Parker History Lecture
at THE 27TH ANNUAL DAVIS R. PARKER MEMORIAL HISTORY LECTURE on april 12, Daniel Ellsberg gave a first-person account of the beginning and expansion of the Vietnam war. ellsberg also explained his rationale for releasing a 7,000-page study of u.s. relations in vietnam from 1945-68, later known as the pentagon papers.
"On my first day in the Pentagon as a Defense Department employee, Aug. 4, 1964, a flash cable was delivered from Cmdr. Herrick in the Tonkin Gulf, North Vietnam, which said: 'We are under attack!,'" Ellsberg recounted.
Herrick's subsequent cables called for an investigation of the incident, saying all reports were in question. Nevertheless, three days later, on Aug. 7, Congress approved the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which, according to Ellsberg, allowed the United States to take "all necessary measures" against North Vietnam's "unprovoked attack."
Ellsberg later learned, as part of his work in the Departments of Defense and State, that the government had participated in covert operations against North Vietnam, including firing mortar rounds, mining, and kidnapping, in order to provoke a response. He also learned that the American government had financed the majority of the costs when France was fighting to re-conquer its former colony of Vietnam, which is detailed in the Pentagon Papers.
Ellsberg believed he had become part of a conspiracy that lied the U.S. into a war, and made the decision in 1971 to release the full study to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and The New York Times.
"I showed in this documentary record that four previous presidents - Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson - had lied about what we were doing or going to do in Vietnam, what the costs were going to be, and what the prospects were of any kind of success," he said. "The fact of that cover story is something we live with, and it is worth bringing about, worth our lives, worth our careers, and worth fighting for."
The day after the lecture, Ellsberg met with history students for a master class and addressed the Upper School during an assembly.
"My encounter with the Pentagon Papers as a 22-year-old ex-Marine sergeant and Vietnam War veteran permanently changed the course of my life. To have the opportunity to host and hear the man who had the courage to make those documents public is an honor, a privilege, and a high point of my career here at the Haverford School," said Upper School History and English teacher Dr. Bill Ehrhart.
"With unparalleled sophistication and insight, Dr. Ellsberg interwove history and contemporary events and personal experiences with scholarship," said History Department Chair Hannah Turlish. "Boys told me it was the most impactful talk they have heard at Haverford."
Daniel Ellsberg is a lecturer, writer, and activist on the dangers of the nuclear era, wrongful U.S. interventions, and the urgent need for patriotic whistleblowing.
Ellsberg began his career as a strategic analyst at the RAND Corporation and consultant to the Department of Defense and the White House, specializing in problems of the command and control of nuclear weapons, nuclear war plans, and crisis decision-making. He joined the Defense Department in 1964 as Special Assistant to Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton, working on the escalation of the war in Vietnam. He transferred to the State Department in 1965 to serve two years at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, evaluating pacification in the field.
On return to the RAND Corporation in 1967, Ellsberg worked on the top-secret McNamara study of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam, 1945-68, which later came to be known as the Pentagon Papers. In 1969, he photocopied the 7,000-page study and gave it to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; in 1971 he gave it to The New York Times, The Washington Post, and 17 other newspapers. His trial, on 12 felony counts posing a possible sentence of 115 years, was dismissed in 1973 on grounds of governmental misconduct against him, which led to the convictions of several White House aides and figured in the impeachment proceedings against President Nixon.
Ellsberg’s 1961 article, “Risk, Ambiguity and the Savage Axioms,” is widely considered a landmark in decision theory and behavioral economics. He has authored Papers on the War (1971), Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (2002), and Risk, Ambiguity and Decision (2001).
Ellsberg holds a B.A. and Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University. He studied for a year at King’s College, University of Cambridge, on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, and spent three years in the U.S. Marine Corps.
After Headmaster Davis R. Parker’s death in 1989, his predecessor, Leslie R. Severinghaus, proposed the establishment of an annual lecture dedicated to Mr. Parker’s memory and recognizing his passion for American history.
The initial funding for this endowed lecture series was provided by Dr. Severinghaus and by a bequest directed from Mr. Parker’s estate established by his wife, Jane. The Parker Memorial Fund supports the lecture program and has been sustained by gifts from alumni, faculty, and friends of Mr. Parker.
2016: Joanne B. Freeman, Yale University professor
2015: Frank J. Williams, retired Chief Justice, Rhode Island Supreme Court
2014: Kimberly Dozier, AP Intelligence Writer
2013: Dr. John Nagl, Headmaster
2012: Joe Watkins, TV Political Analyst
2011: Jeff Shaara, Best-selling Author
2010: Ann Compton, White House Correspondent
2009: Paul Kennedy, Yale University professor
2008: Lt. Gen. Julius W. Becton Jr. (Ret.), FEMA Director & President of Prairie View A&M University
2007: Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, 34th Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army
2006: Aaron David Miller, Author & Public Policy Scholar
2005: Christopher Buckley, Author & Editor, Forbes
2003: Donald Miller, Author & Professor of History, Lafayette College
2002: Dr. David Abshire, President of the Center for the Study of the Presidency
2001: Al Hunt ’60, Executive Washington Editor of The Wall Street Journal
2001: Philip Caputo, Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist & Foreign Correspondent
2000: David Halberstam, Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist, Author, & Historian
1999: Dr. James M. McPherson, Princeton University Professor
1998: Michael C. Dorf, Columbia University School of Law Professor
1997: Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust, Annenberg Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania
1996: Dr. William H. Chafe, Professor of History & Dean of Faculty, Duke University
1995: Dr. Alan Brinkley, Professor of History, Columbia University
1994: David Eisenhower, Historian & Author
1993: Dr. Sharon Ullman, Assistant Professor of History, Bryn Mawr College
1992: David Barry Gaspar, Professor of History, Duke University
1991: Gabor Boritt, Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies, Gettysburg College