The Dharma Bum

Daniel Ellsberg, is famously known as the man who leaked the “Pentagon Papers”. As a young man he had read Kerouac’s novel “The Dharma Bums” in which one of the central characters, Japhy Ryder, is based on the poet and environmentalist Garry Snyder. The book contains a description of a Japanese sand garden and indicates that Japhy will be going to Japan to enter a Zen monastery.

Ellsberg was totally committed to the cold war and served in the Pentagon and later as an analyst for the Rand Corporation. On a visit to Japan he decided to see the garden for himself and afterwards went into a bar where he tried to order a drink but ran into language problems. At this point a monk who was sitting in the bar offered to help him. Ellsberg discovered that the monk was American and they began to talk. To his surprise he found that the monk’s name was Garry Snyder. There conversation continued well into the night since Snyder’s position was very different from that of the hawk Ellsberg.

Back at the Rand corporation Ellsberg had a very high level security clearance which give him access to documents that indicated the US had very little chance of winning the war in Vietnam, that continuing the war would lead to a large number of casualties, and that there was a great deal of cynicism on the part of high ranking officials.

In the end Ellsberg decided to make copies of these papers and leak them to the New York Times. The first excerpts we published on June 13, 1971. On the previous day Ellsberg drove to Gary Snyder’s farm on San Juan Ridge in California. He introduced himself to Snyder, reminded them of the conversation they had held together ten years earlier, and told him that on the following day he would see the final results of that discussion!

When an injunction was placed on the New York Times to prevent further publication of the “Pentagon Papers”, Ellsberg released them to other newspapers. President Nixon asked the “White House Plumbers” to fix further leaks and they broke into the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist as well as tapping Ellsberg’s telephone. Because of this the judge at Ellsberg’s declared a mistrial dismissed all charges against him. And so the end result of that conversation in a bar was the jailing of a number of “Plumbers”, the beginning of impeachment proceedings against Nixon and the president’s resignation.