Daniel Ellsberg Speaks at Assembly

Daniel Ellsberg answered student questions at a reception in the McFeely Atrium after assembly. (Photo by Katharine Sipio)

Daniel Ellsberg visited George School on Wednesday, April 4, 2018 to speak with students and alumni at assembly. Daniel is best known for being a political activist and for releasing the infamous Pentagon Papers in 1971 during the Nixon administration. The Pentagon Papers were a collection of classified documents highlighting the American government’s decision-making policies during the Vietnam War. Daniel leaked the classified information to newspaper outlets such as the New York Times and The Washington Post, which brought new information to the public’s attention and caused controversy.

Aaron Good, faculty member, interviewed Daniel during the assembly, which also coincided with the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

During the assembly, Daniel discussed his new book The Doomsday Machine, and shared his thoughts and reflections about America’s nuclear strategy in the 1960s, and the importance of remaining vigilant to our political climate now and in the future.

His journey and willingness to take a risk to help his country and to end the Vietnam War is one that impacts history to this day.

“I thought, what can I do to help in this war now that I am ready to go to prison?” Daniel said when referring to the leaking of the Pentagon Papers. “I was willing to take the risk.”

He also described how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a personal inspiration for him and a catalyst for change. He had first learned about Dr. King, Gandhi, and non-violent resistance at a conference in Princeton in the late 1960s where he met war resisters and peace marchers.

“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shaped my life,” Daniel said.

After the assembly, students, faculty, staff, and other members of the community were invited to a reception in the McFeely Atrium. During the reception, they had the opportunity to ask questions and chat with Daniel. Helen Dryer ’18 was excited to be able to attend the reception and meet Daniel in person to shake his hand.

“I liked how personal the reception was, and that we were able to sit down and have a conversation with him,” said Helen. “It was interesting to hear him talk about why he chose the political life and his thoughts about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Associate Head of School, Scott Spence, was glad that a historical figure such as Daniel was able to visit campus. “Ellsberg has been a hero, model, and inspiration to countless educators committed to teaching the truth, and teaching students to speak truth to power, to act with personal integrity, and to put their knowledge into action,” said Scott. “He embodies the values the school stands for as we strive to educate and empower students to let their lives speak.”

“His life story has profound continuing relevance to this day, and our students were so privileged to hear first-hand an insider’s perspectives on the Vietnam War and nuclear policy. It was particularly moving and inspiring to learn directly of his personal discernment process leading to his decision to risk his life and go public with the Pentagon Papers,” said Scott.

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