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Daniel Ellsberg: Danger of Nuclear War (NPR/Democracy Now)

On the closing day of the 97th NCSS Annual Conference, Daniel Ellsberg was slated to address the plenary gathering, but he was ill that day, and co-speaker Peter J. Kuznick adeptly filled the hour (as will be reported in the next TSSP newsletter). Ellsberg was soon back on his feet, giving a 59-minute radio interview, a few weeks later. Teachers who wonder what Ellsberg might have said could do worse than check out the podcast and transcript at:

Ellsberg is author of The Pentagon Papers: A Secret History of the Vietnam War (Beacon House, 1971) and The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner (Bloomsbury USA, 20017). Kusnick is the creator, with Oliver Stone, of the 2012 film and subsequent book A Secret History of the United States, now available in a juvenile edition.

In 1971, Ellsberg was a high-level defense analyst when he leaked a top-secret report on U.S. involvement in Vietnam, but his specialty at that time was command and control. He was, arguably, the nation’s top expert on that subject.

In this radio interview, Ellsberg worries that we have two leaders of nuclear-armed nations “playing nuclear chicken” with bravado. The use of a single nuclear bomb, says Ellsberg, will result in an unstoppable launching of nuclear weapons. Even if this exchange is somehow limited to a few explosions, the resulting firestorms will create a Nuclear Winter, plunging the Earth into a century of darkness during which all human agriculture will fail. Scientists have shown (modeling the effects of the U.S. carpet bombing of Hamburg, Dresden, and Tokyo during World War II) that the smoke from firestorms will rise above the highest clouds, and not clear for approximately 100 years.

Ellsberg recommends that citizens and their elected officials learn about this issue and take appropriate action. He goes so far as to challenge those with knowledge to “leak” what the casualty figures would be subsequent to a nuclear exchange today.

If you share part or all of Ellsberg's radio interview with high school students (certainly no younger), it would be advised to share, in the same lesson, a bit of history -- some “good news” about how citizen involvement has been instrumental in reducing, and even ending, nuclear threats to life and health, and thus improving national and world security. Just a sampling:

• Nuclear tests in the atmosphere 1940-50s were poisoning the planet. U.S. explosions made uninhabitable the beautiful islands of Bikini. Fallout from U.S. and Soviet tests contaminated milk around the world with radioactive isotopes. Global citizen action led to the Partial (Atmospheric) Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which JFK singed, and for which Linus Pauling, who had already won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, won the Nobel Peace Prize.

• The 2017 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) "for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition on such weapons.”

• The nonviolent Velvet Revolutions in Eastern Europe that engendered the end of the Soviet Union were movements of the labor unions, religious communities, educators, and artists – the grassroots. At the same time in the United States, the Nuclear Freeze Campaign grew from one woman’s idea (Randall Forsberg at MIT) into a presidential campaign theme (Kennedy/Markey 1984 and "Freeze Voter") in less than four years. Many people were worried that the Cold War might become a hot one during this period, especially as details of the Cuban Missile Crisis began to be released for public reading. (They reveal how very close that conflict came to triggering a nuclear exchange.)

• The greatest act of disarmament in history (by megatonnage) was conducted by then U.S. President George H.W. Bush, a Republican, and Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev in the early 1990s. Among others, former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, continued the work of securing nuclear materials (from processing plants and retired warheads) to keep them out of the hands of terrorists. So there has been leadership by both major political parties in the United States, and by leaders in many nations and the United Nations, over decades. But history indicates that such efforts in the upper branches seem to require the energy of fire from the grass roots, observe both Kuznick and Ellsberg.

-- This resource review by Steven S. Lapham, Editor, TSSP newsletter.

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