TEST OF LOYALTY: Daniel Ellsberg and the Rituals of Secret Government by Peter Schrag
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TEST OF LOYALTY: Daniel Ellsberg and the Rituals of Secret Government

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The fallout from Watergate seems to be producing some stark reassessments of the infamous political trials of the Nixon administration. Journalist Schrag comes into his own with this revaluation of Daniel Ellsberg, the ""former rising star of the military-intellectual complex"" and his Pentagon Papers coup. On a personal level Schrag finds Ellsberg's defection from the think-tankers and the crisis of conscience which led up to it a remarkable conversion. He makes a striking comparison between Ellsberg and Erikson's Young Man Luther -- in both cases a personal identity crisis led to the discovery of ""higher loyalties"" precipitating a political and moral shock which rocked the state. Even more significantly, Schrag argues that the trial and the revelations of the Papers which ""suggested chronic manipulation, secrecy and deceit,"" coupled with the activities of Administration ""plumbers"" and wiretaps, bespoke ""some vast hope to establish permanent and unchecked control of the American political system."" The Papers destroyed forever the Vietnam ""quagmire"" thesis; they also unsettled the popular belief that, since Roosevelt, the Executive represented the progressive, enlightened arm of government. Most important, Schrag zeroes in on ""the social function of secrecy: the need not to know"" as it affected Vietnam policy making and the government's normal modus operandi. He notes that internal secrecy was designed as much ""to serve the purposes of intraagency and interagency deception"" as it was to blind Congress and the public: ""They were all as capable of lying to one another as they were of deceiving judges, defendants and the public."" The conclusion is somber indeed. The Watergate perpetrators stand exposed but the bureaucratic ""security"" procedures remain intact and unchallenged in the CIA, FBI and the Pentagon. With only slight exaggeration to make his point, Schrag claims that the correct ""view of the Nixon Administration was not that it represented the spearhead of an American version of fascism, but that it would be regarded with hindsight, as the last attempt to resist it.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1974
Publisher: Simon & Schuster