Daniel Ellsberg and the Vietnam War


1931Ellsberg is born in Chicago. He is raised in Detroit.
1952Ellsberg graduates from Harvard University summa cum laude and receives a fellowship to study economics at Cambridge.
1954Ellsberg voluntarily enters the U.S. Marine Corps and serves as a platoon leader. He then resumes his graduate studies at Harvard, where he earns his Ph.D.
1950Specializing in crisis decision-making and the command and control of nuclear weapons, Ellsberg is hired as a strategic analyst at the RAND Corporation, a California think-tank. While at RAND, Ellsberg consults with the Pentagon under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara during the Kennedy administration. Ellsberg visits South Vietnam with a research team to examine problems with non-nuclear, limited warfare.
August 1964Ellsberg starts working for the Defense Department as assistant to John McNaughton (assistant secretary of defense and a close advisor to McNamara).
August 1964During Ellsberg's first day on the job, President Lyndon Johnson goes on television and alleges that there have been two attacks by North Vietnamese forces on U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. He asks for authority to respond with military force, launching what will be an eight-year bombing campaign against Vietnam. The validity of Johnson's claim is later questioned, and it comes to be considered one of many presidential lies that led to U.S. escalation in Vietnam.
April 17, 1965Ellsberg and Patricia Marx go on their first date, in Washington, D.C., to the first anti-Vietnam War rally organized by Students for a Democratic Society.
1965-1967Ellsberg serves in Vietnam as a civilian on special assignment for the U.S. Department of State, studying counter-insurgency.
June 1967McNamara assembles a team of analysts (many of whom previously worked for RAND, including Ellsberg), headed by Leslie Gelb and Morton Halperin to draft a full history of U.S. political involvement in Vietnam. The report is titled "History of U.S. Decision-making in Vietnam, 1945-68" and is finished in late 1968. By then, McNamara has resigned as secretary of defense and the study is never officially distributed or acted upon.
March 31, 1968On national television, President Johnson announces a halt of the bombing of North Vietnam and then shocks the nation when he continues, "I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president."
December 1968Ellsberg first meets with Henry Kissinger, national security advisor to president-elect Richard Nixon, to advise him on options in the U.S. military action in Vietnam. Kissinger and Ellsberg will continue to have a relationship during the first two years of Nixon's presidency.
September 1969Ellsberg meets draft resister and antiwar activist Randy Kehler, whose willingness to go to prison based on his opposition to the war makes a great impact on Ellsberg. Shortly thereafter, Ellsberg finishes reading a copy of the entire McNamara study, which reveals a pattern of escalation of the war, even in the face of evidence that the war is unwinnable. The study also reveals lies told to the public about U.S. military actions. Ellsberg is inspired to take action against what he now sees as "a wrongful war."
October 1969Ellsberg begins photocopying the Pentagon Papers. Over the next 20 months, he gives copies of the papers to members of Congress, including antiwar Senators William Fulbright and George McGovern and Congressman Pete McCloskey. None of these members of Congress make the papers public during this time.
August 1970Daniel Ellsberg and Patricia Marx are married; Marx changes her name to Ellsberg.
March 1971Ellsberg meets with reporter Neil Sheehan of The New York Times and shows him the top-secret McNamara study. Sheehan, reporter Hedrick Smith and a handful of other New York Times reporters and editors begin working on a massive story based on the Pentagon Papers, while lawyers at The New York Times debate whether they can, and should, publish top-secret government documents.
June 13, 1971The New York Times publishes its first stories on the top-secret report, which soon becomes known as the Pentagon Papers. The stories include excerpts and documents from the study itself.
June 15, 1971Invoking "prior restraint," the government obtains from the court a temporary injunction to stop The New York Times from publishing any more material from the Pentagon Papers.
June 17, 1971Daniel and Patricia Ellsberg go underground after Daniel Ellsberg is identified by reporter Sidney Zion as the probable source for the Pentagon Papers.
June 18, 1971The Washington Post publishes excerpts of the Pentagon Papers but is immediately enjoined from publishing additional excerpts. Eventually, 17 other papers will publish portions of the report.
June 28, 1971Ellsberg surrenders to face criminal charges under the Espionage Act.
June 29, 1971Alaska Senator Mike Gravel convenes a hearing of the Subcommittee on Public Buildings and Grounds in the middle of the night (and only he attends). He reads the Pentagon Papers aloud for three hours, officially entering them into the Senate record.
June 30, 1971The U.S. Supreme Court overturns all the injunctions against publishing the Pentagon Papers with a decision in The New York Times Co. v. United States, a victory for newspapers.
July 1971President Nixon appoints Egil "Bud" Krogh, Jr. and Kissinger aide David Young, Jr. to head a special investigations unit (nicknamed "the plumbers") to obtain evidence to discredit Ellsberg, who Henry Kissinger has deemed "the most dangerous man in America" who "has to be stopped." Krogh and Young hire G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, who hatch a plan to burglarize the offices of Ellsberg's one-time psychiatrist in Los Angeles. They carry out the plan in September 1971.
December 1971A second indictment is issued against Anthony Russo and Ellsberg, naming them co-conspirators on 15 counts. Maximum penalty for Ellsberg is 115 years in prison, and for Russo, 35 years in prison.
July 17, 1972Five men, including Liddy and Hunt, are arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Committee office in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C.
November 1972President Nixon is re-elected in a landslide, winning 49 of 50 states.
January 1973The United States v. Anthony Joseph Russo and Daniel Ellsberg trial begins in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, hearings and trials associated with the Watergate break-in begin in Washington, D.C.
January 27, 1973The United States and North Vietnam sign the Paris Peace Accords, which lay out U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam.
January 30, 1973Liddy and Hunt are convicted of the Watergate break-in.
March 29, 1973The last U.S. troops leave Vietnam.
April 5-7, 1973Top Nixon aide John Ehrlichman secretly meets twice with Judge Matthew Byrne, who is presiding over the Russo/Ellsberg trial, and offers him a job as the new director of the F.B.I.
April 15-18, 1973Ellsberg testifies in his own defense.
April 26, 1973Byrne is informed (via the Watergate trials in Washington, D.C.) that Hunt and Liddy, under orders from the White House, burglarized the office of Lewis Fielding, Ellsberg's psychiatrist, in September 1971. Byrne reveals this shocking news in court the following day.
April 30, 1973After being confronted by Ellsberg's defense lawyers, Byrne admits to meeting with Ehrlichman earlier in the month.
April 30, 1973Top Nixon aides Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman resign due to their involvement in the Watergate break-in and cover-up. Nixon dismisses White House counsel John Dean, who has revealed to Watergate prosecutors information incriminating to the White House.
May 10, 1973It is revealed in court that in 1969 the F.B.I. secretly wire-tapped and taped phone conversations between Ellsberg and then Kissinger aide Morton Halperin, who had earlier supervised the study that became the Pentagon Papers. The government claims that all records of the wiretapping have been lost.
May 10, 1973The House of Representatives, for the first time, votes to cut off all funding for U.S. combat operations in Indochina.
May 11, 1973Byrne grants a mistrial due to what he deems to be serious government misconduct. All charges against Ellsberg and Russo are dropped.
August 15, 1973All U.S. bombing in Indochina ceases.
July 1974The House Judiciary Committee passes articles of impeachment against Nixon; the Supreme Court orders the release of White House tapes that implicate Nixon in the Watergate scandal.
August 8, 1974Facing probable impeachment, Nixon addresses the nation on television and announces that he will resign from his office "effective noon tomorrow."
April 29, 1975The last Americans are evacuated by helicopter from the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. Within hours, the Saigon government surrenders to the National Liberation Front (also known as the Viet Cong), an event known as both "the liberation of Saigon" and "the fall of Saigon."

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