One of the biggest benefits of being a Newhouse student is being able to see the amazing speakers that come through The Herg on any given week. Although I’m late posting this I did see Daniel Ellsberg on Tuesday, March 8, as he spoke to a full-house as part of the Tully Center for Free Speech. Ellsberg, a controversial figure in U.S. history, always stood out to me as a hero for free speech and I am extremely humbled that I was able to see speak him in person. It’s not every day that you occupy the same space as someone who completely changed the course of American history!
Daniel Ellsberg, of course, was the man who released the Pentagon Papers to the NY Times and eventually to the Washington Post, which alerted the American public to the true nature of the Vietnam war. Ellsberg extensively about how his actions relate to the current actions by Wiki-Leaks founder Julian Assange. Assange is quite the controversial figure himself with many unsure wether to paint his as a mad-man or a martyr for free-speech.
Ellsberg spoke candidly about being limited by the technology of his time. He released 4,000 pages of the top-secret policy files with the help of Xerox. Ellsberg said he feared that if he were only to take a selection of the documents, the files would be easily explained away by the government. Assange has of course been able to digitally release nearly twenty times the volume that Ellsberg did of documents pertaining to the War in Afghanistan.
The most important difference between the two, Ellsberg noted, was that he released U.S. policy blunders while the documents that Wiki-Leaks have released describe un-authorized killings that have occurred during the war.
Perhaps most fascinating to me was how Ellsberg spoke so non-chalantly of the events that would alter American history. He talked about meeting Julian Assange in person as if he had just met a friend for coffee. I’m struggling to imagine Assange being painted in the same light as Ellsberg for future history textbooks. Assange seems to be much more haphazard with his releases, as of late, and is currently plagued by sexual assault charges. It’s interesting to see these events unfold within my generation, and while I greatly respect Daniel Ellsberg, I wonder if Julian Assange will be villified or villianized.