Dorothy Day: The Duty of Delight and Daniel Ellsberg

Dorothy Day: The Duty of Delight and Daniel Ellsberg

There is a connection between Daniel Ellsberg of Watergate fame and Dorothy Day founder of the Catholic Worker. Daniel Ellsberg was famous in 1971 for his role regarding "the Pentagon Papers." Ellsberg was a military analyst employed by the Rand Corporation as a Vietnam expert. During that year Defense Secretary McNamara commissioned the company to analyze information about the Vietnam war. When Ellsberg began reviewing the papers he discovered that, contrary to government statements, the war was not likely ever to be won and continuing it would lead to many times more casualties. The papers revealed high ranking officials cynicism and hypocrisy about the war and the American servicemen dying there.

The material as highly confidential and required an extremely high level security clearance. However, after a lot of soul searching Ellsberg decided he had to make the papers public before more lives were lost in an unwinable war. As a result, Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska published 4,100 pages into the record of a subcommittee which resulted in front page publicity in the media across the country. Ellsberg turned himself into the U.S. Attorney’s office fully expecting to spend his life in prison.

President Nixon’s administration immediately began a campaign to discredit Ellsberg A group known as "Nixon’s Plumbers" (which included G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt) broke into the office of his psychiatrist Lewis Fielding, looking for his file but didn’t find it. Charles Colson was later prosecuted for masterminding the burglary. (Colson was Nixon’s "dirty tricks" expert who had a sign on his office wall: "When you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow") All of the participants were later arrested and charged in federal court and the Watergate Scandal followed. As a result of the burglary, the Watergate scandal and the changing attitude about the war, all charges against Ellsberg were eventually dropped.

The connection to Dorothy Day is that Daniel’s son, Robert Ellsberg has edited the diaries of my favorite American "saint" Dorothy Day. (See Dorothy Day, An American Saint 1/17/07) As a young Harvard student Robert worked for Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker for several years. As noted by Dana Greene, Day_fitch_2 who wrote an excellent review in the National Catholic Reporter, this book was "clearly a labor of love, born of personal gratitude and admiration." She notes Ellsberg transcribed 1000 pages of Dorothy’s "largely undecipherable handwriting" and reduced it to a book of 700 pages. Daniel Ellsberg, driven by conscience to risk lengthy imprisonment, produced a son whose work has allowed us to share the thoughts of one of America’s most holy and unusual women, Dorothy Day, whose cause for canonization has been approved by the Vatican.

Dorothy founded the Catholic Worker in 1933 to feed, cloth and house the poor and homeless. Here is a woman whose life, pre conversion, involved promiscuous conduct, a common law relationship and an abortion and went on to dedicate her life to serving the least important, the poor and homeless. I wasn’t aware, until reading the review of the book, that her only child, Tamnar Hennessy had died in March of 2008 who was the child of her common law relationship with Forster Batterham. Dorothy’s later total devotion to the poor, the homeless and the powerless for the rest of her life is inspiring. Her courage in standing up to Church hierarchy and government officials while maintaining her life of spiritual dedication and obedience is an illustration of how to be holy with courage. Her enduring the public abuse, especially during World War II, as a result of her unwavering stand as an anarchist and pacifist required super human dedication to a matter of personal faith.

Ms. Greene notes:

"Page after page, one experiences how difficult it is to live with others and to endure evictions, threats, fights, humiliations and lack of privacy. But, in the face of these obstacles, the dead are buried, the sick ministered to; money begged for and received; hundreds are fed and clothed."

Given it’s length and the $42 purchase price I plan to wait until later in the Summer when I have more time to purchase the book. But I read whatever I can about Dorothy Day, a really amazing person.

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