Daniel Ellsberg, born April 7, 1931, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., and died on June 16, 2023, at his residence, Kensington, California, U.S. He was an American political activist and a military analyst for the United States.
Ellsberg had two spouses, he was married to Carol Cummings from 1952 to 1965, and later to Patricia Marx from 1970 until his passing. Ellsberg had three children named Robert, Mary, and Michael. Daniel received the Right Livelihood Award for his notable achievements.
Daniel Ellsberg Biography
Daniel Ellsberg was born on April 7, 1931, in Chicago, Illinois, and sadly passed away on June 16, 2023, at the age of 92 in Kensington, California. He attended Harvard University, where he obtained both his bachelor’s degree and PhD.
He also pursued studies at King’s College, Cambridge. Ellsberg worked for the RAND Corporation throughout his career. He is best known for his involvement in the release of the Pentagon Papers, which were classified documents revealing the decision-making process of the U.S. government during the Vietnam War.
He also served in the United States Marine Corps as a First Lieutenant in the 2nd Marine Division from 1954 to 1957. In 2006, Ellsberg received the Right Livelihood Award. He was also well-known for his contributions to decision theory through the formulation of the Ellsberg paradox.
Additionally, he extensively studied nuclear weapons and nuclear policy, and he publicly expressed support for WikiLeaks, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden. In recognition of his profound humanism and exceptional moral courage, Ellsberg was honored with the 2018 Olof Palme Prize.
Family Background | Early Life
Daniel Ellsberg was born on April 7, 1931, in Chicago, Illinois. His parents were Ashkenazi Jews who had converted to Christian Science, and while they considered the family Jewish, religion did not play a significant role in their lives.
Ellsberg grew up in Detroit and attended the Cranbrook School. His mother wanted him to become a concert pianist, but he stopped playing after a tragic car accident that claimed the lives of his mother and sister.
He received a scholarship to Harvard College and graduated with high honors in economics in 1952. He spent a year at King’s College, Cambridge, through a fellowship, pursuing a Ph.D. in economics before returning to Harvard.
In 1954, Ellsberg joined the United States Marine Corps, where he served as a platoon leader and company commander in the 2nd Marine Division until his discharge as a first lieutenant in 1957. He then returned to Harvard as a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows.
Daniel Ellsberg joined the RAND Corporation in 1958 as a strategic analyst specializing in nuclear strategy and command and control of nuclear weapons.
In 1962, he obtained his Ph.D. in economics from Harvard, focusing his dissertation on decision theory, which later became known as the Ellsberg paradox.
This paradox challenged the notion that decisions made under uncertain circumstances could align with subjective probabilities, significantly impacting subsequent research.
Involvement in The Vietnam War
In 1964, Ellsberg began working at the Pentagon under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Following this, he spent two years in South Vietnam as a member of the State Department, working alongside General Edward Lansdale.
Upon his return to the United States, Ellsberg resumed his position at RAND. In 1967, he contributed to a classified study on the Vietnam War, referred to as the “Pentagon Papers.”
Questioning the Government and Whistleblowing
By 1969, Ellsberg’s involvement in anti-war events while still employed at RAND led him to reevaluate the government’s role in an unjust war.
Influenced by individuals like Janaki Tschannerl, a peace activist from India, and draft resister Randy Kehler, Ellsberg began to doubt the government’s actions and beliefs. This skepticism eventually motivated him to make copies of the Pentagon Papers.
Sharing the Truth with the Public
In 1970, Ellsberg worked at the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During this period, he shared copies of the Pentagon Papers with several newspapers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post.
The publication of these documents exposed the government’s deceptive actions and falsehoods surrounding the Vietnam War.
Legal Battles and Public Perception
The Nixon administration attempted to prevent further publication of the Pentagon Papers, resulting in legal conflicts that ultimately reached the Supreme Court.
In a landmark ruling, the court upheld the press’s right to publish, marking a significant turning point in public perception of the war and leading to a decline in trust towards the government.
Daniel Ellsberg’s Legacy
Daniel Ellsberg’s courageous actions, coupled with subsequent events like the Watergate scandal, unveiled the extent of government deceit and the erosion of trust in political leaders. His pivotal role in exposing the truth remains an indelible part of American history.
He caused a major political controversy in 1971 when he released the Pentagon Papers, which were classified documents containing a study of the U.S. government’s decision-making during the Vietnam War. The documents were given to newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post.
In January 1973, Ellsberg faced charges under the Espionage Act of 1917, as well as other charges of theft and conspiracy. If convicted, he could have been sentenced to a maximum of 115 years in prison.
However, due to misconduct by the government and illegal gathering of evidence, along with the defense provided by Leonard Boudin and Harvard Law School professor Charles Nesson, Judge William Matthew Byrne Jr. dismissed all charges against Ellsberg in May 1973.
Activism and Views
Daniel Ellsberg, a former military analyst, gained fame for his courageous act of leaking the Pentagon Papers in 1971. These papers were a confidential study that examined the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War. Their publication shed light on the government’s dishonesty and manipulation surrounding the war.
Prior to this event, Ellsberg had worked as a strategic analyst at the RAND Corporation and later for the Department of Defense, granting him access to classified documents related to the conflict. Growing disenchanted with the war and alarmed by the government’s distortion of facts and objectives, Ellsberg made a momentous decision.
He chose to disclose the Pentagon Papers to the media, aiming to inform the public and shape public opinion. Several newspapers, including The New York Times, published the leaked documents, which triggered a legal battle over the government’s attempts to halt further publication.
Ellsberg faced charges under the Espionage Act for his involvement in leaking the papers. However, due to government misconduct during the trial, he managed to evade conviction. Nonetheless, his actions had a profound impact on public perception of the war, fueling mounting opposition both within the United States and abroad.
Following the Pentagon Papers incident, Ellsberg persisted in his activism and emerged as a vocal critic of U.S. government policies, particularly those related to war and nuclear weapons. He actively participated in numerous anti-war movements and championed the cause of whistleblowers. Ellsberg expressed solidarity with figures like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, advocating for transparency and government accountability.
In recent years, Ellsberg has continued to address various issues, with a particular focus on the perils of nuclear weapons and the urgent need for global disarmament. Through books and interviews, he shares his invaluable insights and experiences as a whistleblower and activist.
Awards and Honors
Daniel Ellsberg, the courageous whistleblower, has been recognized and honored for his remarkable actions. He was awarded the prestigious Ron Ridenhour Courage Prize, which was established by The Nation Institute and the Fertel Foundation.
In 1978, Ellsberg accepted the Gandhi Peace Award from Promoting Enduring Peace as a testament to his commitment to peace. Furthermore, on September 28, 2006, he received the Right Livelihood Award, acknowledging his prioritization of peace and truth, even at great personal risk, and his dedication to inspiring others to do the same.
In 2016, he was honored with the Dresden Peace Prize, and in subsequent years, he received the esteemed Olof Palme Prize in 2018 and the Sam Adams Award in 2022. These accolades recognize Ellsberg’s outstanding contributions and serve as a testament to his enduring impact on society.
Personal Life and Death
Daniel Ellsberg was married twice in his lifetime. His first marriage took place in 1952 to Carol Cummings, a Radcliffe College graduate whose father served as a Marine Corps brigadier general. Their marriage lasted for 13 years before ending in divorce, initiated by Carol herself, as stated by Ellsberg in his memoir titled “Secrets.”
Together, they had two children named Robert Ellsberg and Mary Ellsberg. In 1970, Ellsberg married Patricia Marx, the daughter of renowned toy manufacturer Louis Marx. They resided in Mill Valley, California, for a significant period of time. The couple has a son named Michael Ellsberg, who has pursued a career as an author and journalist.
In March 2023, Ellsberg shared the news that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which had progressed beyond the scope of medical treatment. By mid-February, doctors estimated that he had three to six months left to live. Unfortunately, on June 16, 2023, Ellsberg passed away at his residence in Kensington, California.
Daniel Ellsberg is believed to have a net worth between $5 million and $19 million, which he primarily amassed through his career as a military analyst and his later engagement as a political activist.
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