In late 1969—with the assistance of his former RAND Corporation colleague Anthony Russo and the staff of Senator Edward Kennedy—Ellsberg secretly made several sets of photocopies of the classified documents to which he had access; these later became known as the Pentagon Papers. They revealed that the government had knowledge, early on, that the war could most likely not be won, and that continuing the war would lead to many times more casualties than was ever admitted publicly. Further, as an editor of the New York Times was to write much later, these documents "demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance".
- Apple, R.W. (June 23, 1996). "Pentagon Papers". New York Times (New York). Retrieved July 2, 2010. "Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress"
Why is this important?
Ellsberg identified that the average citizen has as much responsibility in a democracy as the soldier that defends it if they are prepared to go to jail as a very deliberate choice—because they think it is the right thing to do.
This is relevant to the recent decisions by the Sierra club to participate in civil disobedience.
All charges against Ellsberg were dropped. The courts found the government to be corrupt. Nixon, the president, later resigned.
The average "Joe bag of donuts" would not likely get such dispensation, rather, Bradley Manning of Wikileaks fame is currently held on treason - he'll likely rot in jail.
Choose your battles wisely.
What has Ellsberg have to say about Manning?