Daniel Ellsberg: Dismantling the Doomsday Machine

Daniel Ellsberg is known to many for leaking the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War. A lesser known fact is that Ellsberg drafted Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s plans for nuclear war in 1961, and developed an intimate understanding of the madness of the most dangerous (nuclear) arms buildup in history. In his newest book, “The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner,” Ellsberg chronicles the evolution of the “Doomsday Machine” we have created, and offers steps to dismantle it.

Another little known fact about Ellsberg is that he testified in court in support of Ground Zero “White Train” demonstrators on Thursday, June 20, 1985.  The next day, on June 21, 1985, a Kitsap County jury acquitted all 19 demonstrators for blocking a train loaded with Trident nuclear warheads on its way to Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor on February 22, 1985.  February 22, 1985 was the last time the White Train was used to ship nuclear warheads to Bangor, Washington.

Ellsberg will appear in Seattle to speak about “The Doomsday Machine” at University Temple United Methodist Church on Tuesday, January 9th at 7:30 PM. Tickets are available through Town Hall Seattle.

The following is the full article from the Saturday, June 22, 1985 Seattle Post-Intelligencer, written by John Marshall.

Ellsberg knows the fears of nuclear foes

She cites the writings and example of Daniel Ellsberg, she details her deepening commitment to the non-violent fight against nuclear weapons.  Karol Schulkin is on the witness stand in the Kitsap County Courthouse explaining how she came to put her body on the tracks in front of a White Train thought to be carrying warheads for Trident submarines.

It was a tough decision arrived at over years, Schulkin says.  Her voice choking, her eyes filling with tears, she explains, “Part of me still doesn’t believe that those trains are still coming and it depends on people like me to try to stop them.”

Many others brush away tears in the packed courtroom this Thursday morning, including Daniel Ellsberg himself.  Schulkin’s testimony, he would say later, “went to my heart like a lightning bolt.”  People have told him many times that what he has done has changed their lives, but never before has Ellsberg listened to someone say that under oath, someone who is on trial for non-violent actions.

So Ellsberg, an intense and emotional man, fights to keep his feelings under control as Schulkin testifies.  For he has been there, too, when the private doubts pile up, depression thwarts action and always there’s the uncertainty that the protest will make any difference at all.

It was that way with the Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg remembers.  For two years, he had tried to interest several prominent anti-war senators in the massive Top Secret study of the Vietnam decision-making in hopes of ending the war.  But, one after another, they declined.  And the war dragged on, the killing continued.

“I didn’t have any confidence the Pentagon Papers would do anything,” Ellsberg recalls.  “I still had hopes it might, but it was just a question of feeling the situation was desperate and I had to do what I could.  And as Schulkin said, ‘It seemed to be up to me.’  Others could do much more with the papers, much easier, with much less risk, but it was pretty clear they weren’t going to do it.”

The Pentagon Papers would prove to be political dynamite, not only contributing to the end of the war, but to the Nixon administration as well.  For Ellsberg’s release of the papers to the press so enraged the administration that it launched a secret “Get Ellsberg” campaign, including the burglary of his psychiatrist’s office.  And that set in motion the illegal acts and dirty tricks that became the scandal called Watergate.

After Vietnam, Ellsberg turned his protest efforts toward the nuclear weapons and nuclear war plans that he had once studied and revised as a 30-year-old analyst at the Defense Department in 1961.  “I felt at the time that I’ll never do anything as important as this,” he says, “and that hasn’t been eclipsed.”

But Ellsberg’s perspective on the threat that nuclear weapons pose would change so greatly that, 20 years later, he would be arrested in protests at nuclear weapons facilities in Colorado and California.  And it would bring him to Kitsap County, where he takes the stand in support of the 19 White Train protesters.

Wearing a gray business suit, his silver hair clipped short, the 54-year-old Ellsberg speaks calmly about why he considered Trident to be the greatest threat ever to world peace.  It is, he says, a “first strike” weapon that tips the precarious balance of nuclear terror between the United States and the Soviet Union.

“That’s why we are all now placed in the position of the parents at Jonestown when they were rehearsing suicide with their children,” Ellsberg testifies.  “They should have mutinied, they should have told Jim Jones, ‘We will not do that!’”

Later, over lunch, Ellsberg empathizes with the White Train protesters.  He talks of the loneliness of protesters who find, as he did, that friends vanish from their lives without a trace.  Compensation does come from the sense of community with fellow protesters, he says, and there is some satisfaction, too, in taking action.

But always, Ellsberg says, there’s the constant inner battle with feelings of hopelessness and despair: that nuclear war is just too great a threat and protests against it are just too few and too feeble.

“But God knows,” Ellsberg says, “I don’t think we’ll survive without this.”

Share widely

In these times….What can we do? A Workshop with Ken Butigan

Pax Christi Northwest in collaboration with the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action is pleased to present educator, writer and advocate for nonviolent change Ken Butigan.

Ken is a key organizer for Campaign Nonviolence, a movement to mainstream active nonviolence. The Campaign is part of the long-term process of abolishing war, ending poverty, and healing the planet.

Be inspired by past movements for peaceful social transformation and explore what we can do NOW.

Saturday September 16 – 8:30 am to 3:00 pm St. Joseph Church Social Hall – Capitol Hill – 732 18th Ave E, Seattle, WA 98112

Schedule: Gathering – 8:30, Welcoming – 9:00, Prayer – 9:15, Workshop – 9:30, Networking & Lunch – 12:00 (Please bring a bag lunch), Peace Walk – 1:00 (destination TBA), Conclusion – 3:00

Come join us for a full day of inspiration, prayer, exchange, and ACTION for NONVIOLENCE in our day.

For more information, contact Denny Duffell – duffelldennis@gmail.com.

Click here to download the PDF flyer for the event.

Grounded in the Gospel and Catholic social teaching, Pax Christi Northwest is a regional organization of Pax Christi USA (PCUSA) a membership organization that rejects war, preparation for war and every form of violence and domination including personal and systemic racism. See: paxchristiusa.org.

Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action gathers people to explore the meaning and practice of nonviolence from a perspective of deep spiritual reflection. Throughout the year the GZ Center provides opportunities for witnessing against and resisting nuclear weapons, especially Trident. See: www.gzcenter.org.

Share widely

From Trinity to Trident, and Beyond…

Dear Friends,

Today marks the anniversary of the Trinity test, where the United States detonated the first nuclear device. I ponder the perilous journey we have taken since that first test of a nuclear bomb in the desert of New Mexico on July 16, 1945. Since the United States dropped the first two bombs on Japan soon after Trinity, nuclear weapons have never been used by one nation against another, although we have neared that precipice numerous times. Since those first two bombs the U.S. built a total of over 70,000 nuclear warheads and bombs at astronomical costs, both economic and human.

As the United States and the Soviet Union fought the Cold War from their respective development laboratories and weapons factories, planners on each side continuously struggled to stay ahead of the other. Somewhere along the way, someone got the bright idea that submarines loaded with nuclear tipped missiles were the perfect way to keep the enemy guessing. After all, a sub bristling with nuclear weapons could sneak around the seven seas, ready to launch an attack, totally surprising the enemy.

Trident was the culmination of this demonic drive – the ultimate first strike weapon (even thought the US Government calls it only a second strike weapon); today some of the Navy’s 14 Trident nuclear submarines, loaded with Trident D5 missiles, silently roam the seas, ready to launch their deadly missiles on the order of the President of the United States. Just one of these submarines would, if it were to launch all its missiles armed with a full complement of 455 kiloton warheads (rather than the smaller 100 kiloton model), unleash the equivalent of nearly 7000 Hiroshimas (the Hiroshima bomb was between 12.5 and 15 kilotons), and could kill hundreds of millions of people. What madness is this?

Yet, while tens of thousands of people labored to develop and build this system of mass destruction (Trident), others worked to resist the madness – to let others know that we were preparing the seeds of our own destruction. For Trident, it all began with the early 1970’s when a missile designer named Bob Aldridge was at Lockheed Missiles and Space Corporation working on the first Trident missile design. Bob recognized something about the maneuvering reentry vehicle that he was designing; it was designed “to home-in on underground missile silos in a nuclear first strike” (Ground Zero Newsletter, Vol. 7, Issue 3, July 2002). Bob’s conscience got the better of him (something that has not happened to the vast majority of nuclear weapon scientists or engineers), and after a family retreat following Christmas 1972 Bob submitted his resignation letter to Lockheed.

A year later Bob met with Jim and Shelley Douglass and told them of his remarkable journey from missile designer to student of nonviolence, and briefed them on the plans to create what would be known as Sub Base Bangor (West Coast home of the new Trident fleet) on the shores of the Hood Canal in Washington State, just 20 miles from Seattle. And so the seeds of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action were sown by a person with the courage to follow his convictions.

In 1977 Jim Douglass and John Williams found 3.8 acres of land with a small house right next to the Bangor fence. What a find! A year later (the first Trident missile was deployed in October 1979) Bob Aldridge sent Jim and Shelley Douglass an urgent letter warning of the first strike threat that Trident represented. First strike meant that Trident would likely be used to deliver a preemptive surprise attack of overwhelming force on the Soviet Union (not a pretty picture).

Jim and Shelley Douglass, and many others continued building the Ground Zero community (which was preceded by the Pacific Life Community) as they worked in common resistance to Trident; blocking the railroad tracks on which the “White Trains” brought the nuclear warheads, leafletting at the gates of Bangor and blocking the gate, and building awareness of the dangers (as well as the immorality and illegality) of Trident and all nuclear weapons.

Jim and Shelley Douglass

Jim and Shelley produced some wonderful writings along the way, including Dear Gandhi: Now What? Letters from Ground Zero, and JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why it Matters. The Douglasses received the Pacem in Terris Peace and Preedom Award in 1997.

Jim and Shelley will be joining others at Ground Zero Center to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the founding of Ground Zero on July 30th.  Everyone is invited! We expect fpeople from the Pacific Life Communities, Live Without Trident, Armistice, Agape, peace walkers, fence climbers, tracks vigilers, USS Ohio blockaders, Wednesday overnighters,pagoda builders, leafleters, potluckers, plaintiffs, defendants, lawyers, Bangor workers and fellow travelers. It’s a chance to reflect on what drew us to GZ, to catch up with friends, and to create an oral history.

Click here to learn more about the event.

It will also be a time to look within and ask, “Where do we go from here?” At seventy-two years of age, aren’t nuclear weapons due for retirement! 122 nations said “YES” to that question just over a week ago when the United Nations passed the historic Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The culmination of decades of resistance and campaigning against nuclear weapons, the negotiations brought together diplomats and civil society to prohibit these horrific devices made by human hands that are capable of bringing about human extinction. Enough!

We, the people of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, are dedicated to the abolition of Trident and ALL nuclear weapons. This is no naive pipe dream. Humanity is at (or is nearing) a fork in the long road that began with Trinity. Which fork we take (and the future of humanity) will depend not just on the political actions of the leaders of the nuclear-armed nations – we can no longer wait for them – but very much on the hard work of people like you and me, and organizations like Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action. Please join us!

On the journey together,


Share widely