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The Daniel Ellsberg interview

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The summer that I graduated from (Cranbrook), 1948, I did two things. I thought I was going to have a career in the labor movement as a labor economist. Or, a labor organizer, romantically. That summer, between Cranbrook and Harvard, I actually spent all summer at the Dodge Hamtramck plant on the night shift. The day shift was entirely occupied by Polish Americans, and southerners, blacks and acolytes like me, were on the afternoon shifts. It was very, very hot in the summers in Detroit. That was a very interesting summer. It permanently damaged my hearing. I worked in the press shop of a car manufacturer, and if you've never been in a press shop, it's very noisy. You open the door and you go into this huge loft-like building where they have several-story high presses that press out the entire top of the car. Then others press out the fenders and sides and so forth. I think its three or four stories high, and the press would come down: eeeeeyra crash! Stepping into that building was like diving into a pool of sound. We didn't, in those days, have something for our ears, that was something the union brought in later. So, my high-pitched frequencies got cut off at that age, and I've been wearing hearing aids now the whole time.

It was the next year that I worked on a ranch in Wyoming stacking hay. Very, very hard work. The hardest work I ever did, physically. I haven't had a life of hard physical work. I'm a very white collar person, but that was very hard.

Your work in economics and the Ellsberg Paradox, did that transition well into your work with Rand?

I was working on labor economics my first few years at Harvard, then my academic advisor said I should write a better thesis in theory. I wrote an honor's thesis on that subject. I got summa cum laude at Harvard, and people that read it, the Harvard Society of Fellows, which is an alternate to the PhD program, but in between there, I did get a Woodrow Wilson scholarship, which I could take anywhere. I went to Cambridge University in England, following a professor of mine who moved over there. I spent that year with my wife. I had got married in the middle of my junior year, so we went back to England in '52-'53. Meanwhile, the Korean War was still on, or the Korean Emergency, and I had been deferred on a student fellowship in 1951. So I had a couple of years of deferment and felt that I would eventually pay that by going into the service. I chose the Marine Corps.

My wife, who I married when I was 19, had a Marine colonel for a father who became a brigadier general when he retired. She'd grown up on Marine bases, and loved the Marines. I thought it would please her to be back on a Marine base. I went in the Marines in '53 for two years, then extended for a year because my battalion was going to the Mediterranean and we had indications, including from the Alsop Brothers columnists, that we would be at war with Egypt over the Suez Canal. I couldn't stand the thought of being back at Harvard for the Society of Fellows while my battalion was fighting possibly in the Middle East.

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