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James J  Cremin Written by James J Cremin
Feb. 16, 2010 | 11:52 AM

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The Most Dangerous Man in America:  Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

The Most Dangerous Man in America:  Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

John Lennon is probably the most famous peace activist during the Vietnam War.  But it took an inside man who actually had been over there who would not only shed light on the history of the United States’s involvement with Vietnam but upon whose actions actually led to the resignation of a sitting American president.

Four years in the making, this got Ellsberg’s participation as narrator and having the final word after publishing his best seller “Secrets” and subsequent book tour of “Secrets”.  Just like the book, it focuses on his career of being an outstanding Marine and researcher of nuclear energy that led to him being employed by Robert McNamara in 1961, then the Secretary of Defense under President John F. Kennedy.

However, Ellsberg’s story really starts getting interesting when he’s assigned to uncover covert operations of the North Vietnamese against American troops stationed in South Vietnam in 1964.  What had initiated this was the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which in itself later proven to be an American ship misfiring upon another but at the time blamed on the Vietcong.

Ellsberg said he could only find one, a minor one involving two servicemen that became an excuse for the most damaging one sided bombing of one nation towards another the world has ever seen.  In 1965, he went on a fact finding tour in which he dressed in battle fatigues and came back disillusioned as to why the United States was doing there.

He worked in Rand, a military think tank in Santa Monica and because of his position, traveled to Washington, D.C. where he began to make friends and meet his future wife at non violent peace rallies.  He realized he had access to documents that would later be called “The Pentagon Papers” that exposes the lies of presidents going back to Truman of the American involvement after France lost its colonies at Indochina.

However, 1968’s peace candidate would prove he was nothing of the sort and would be Ellsberg’s chief antagonist for most of the documentary, the infamous Richard M. Nixon.

I have seen negative comments about the cheesy animation, admittedly unnecessary because it’s well known that Ellsberg’s main role was to copy the documents and have been exposed to the New York Times to Nixon’s chagrin.  Ellsberg comes across quite heroically in this and even he was surprised that he played no small part in giving Nixon enough rope to hang himself that led to his resignation.

Very chilling is hearing Nixon considering dropping atomic bombs on Vietnam as if all to the other bombs including the infamous Christmas bombing of 1972 wasn’t enough. Henry Kissinger, the Secretary of State, comes across much better, giving words of caution and even heard early on of having a “Peace with Honor” exit strategy with Nixon within the first month Nixon was in office.

Present at the screening at Beverly Hills Music Hall was Ellsberg’s wife, Patricia Marx Ellsberg and film maker Judith Ehrlich.  Scheduled to appear but he passed away recently, Howard Zinn is among the talking heads of this important documentary.  Paralels of what is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan were not mentioned but still very difficult to ignore.

This was echoed repeatedly during the q and a.  Ehrlich did try to repeatedly to get Kissinger as this documentary does show him in a positive light but all attempts were futile.  It is a quote from him that gives the title of this movie.

She was more successful in getting John Dean, Nixon’s counsel who got fired during the Watergate trials and bestselling author of “Blind Ambition”, that gave first hand accounts of Nixon’s involvement of ordering the break in Ellberg’s psychoanalyst’s office. 

Patricia gave a more personal side of her husband.  He’s now seventy-nine and probably has been arrested seventy-nine times as he still attends peace rallies and not pleased with the most current surge in Afghanistan.

If Ellsberg hadn’t done what he done in 1971, it’s really hard to imagine what the seventies would have looked like in the political arena.  There would have been no Watergate.  The Vietnam War would have been prolonged and many more innocent people would have died.  However, Ellsberg sadly notes that it doesn’t look like our government has really learned its lesson.  58,000 American and over 2,000,000 Vietnamese lives were lost during the Vietnam War.  No matter how one looks at it, that remains a very disturbing fact in American history.


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