Daniel Ellsberg, whose leaking of the Pentagon Papers and decades of anti-war activity have inspired generations of whistleblowers and activists, said Wednesday that he has terminal cancer, but that there's "tons more" movement work for him to do before he's gone.
The former nuclear war planner-turned-disarmament campaigner, who is 91 years old, notified friends and supporters in an email Wednesday morning that he had "difficult news to impart":
On February 17, without much warning, I was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer on the basis of a CT scan and an MRI... I'm sorry to report to you that my doctors have given me three to six months to live. Of course, they emphasize that everyone's case is individual; it might be more, or less.
Ellsberg, who will not undergo chemotherapy—he says it "offers no promise"—wrote that he is "not in any physical pain."
"In fact, after my hip replacement surgery in late 2021, I feel better physically than I have in years," he said.
"As I just told my son Robert: He's long known (as my editor) that I work better under a deadline. It turns out that I live better under a deadline," he quipped.
Whistleblowers and activists hailed a man one anti-nuclear campaigner called "a change-maker, a disrupter, and an icon."
RootsAction co-founder and director Norman Solomon, a longtime friend and collaborator, told Common Dreams that "words can't really convey what Dan Ellsberg has meant to the world, and along the way what he has been wonderfully giving to countless people he has reached out to and who've reached out to him."
"In public, he has been a beacon of integrity and truth, willing to say and do what the warmakers and nuclear-holocaust planners find completely unacceptable," he added. "In private, his thoughtful kindness and daily commitment to humanity are central to his being. And I want to emphasize right now that nothing in the world is more important to read and heed than Dan's monumental book The Doomsday Machine."
"I want to emphasize right now that nothing in the world is more important to read and heed than Dan's monumental book The Doomsday Machine."
John Kiriakou, the former CIA case officer and analyst who was jailed after he revealed U.S. torture in the so-called War on Terror, wrote on his Substack that "after my arrest in 2012 after blowing the whistle on the CIA's torture program, it was Dan who talked sense to me and convinced me that I was stronger than I realized."
"It was thanks to him that I didn't do something drastic," he added. "And then when I was serving 23 months in prison, Dan wrote to me religiously, sent books, and offered his friendship and encouragement. I love the guy. This is a blow for all Americans."
In Wednesday's email, Ellsberg reflected upon his life and work:
When I copied the Pentagon Papers in 1969, I had every reason to think I would be spending the rest of my life behind bars. It was a fate I would gladly have accepted if it meant hastening the end of the Vietnam War, unlikely as that seemed (and was). Yet in the end, that action—in ways I could not have foreseen, due to [then-President Richard] Nixon's illegal responses—did have an impact on shortening the war. In addition, thanks to Nixon's crimes, I was spared the imprisonment I expected, and I was able to spend the last 50 years with Patricia and my family, and with you, my friends.
"What's more," he continued, "I was able to devote those years to doing everything I could think of to alert the world to the perils of nuclear war and wrongful interventions: lobbying, lecturing, writing, and joining with others in acts of protest and nonviolent resistance."
"I wish I could report greater success for our efforts," Ellsberg lamented. "As I write, 'modernization' of nuclear weapons is ongoing in all nine states that possess them (the U.S. most of all). Russia is making monstrous threats to initiate nuclear war to maintain its control over Crimea and the Donbas—like the dozens of equally illegitimate first-use threats that the U.S. government has made in the past to maintain its military presence in South Korea, Taiwan, South Vietnam, and (with the complicity of every member state then in NATO ) West Berlin."
"The current risk of nuclear war, over Ukraine, is as great as the world has ever seen," he emphasized just over a year into Russia's invasion.
"It is long past time—but not too late!—for the world's publics at last to challenge and resist the willed moral blindness of their past and current leaders," Ellsberg argued. "I will continue, as long as I'm able, to help these efforts.
Indeed, Ellsberg is scheduled to speak Thursday with Noam Chomsky at a Nuclear Age Peace Foundation webinar about the dangers of nuclear war during Russia's invasion of Ukraine
"There's tons more to say about Ukraine and nuclear policy, of course," Ellsberg added, "and you'll be hearing from me as long as I'm here."