Papers on the War

Daniel ELLSBERG   |   William DOUGLAS

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(DOUGLAS, William O.) ELLSBERG, Daniel. Papers on the War. New York: Simon and Schuster, (1972). Octavo, original blue cloth, original dust jacket.

First edition of the signal work that further established Ellsberg "as one of our most refined analysts of that awful war," inscribed by him, "To Justice Douglas, With greatest respect, Dan Ellsberg," published the same year Justice Douglas, a fierce defender of free speech, issued the landmark stay in the trial of Ellsberg and co-defendant Anthony Russo—"the first trial ever to be blocked by a Supreme Court Justice after the jury was sworn in"—an especially important presentation/association copy given Justice Douglas' role in the Supreme Court decision in the Pentagon Papers case, where he noted: "Open debate and discussion of public issues are vital to our National Health."

Ellsberg, a one-time analyst for the Rand Corporation who spent 2 years in Vietnam, "set in motion a chain of events that led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling that government efforts to halt publication of the Pentagon Papers represented a prior restraint in violation of the First Amendment freedom of the press" (First Amendment Encyclopedia). When, on leaving Rand, Ellsberg photocopied his 1967 Report for Rand, known as the Pentagon Papers, he tried to persuade the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to hold hearings. Failing that, he gave it to New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan, and on June 13, 1971 it published the first installment of a projected series. By June 15 when the Justice Department filed to block publication, Ellsberg contacted the Washington Post, which "took its place beside the Times on the frontline against censorship… after a 15-day legal struggle that ended at the Supreme Court, the matter was settled with a 6-to-3 decision against the government. 'The dominant purpose of the First Amendment was to prohibit the widespread practice of governmental suppression of embarrassing information,' wrote Justice William O. Douglas. 'A debate of large proportions goes on in the Nation over our posture in Vietnam. Open debate and discussion of public issues are vital to our National Health'" (Columbia Journalism Review).

This especially memorable copy is inscribed to Justice Douglas, who played yet another key role when, in July 1972, the first trial of Ellsberg and co-defendant Russo was suddenly halted. To Sanford J. Ungar, the Pentagon Papers trial was "a decisive test o the federal government's capacity to control the disclosure of information stamped 'secret'" (Atlantic). After the judge refused to stop the trial over a wiretap, Justice Douglas agreed to grant a stay. It was "the first trial ever to be blocked by a Supreme Court Justice after the jury was sworn in… Justice Douglas' stay froze the proceedings to let the defense petition the Supreme Court to review this ruling by the lower courts" (New York Times). That same year Ellsberg published this first edition of his Papers on the War.

The writings collected here secured "Ellsberg's reputation as one of our most refined analysts of that awful war, just as his deus ex machina role in making the Pentagon Papers available established him as a passionate dissenter. The principal essay, 'The Quagmire Myth and the Stalemate Machine,' published originally in Public Policy (Spring 1971) but now considerably revised and updated, is a trenchant dissection of the executive policy-making process through the Truman-Nixon administrations… Other equally exacting pieces—all written prior to publication of the Pentagon Papers, some also revised—include on-the-scene reports from Vietnam when Ellsberg was a State Department adviser, Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony while a Rand think-tanker, a Washington Post review of Shaplen's Road From War, a 1971 New York Review of Books article on Nixon in Laos, and a thoughtful lecture on 'The Responsibility of Officials in a Criminal War,' delivered at the Boston Community Church less than a month before the Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers" (Kirkus). "First Printing" stated on copyright page. Justice Douglas, always controversial, was "a fierce defender of civil rights, civil liberties and the right of dissent during his 36 years as a U.S. Supreme Court justice" (Washington Post). He was especially vigorous in his support of free speech, noting: "Free speech has occupied an exalted position because of the high service it has given our society. Its protection is essential to the very existence of a democracy… It has been the safeguard of every religious, political, philosophical, economic, and racial group… the one single outstanding tenet that has made our institutions the symbol of freedom and equality" (First Amendment Encyclopedia). Three years after he issued his stay of the 1972 Pentagon Papers trial, Justice Douglas retired following a stroke, and died in 1980.

A fine copy.

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