the same effect. What I’m saying is that to maintain the kinds of arsenals we are has nothing to do with a world free of nuclear weapons, and it has nothing to do really with freeing us from the danger of human extinction. It’s a mockery. It’s like his closure of Guantanamo. It’s just not, it’s not part of his policy, basically.
One thing we haven’t talked about is that a recent policy paper, rather an implementation of our 2010 Nuclear Posture Review – the implementation paper came out a couple months ago and still rejected the idea of disclaiming first use of nuclear weapons, or as they put it, the sole purpose of nuclear weapons being to deter nuclear attack; by rejecting that into the indefinite future, that means that they insisted on the Pentagon and endorsed by the president on continuing the threat to initiate nuclear war, an act which by the way almost all the countries in the UN, with obviously the exception then of NATO and the U.S. and Israel for that matter, had declared the greatest crime imaginable the first use of nuclear weapons. And that denunciation had of course no effect on our policy then, but we maintain that threat and that capability now backing up our policy with the possibility that we would initiate nuclear war. And actually our politicians vying for the presidency in 2008 and 2012, all the major politicians essentially backed the threat of nuclear weapons against Iran, very specifically, with the idea being that only penetrating nuclear weapons could destroy the underground nuclear energy sites, which we don’t know whether they have any relation or not to nuclear weapons. But the idea, the only way of destroying those totally would be penetrating nuclear weapons, and so the threat of first use against Iran is a very lively instrument of our policy right now.The idea that you can stop proliferation while we are threatening nuclear attack is a delusion. It’s impossible.
Well the idea that you can deter other countries in the world from acquiring some nuclear weapons, a handful or a dozen or so, in order to deter such threats, the idea that you can stop proliferation, in other words, while we are threatening nuclear attack is a delusion. It’s impossible.
SCOTT HORTON: Right. Well, especially, you look at the – we made a deal with Libya and then stabbed Gaddhafi in the back after he gave up his nuclear technology, and we continue to beat the Iranians over the head all day with their civilian nuclear program while ignoring the North Koreans who went ahead and made nukes. So if you’re a dictator of a rogue state out there, the message is clear, make nukes quick.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Yes, the countries of the world I think have noted very definitely that Iraq suffered invasion, an aggressive war, quite comparable to any aggression in the past, whether by the Soviet Union, against Kuwait, or going back to the Second World War, the German aggressions. Our aggression against Iraq was exactly on the legal and moral plane of those other aggressions, and everyone can see essentially that it would be very unlikely to have happened if Saddam had in fact had the weapons of mass destruction we were claiming or were warning. So people can say, “Well, don’t be in the position of opposing U.S. policy unless you have nuclear weapons,” and there were certainly some people – well, people in many parts, certainly in North Korea, drew that lesson. They’re not very likely I think to give up their nuclear weapons in the face of that little lesson of history that we gave them.
SCOTT HORTON: Yep. All right, now, I think you told me before that Mordechai Vanunu told you personally that the Israelis had 600 nuclear weapons, and I’ve been quoting you along those lines, so I wanted to double check and make sure that that’s right.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: I think that’s right. I think that the usual calculation from then and now by officials has been something like 200. I don’t know what the basis for that can be, because as I say, Vanunu definitely was saying that at the time he first made his revelations, and here I’m just going from memory, I have to say, I could be wrong, but my memory is that he was saying some 300 in the early ‘70s, by the mid ‘70s – his revelation was in the early ‘80s – and that they’d been producing them at a high rate ever since. And he did make a calculation of something like 600. Now, how you get to – I think that’s probably very accurate, as an estimate. And have they reduced some as they made others? Well, I don’t know. We don’t have inspection. They don’t make announcements. They have not yet officially really admitted, nor has the U.S., that Israel has nuclear weapons. So we don’t have the inspection that we have in countries that belong to the Nonproliferation Treaty.
SCOTT HORTON: Right.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: But they could well have 600 or more. The point of even 300 would mean that they are essentially the third largest national, have the third largest national nuclear arsenal in the world, more than France. And I think that is very distinctly possible. The UK has gotten down less than France. And I think that this business of keeping them at 200 is mainly to avoid admitting that they actually have more than France.
SCOTT HORTON: Mmmhmm. All right, now, Dan. You’ve been around awhile, but I wonder whether you’ve ever heard of a dumber plan than Obama’s policy of trying to figure out how to put conventional explosives on the tips of intercontinental ballistic missiles so he can kill anybody in the world in half an hour, but doesn’t that risk a nuclear holocaust on one of these false alarms?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Well of course it’s always been pointed out that an ICBM coming toward other countries and possibly in the direction of Russia can’t really be distinguished whether it has a conventional or a nuclear warhead, so any use of ICBMs in that category is extremely dangerous in the possibility of a false alarm, and hardly imaginable why it’s really even thought of. The idea that, yes, it would be nice to be able to kill people from our own territory at a moment’s notice, actually we have cruise missiles though with conventional warheads scattered so much around the world on bases and aircraft carriers, that it seems hard to know why you need an ICBM. (laughs) Then again, the word “need” has to be put in quotations here.
SCOTT HORTON: Sure, yeah. You got to accept a hundred false premises first before you even get to that. All right, well listen, we’re over time. Thank you so much for your time, Dan. It’s great to talk to you again.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Thanks for the opportunity. Bye, Scott.
SCOTT HORTON: All right, everybody. That is the American hero, Daniel Ellsberg, liberator of the Pentagon Papers, star of The Most Dangerous Man in America, which is such an excellent documentary, if you’ve never watched it get your hands on that thing, it’s great. The book is Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers. His website is ellsberg.net. You can find all of his stuff there, including I’m pretty sure links to this series that he wrote for Truthdig back in 2009 and 2010, beginning with “A Hundred Holocausts” – I think this was the first. No, no, no, this was from September ’09. The first one was about Hiroshima. Anyway. There’s a series at Truthdig including “A Hundred Holocausts: An Insider’s Window Into U.S. Nuclear Policy.” And, man, there’s some incredible truths in there that we were not able to cover on the show today at all, so please do go and read Dan Ellsberg’s series on nukes at truthdig.com. And now we’re over time, we’ll be right back with the great Jason Leopold on some more madness down at Guantanamo Bay right after this.
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