“Is your father a person of faith?” I have been asked that question several times since my father, Daniel Ellsberg, announced in February that he was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. I think of the answer he himself provided many years ago: “No, but I am a person of hope.”
My dad, a former defense analyst, is of course best remembered for copying a 7,000-page top-secret history of the Vietnam War, later known as the Pentagon Papers, and providing it to the press and public in 1971. For this action he was charged with 12 felony counts under the espionage act, facing 115 years in prison. At his arraignment, a reporter asked him, “Are you concerned about going to jail?” He replied, “Wouldn’t you go to jail if it would help end this war?”
My father does not believe in “God.” I put that word in quotes because, as I once told him, “I do not believe in the God you don’t believe in.” We had many conversations or debates about religion over the years. He never could comprehend my conversion to Catholicism—though as he once told me, “Because of my respect for you, I have to think there is more to it than I can understand.” And yet over the many decades of his tireless protests against nuclear war, he was glad to welcome close allies among Catholics and other “people of faith.” And he appreciated my writing about saints and prophets, knowing well how much his own life had been affected by the power of living witness.
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Robert Ellsberg publisher of Orbis Books and the author of many books, most recently, Dearest Sister Wendy … A Surprising Story of Faith and Friendship (with Sister Wendy Beckett).
With thanks to Go, Rebuild My House, a publication of Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, United States.