The Suez Crisis
In the fall of 1956 Ellsberg was stationed with the Marine Corps 6th Fleet on the U.S.S. Chilton in the Mediterranean when the Suez Crisis occurred. The Suez Canal connects the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, providing a valuable shortcut for shipping and transport. Governed by Egypt, it was nationalized in July of 1956 so that every ship passing through would have to pay a tax. This angered the British, French, and Israelis. A collective attack of all three countries was carried out on Egypt. American forces sided with the Egyptians in an attempt to de-escalate the situation. Ellsberg’s ship was sent to Alexandria, Egypt to collect refugees. Recollected in a letter to his wife, Ellsberg watched as British planes carried out bombing campaigns on a nearby airfield, even dropping napalm. Ellsberg’s ship provided safety to hundreds of women and children from Alexandria during the attack. The Egyptians were also supported by Russia, who along with providing arms, threatened to drop their nuclear bombs on Western Europe if the British, French and Israelis did not pull out. To avoid nuclear war and neutralize the situation, the U.S. threatened to impose economic sanctions on the attacking forces and eventually, the British, French and Israelis bowed out. The Suez Crisis could have sparked a nuclear war, much like the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The First Lieutenant
Ellsberg enlisted in the Marines Corps in 1954. Despite having just been awarded entry into the Society of Fellows, he chose to enter the military to test himself and become a “Cold Warrior”. Following his enlistment, he was assigned to the 2nd Marine Division at Camp LeJune in North Carolina as a platoon leader and later a company commander. Despite some earlier challenges in leadership, Ellsberg grew to the rank of First Lieutenant and commanded a rifle company. During his service, he was deployed in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. He was discharged in 1957 and returned to Harvard.