Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Most Dangerous Man in America

This film is also known as The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. Now, I'm not the world's biggest documentary fan (I blame an unfortunate experience watching Noam Chomsky early on in my exposure to this genre) but I have been known to attend documentaries on my own volition. Often this is because I already have an interest in the subject matter. This is not the case for this film - the film festival programme description sounded interesting but I had no prior knowledge of either Daniel Ellsberg or the Pentagon Papers.

As the title suggests, its all about Daniel Ellsberg, who is one of the world's interesting guys and a famous whistleblower as far as the US government is concerned. He went to Harvard in the early 1950s , and then joined the marines. Later he worked for the RAND Corporation, finished a PhD in decision-making theory, worked for the Pentagon (for Robert Macnamara), went to Vietnam in the mid 1960s working for the State Department and then back to the Rand Corporation. He was a contributor to a top-secret United States Department of Defense report called "History of United States' decision-making policy in Vietnam 1945 -1967" which was commissioned by Robert Mcnamara, the then Secretary of Defense, in 1967. This history (all 7000 pages of it) became known as The Pentagon Papers when Ellsberg leaked it to the New York Times in 1971 and the American public found out the extent to which successive American presidents had lied to them about their intentions in Vietnam.

The film chronicles all these events in detail and the fallout following the publication of the papers. There are interviews with Ellsberg and his wife and son. There are interviews with colleagues and journalists. There are excerpts from White House Tapes, there's historic footage and old photos. I learned lots. I boggled at the concept of working 12 hour days six days a week at the Pentagon (no wonder wife number one left) but also at the logistics of photocopying 7000 top-secret pages at night without getting caught. Having grown up thinking of Richard Nixon as a bad guy I was amazed to find out he won forty-nine out of fifty states in the 1972 Presidential election.

I hesitate to say you must go and watch this film, but if it should come to a documentary channel near you it's well worth watching. The US Government has all sorts of skeletons in its closet and this story about the revelation of some of them was really interesting.

Anne's rating 3.5/5

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