I.F. Stone, Daniel Ellsberg and the Antioch Vietnam Colloquium

by Dave Barber

Daniel Ellsberg and I.F. Stone both lectured at the Antioch College Vietnam Colloquium on April 24, 1965. Exactly a week earlier they were in the same place. According to his autobiography Secrets, on April 17 Ellsberg was on a first date with the woman he would eventually marry, Patricia Marx. It was a peculiar choice for a first date for Ellsberg — at the time he was assistant to John McNaughton, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s closest advisor — an anti-Vietnam war protest on the Washington mall, one of the first of the era, sponsored by the Students For A Democratic Society (SDS) with over 20,000 in attendance.

In Secrets he writes “She said she was going to a demonstration the next day at the Washington Monument and a march around the White House to protest the war. I pointed out that I couldn’t very well take part in that, since I was helping run the war being protested.”

Antioch College student assembly in the 1960s (courtesy of Antiochiana)

Antioch College student assembly in the 1960s (courtesy of Antiochiana)

He went anyway. And at the start of his Antioch lecture he mentions hearing Stone speak at the demonstration. And that he will be talking about some of the issues he heard addressed at the SDS rally the previous weekend. The Antioch event came a month after the publication of Stone’s incendiary reaction to a State Department white paper documenting North Vietnamese atrocities in the South. It was published in his influential newsletter, I.F. Stone’s Weekly.

In an interview with Amy Goodman on the program Democracy Now, D.D. Guttenplan, author of American Radical: The Life and Times of I.F. Stone, discussed the impact of Stone’s analysis:

“He always said you should read a government document from the back, because that’s where they put the stuff they don’t want you to notice. So at the back of the State Department white paper was a report on weapons captured by the US forces in Vietnam. And Stone showed — it was a detailed list — that 95 percent of these weapons were made in the West, that they were either American or British, and that they had obviously been captured by the Vietnamese army that we were arming, so that far from being a Moscow-equipped and backed force, the Viet Cong were an indigenous native opposition to the South Vietnamese government and their weapons came from the army that they were defeating. This exposed the government’s big lie about Vietnam and it gave legitimacy and credibility to the opposition, because it came out of the time when the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) were trying to decide what was the big issue to organize around in the United States. “

In addition to describing the terror created by insurgent North Vietnamese fighters in rural South Vietnam, Ellsberg devotes part of his Antioch lecture referencing the figures Stone pulled from the State Department document. According to the Antioch Record (the student newspaper) Ellsberg was in attendance for Stone’s lecture that evening which was preceded by Zbigniew Brzezinski’s and, like Stone’s, delivered via tele-lecture. Ellsberg also attended discussion groups that day and the next.

I.F. Stone in April, 1972 (photo by Kzitelman via Wikimedia Commons)

I.F. Stone in April, 1972 (photo by Kzitelman via Wikimedia Commons)

Stone had been attacking U.S. policy in Southeast Asia since the 1950s. He publicly disputed President Johnson’s account of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, which sparked the escalation of the war in August 1964 (As would Ellsberg after the Pentagon Papers were released). Stone would continue to irritate the Johnson administration as statements made at protests and teach-ins would begin to mirror actual events.

In his Antioch address Stone stated.

“In 1961 we were told that the war can be handled by counterinsurgency. Two years later, when the guerrillas were more powerful than ever, the White House assured us in October 63 that the war was going so well that 1,000 men would be withdrawn by the end of the year and the war would be under control by 1965. Well now its 1965 and the guerrillas control most of the country. It has reached a very ticklish point. Because if we bomb Hanoi, Haiphong, and the dykes that support the irrigation system of the Red River Valley on which the bread of these people depends, they will have nothing more to lose. At that point the quarter million man North Vietnamese army, one of the best in Asia, will move south and take over the entire country. And at that point we will be faced with a vastly expanded war. “

The legacies of Daniel Ellsberg and I.F. Stone have cast a long shadow. Stone’s 50-year career has been a beacon for left-leaning, independent-minded journalists the world over. Ellsberg went from Harvard-educated cold warrior/analyst and Marine to an icon of the anti-war movement with his role in the leak of the Pentagon Papers. Since the early 1970s he has been a tenacious anti-nuclear activist and an inspiration to succeeding generations of whistleblowers including Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.

For more about I.F. Stone:
official website: http://www.ifstone.org/
Paul Berman’s 2006 New York Times review of the I.F. Stone biography All Government’s Lie: The Life and Times of Journalist I.F. Stone by Myra McPherson

For more about Daniel Ellsberg
official website: http://www.ellsberg.net/
NPR story on Daniel Ellsberg from Weekend Edition which aired in 2013


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