Online Conference: “Truth, Dissent, and the Legacy of Daniel Ellsberg”
April 30—May 1, 2021
UMass Amherst, in collaboration with The GroundTruth Project, will host a free online public conference titled, “Truth, Dissent, and the Legacy of Daniel Ellsberg,” commemorating the 50th anniversary of Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers. This high-profile event brings together distinguished historians, journalists, activists and former policymakers, and it will feature an historic conversation between Ellsberg and whistleblower Edward Snowden, moderated by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!
As a complement to the conference, a new five-part GroundTruth podcast series, “The Whistleblower: Truth, Dissent and the Legacy of Daniel Ellsberg,” will launch April 15.
The conference will explore the major issues that have engaged Ellsberg’s life: the Vietnam War, nuclear weapons, antiwar activism, the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, whistleblowing and the wars of the 21st century. Ellsberg will deliver the keynote and participate in two panel discussions. The more than two dozen speakers include Beatrice Fihn, leader of a Nobel Peace Prize-winning anti-nuclear group; former Nixon White House counsel John Dean; New York Times attorney James Goodale; former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman; former government official and foreign policy expert Morton Halperin; historians Fredrik Logevall, Carolyn Eisenberg and Nho Vinh Long; award-winning journalists Frances FitzGerald, Hedrick Smith, Nick Turse and Craig Whitlock; and many others, including Vietnam veterans, anti-war activists and students.
Ellsberg’s Historical Materials at UMass
The conference is inspired by UMass Amherst’s 2019 acquisition of Ellsberg’s vast collection of personal papers, managed by Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) at the university’s W.E.B. Du Bois Library. The two-day event is the culmination of a year-long course taught by UMass Amherst historian Christian Appy and journalism professor Kathy Roberts Forde in collaboration with Charles Sennott, founder of The GroundTruth Project, and SCUA.
UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said, “UMass Amherst is proud to host this extraordinary gathering of historical figures to celebrate and reflect on the legacy of Daniel Ellsberg. By hosting this conference and managing his exceptional collection of papers, UMass is committed to making the work of Daniel Ellsberg’s life broadly accessible, ensuring it remains in the public sphere, informing our discourse for years to come.”
The conference is a collaboration among the university’s departments of history and journalism; SCUA, UMass Amherst Libraries; the College of Humanities and Fine Arts; and The GroundTruth Project, with support from the Chancellor’s Office.
Ellsberg is most remembered as the Vietnam War “hawk turned dove” who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press in 1971. The 7,000-page top-secret study revealed a long history of government lies about the nature and conduct of U.S. policy in Vietnam. Ellsberg’s whistleblowing set in motion a dramatic set of events: A First Amendment court battle, involving both the New York Times and the Washington Post, that culminated in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision; a wide-ranging FBI effort to uncover Ellsberg’s identity; and the U.S. government’s prosecution of Ellsberg under the Espionage Act.
Ellsberg faced a 115-year prison sentence, but in 1973 the case was dismissed when the Watergate investigations revealed that the Nixon White House had committed crimes against Ellsberg designed to keep him silent and prevent further leaks. Less well known is Ellsberg’s engagement with a host of other issues still relevant today—the nuclear arms race, the rise of the national security state, the Cuban missile crisis, the entire history of the Vietnam War, the proliferation of state secrecy and the impact of individual whistleblowing and collective dissent.
Two years ago, the late Robert Cox, head of the university’s Special Collections & University Archives, helped persuade Ellsberg to make UMass Amherst the repository for his papers. When the massive treasure trove of 500 boxes arrived, historian Appy, journalism professor Forde, and GroundTruth founder Sennott (UMass Amherst Class of 1984) began planning a series of events. They included a year-long seminar for students to research the collection; creation of a website (The Ellsberg Archive Project); contributions to “The Whistleblower: Truth, Dissent & the Legacy of Daniel Ellsberg,” a GroundTruth podcast series in collaboration with GBH; and the two-day conference.