Monday, September 20, 2010

"The Most Dangerous Man in America"

Analyst Daniel Ellsberg shakes LBJ's hand. From "The Most Dangerous Man in America"
"I learned that McNamara's grave doubts about the war continued to deepen... What I learned was that it was an American war from the start... It was a crime from the start. And now a fifth president was doing the same...Murder had to be stopped...Keeping silent in public about what I had read and heard made me an accomplice. It was not only they who had kept all these decisions quiet, hidden from the American public. I had kept them quiet....Having expressed my objections, I stayed in place,observed, took part -- in short, I did the jobs assigned to me. Henry David Thoreau  said "Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence."  What if I were willing to give up my top secret clearance, my career, my privileged access to decision makers?...What if I were willing to risk prosecution?"
-Daniel Ellsberg from  "The Most Dangerous Man in America"

Possibly the most inspiring, dramatic film I have seen this year is "The Most Dangerous Man in America", the story of Daniel Ellsberg, Tony Russo, Mort Halperin, Robert McNamara, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and a host of others involved in the prosecution, dissent and ultimately dissolution of the Vietnam War. The film, available at "Film is Truth" in Bellingham, Wa is a gripping, secretive, emotional tale of the life of Dr. Ellsberg and his wife Patricia and the politics and controversy surrounding the release of "The Pentagon Papers", a 7000 plus page document that describes the United States long time historical involvement in Vietnam dating to back to President Truman.

In each chapter of this film, the main characters of this real life political drama examine their roles, their decisions, and the impact of the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War, Watergate, Freedom of Speech, the rights of the Press, the American Presidency.  The film is laced with shots from Vietnam, LBJ's political speeches, trenchant taped conversations between Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger (including a discussion of the possiblity of using nuclear weapons in Vietnam), and a discussion of the "Whitehouse plumbers" secret attacks on Ellsberg.

Clearly, this film should be seen together with Robert McNamara's biographical mea culpa "The Fog of War" (also available at Film is Truth in Bellingham, Wa). McNamara ordered the Pentagon Paper study shortly before he left for the World Bank.  Apparently, McNamara and his fellow Pentagon officials structured the study to keep it secret from Johnson and Nixon.  After McNamara and LBJ left, Ellsberg stayed on at the Rand Corporation where analyst Tony Russo, representative Pete McCloskey, and Senator Mike Gravel eventually helped Ellsberg, Russo and Ellsberg's wife Patricia publish the study.

Powerful stuff. Relevant right here and now.

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