Civil Disobedience Justified in Alerting America to Nuclear Peril, Ellsberg Says

Times Staff Writer

Civil disobedience is a tool that must be used to alert other Americans to the growing dangers of a nuclear world war, peace activist Daniel Ellsberg said Thursday.

Ellsberg, 54, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971 during the war in Vietnam, spoke at a UC Irvine Peace Week forum.

He told the audience of about 200 that both Russian and U.S. nuclear missile systems are getting closer and closer to being launched by decisions of machines, rather than people. This markedly increases the risk of an accidental nuclear war, he said.

But he said the recent triumph of the people in the Philippines can be an example to Americans who want to end the arms race.


“I would say we have no less ability to do that (seek bilateral disarmament) than the people of the Philippines had to throw off a hated and oppressive tyrant,” Ellsberg said. “They were using methods that were used peacefully in this country in the past. They can succeed.”

Voting Was ‘Main Thing’

Asked after his speech if that reference was a call for civil disobedience, Ellsberg said, “Yes, but I’m not saying it’s the only thing or the main thing. The main thing the Filipino people did was vote.”

Ellsberg said civil disobedience becomes necessary when a government fails to heed what the people are seeking. “As in the civil rights movement (of the 1960s), and the case of the Vietnam war protests, the function of civil disobedience would be to demonstrate to other citizens the urgency and the morality issue of a situation,” he said.

“It’s a statement (that) the situation is so important and so wrong that it justifies a willingness to go to jail.”

Ellsberg said that as recently as last August he staged a protest near a Nevada test site and was arrested and placed in jail. He said he wanted to use a courtroom to air his belief that the Reagan Administration is “illegally” testing nuclear weapons in violation of the 1963 limited test-ban treaty ratified by the United States.

Ramsay Clark Testified

Ellsberg said that former U.S. Atty. Gen. Ramsay Clark testified in court, on behalf of Ellsberg, that the continued nuclear testing was illegal and “given that they were illegal, it was reasonable of me to believe that my . . . obligation was to resist this, to obstruct it.”


Ellsberg said that his support of civil disobedience extends to such recent cases as the arrests this week of Orange County residents who protested the current Winter Conference on Aerospace and Electronic Systems at the Westin South Coast Plaza hotel in Costa Mesa. He was arrested in a similar protest of the Costa Mesa weapons conference in 1984 and was jailed two days.

In his hourlong talk at UC Irvine, Ellsberg stated repeatedly that new American weapon systems under development increase the danger of war. He said one danger is pressure on the Soviet Union to consider a first-strike, preemptive war.

Another danger, Ellsberg said, is the possibility of either nation allowing computers and other machines to make decisions on launching nuclear weapons--thus possibly causing an accidental war.