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The Daniel Ellsberg interview


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09/26/2017 - Deemed "the most dangerous man in America" by former United States Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger for leaking a top-secret defense study now known as The Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg risked his freedom to reveal government lies that started and escalated the war in Vietnam. Raised in metro Detroit and graduating from Cranbrook Schools in 1948, Ellsberg's later studies led him to work as a consultant on the country's war strategy, including nuclear plans still in use today. His most recent book, set to be released in December 2017, "The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner," promises to release new secrets about the country's nuclear war policy. Ellsberg recently spoke to Downtown reporter Kevin Elliott about the book, as well as his life before and after the release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971.

How did you come to Michigan, to Cranbrook Schools? How did that come about and what were your plans at the time?

I didn't have a lot of plans when I was 12. Actually my mother had very specific plans for me to be a concert pianist, and I had been working on that since I was 5. I had gone to grade school in Highland Park, Michigan, at quite a good public school. I've always regretted what I heard about our country and the decline of its public schools in my lifetime.

My mother arranged for me to go to school only half-days, which was the time that I was about 7 or 8. I took an I.Q. test, I don't know the results of it, but they allowed me to go only in the mornings so I could practice in the afternoons. I spent all of my time, essentially, from basically 5 to 15 when my mother died, and even a couple of years after that, doing nothing but playing the piano, as I recall it.

I had recitals every year. My teacher was an accompanist to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and we had various recitals, but one big one every year that I had to practice for all year. By the time I was 8 or 9, and certainly 10, I was practicing for four hours a day, then I got up to six hours a day. She wanted me to go to a good school, and she heard about Cranbrook somewhere. I took another test for Cranbrook, and was accepted when I was 12, I think, for the 7th grade. I started that year in February in grade school. They started me in the beginning of the year, so I actually went back half a year in the 7th grade at Cranbrook as a full-scholarship student.

My father had been an engineer at Albert Kahn, in the Fisher Building in Detroit. He worked during the year as the chief structural engineer on the Ford Willow Run plant, which built B-24s on an assembly line, hanging from hooks. As a little boy, he took me out to Willow Run when it got into operation, and there were B-24 bodies in a line. Altogether, the line was a mile-and-a-quarter long. It was a very impressive sight, and I was very proud of my father. He went on to be chief structural engineer on the Dodge Chicago plant, which made engines, for I think, for B-29s. When these planes would come off the line, by the way, they would just be lowered to the ground and filled with gas, and fly away. It was an impressive operation Detroit, the arsenal of democracy.

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