Daniel Ellsberg, whose leaking of the Pentagon papers saved the lives of more American soldiers than any number of Medal of Honor heroes could have done, has returned to the front pages lately. It sent me back to his valuable book, Secrets, from which this comes:
No one else was going to tell me ever again that I (or anyone else) “had” to kill someone, that I had no choice, that I had a right or a duty to do it that someone else had decided for me.
This new principle, as I already thought of it, didn’t answer all questions about whether one should ever use violence or when, the questions I’d been wrestling with ever since I’d met Janaki and began reading Gandhian and Christian pacifists, but it did answer some. For example about whether unquestioningly to accept being drafted. That wouldn’t face me again, but it might face my son Robert. I would tell my kids, I thought, that no one could make it all right for them to carry a gun or shoot anyone just by telling them they had to. That would have to be their choice, their entire responsibility.
If I ever did it again — as I now told myself — it would be because I chose to do it or chose to follow such orders as the right thing to do, not just because someone gave me an order. I would also examine very critically my own reason for it. I would have to have better reasons, which stood up better under a skeptical look, than I had in Vietnam. [Ed. note: Ellsberg had commanded a Marine infantry company in Vietnam.] Responsibility for killing or being ready to kill was not something you could delegate to someone else, even a president.