A Snowflake


Prof. Dietrich Fischer – TRANSCEND Media Service

Randy Kehler, who later became national coordinator of the Nuclear Freeze movement in the United States, was drafted into the Army in the early 1970s to go fight in Vietnam. Like many others, he refused to serve and was sentenced to prison. But unlike many others, he did more than that.

Before beginning his prison sentence, he toured the United States, speaking out against the war on university campuses, in churches and to peace organizations. He had no idea whether this would make any difference, but his conscience demanded that he try to do whatever he could.

In one of his audiences was Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon analyst and co‑author of the “Pentagon Papers,” the secret history of the Vietnam War. He had become increasingly disillusioned with the way the United States fought the war, and had begun to doubt its justification. But he said that what finally persuaded him to do something was hearing Randy Kehler speak. Here was a young man willing to go to prison for his conviction that the war was immoral.

So Ellsberg secretly made four sets of photocopies of the 7,000 page report, and left them anonymously in boxes in front of the offices of The New York Times, The Washington Post and 17 other major national newspapers. When editors read the reports, they realized that they contain so many accurate facts that they could not have been forgeries by someone outside of the government, and they began to publish them.

President Nixon ordered them to halt publication, but the US Supreme Court ruled that prior restraint violated the first amendment of the US Constitution guaranteeing free speech. When people read that they had been deceived all these years by their own government, and that the United States was not winning the war, they began to oppose it in large numbers. That forced President Nixon to withdraw U.S. troops from Vietnam in 1973, and led to an end of the war in 1975.

At the right moment, one more snowflake can break the branch of a tree. Even if our efforts don’t show any immediate results, whatever we do makes it easier for others who follow to complete our work.


Dietrich Fischer (1941-2015) from Münsingen, Switzerland, got a Licentiate in Mathematics from the University of Bern 1968 and his Ph.D. in Computer Science from New York University 1976. 1986-88 he was a MacArthur Fellow in International Peace and Security at Princeton University. He has taught mathematics, computer science, economics and peace studies at various universities and been a consultant to the United Nations. He was co-founder, with Johan Galtung, of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment in 1993.

Excerpted from Dietrich Fischer’s Stories to Inspire You – TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 21 May 2018.

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