On this fifth anniversary of an ongoing American crime against the peace, it is well to remember the 40th anniversary - four days ago, this last Sunday - of an American war crime in a hamlet named My Lai. On March 16, 1968, American soldiers - as brave as any fighting now in Iraq - obeyed blatantly illegal orders to gun down 504 Vietnamese civilians, nearly all women, children and infants.
The war in Iraq is a My Lai writ large: on a scale of a thousand. The best estimate of the number of civilians killed in this war, as of last year, is 1.2 million. Not all of those, by any means, have been killed by Americans. Many have been murdered by Iraqis; but American airpower has killed a very high proportion of those civilians, along with indiscriminate ground fire; and it was an American decision that unleashed this slaughter five years ago. 1.2 million people. That corresponds to a My Lai a day, every day, for six and a half years. That’s longer than this war has yet lasted, but not nearly as long as it will probably last.
The Republican candidate for president has projected an occupation of fifty to a hundred years. That could very well prove to be realistic. Of the two Democratic candidates, neither one has been willing to commit - even to an intention - to have every American soldier out of Iraq by the end of her or his first term: five years from now. That is unacceptable. But that situation will not change unless the American people demand that it change. We must demand that our representatives in Congress - as Representative Barbara Lee and others have proposed in resolutions that have not reached the floor for a vote - cut off the funding for any American presence in Iraq, including enduring bases, except for purpose of withdrawal over a period of months. We must demand that a candidate who wants our support and our votes commit to that same goal.
The people lying in the street here [as I began these remarks, people had begun lying down in a die-in in the middle of the intersection of Market and Montgomery Streets in downtown San Francisco, in front of the office of Senator Diane Feinstein] symbolize both the nearly four thousand American dead and the more than a million Iraqis who have died in the war. But they also express, with our bodies, our lives, that this war is continuing, as it began, without our consent.
By lying here - obstructing for moments or hours business as usual- fifty of us, a hundred, a thousand across the country, do not have the power to end this war. But we are trying to show that we as a people - if we have the will and determination - do have that power: the power to change ourselves and history. We as a people have the power to end this war. And that is what we must do.
Let’s get on with it. [At this point my wife Patricia and I joined more than sixty others stopping traffic by lying in the intersection, awaiting arrest.]
Daniel Ellsberg was put on trial in 1973 for leaking the Pentagon Papers, but the case was dismissed after four months because of government misconduct. He is the author of “Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.“