On Daniel Ellsberg
‘The Most Dangerous Man In America’
By Robert Roth
I want to say right now that I have shaken hands with Dan Ellsberg not once, but twice, in great moments of my life 20 years apart, and hope I’ll have a chance to do so again soon. I’ve just seen the film (at the Bijou) and unlike your reviewer (4/22), find it one of the most powerful and moving things I’ve ever seen.
The film focuses on the moral and emotional journey of Dan Ellsberg and his conversion experience; it may be that the prophetic voice with which he seemed almost to learn, before our eyes, to speak is surely among the reasons the impact of the film is so powerful. But the sheer facts are also deeply moving, perhaps especially for one like me who lived through these events and recalls all too well the gut-wrenching trauma of learning, on a path somewhat parallel to Ellsberg’s, that presidents of the U.S. and their suited henchmen were lying through their teeth to defend repression and unconscionable murder on a mass scale in the name of democracy and freedom. (I know, what else is new? But at the time, this was.)
I had found out before the Pentagon Papers were disclosed that Eisenhower had refused to allow elections in Vietnam because Ho Chi Minh would win. I learned only more recently that the Gulf of Tonkin incident that LBJ used to justify his escalation of the war was fabricated. But there is something powerful about the portrayal in film of the manner in which the disclosure of these and other deceits was first made on the national stage. It’s wonderful how the film weaves Ellsberg’s prophetic personal journey together with the related historical developments.
We should all do what we can to secure as wide an audience as possible for this powerful witness to a critically important piece of history, and to make the connection between the events it portrays and the continuing deceptions of our government in the service of wars of aggression. It’s odd in a way to see how the print media of the time lined up to take the risk of disclosing the contents of the Pentagon Papers, while in our own time, the media are more effectively regimented and similar disclosures of official mendacity to justify wars have become a commonplace. The film reports that two million Vietnamese were killed in that war, along with 58,000 Americans. (How many Americans know the first of those two figures?)
People of conscience must continue to resist and to speak out, as Dan Ellsberg did and is still doing, now against mass slaughter of similarly appalling magnitude in AfPak-Iraq. The Most Dangerous Man In America is an inspiration to do so with renewed determination. Thanks so much to all who produced it.
Robert Roth lives in Eugene and is a retired attorney. In his career he “prosecuted lying in commerce for the attorneys general of New York and Oregon.”