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“The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers” To Be Screened as Part of Big Read Ephrata
“It pulses with the suspense and momentum of a sleek thriller — a wily caper flick that just happens to revolve around one of the most crucial chapters in recent American history.” – Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post
The Ephrata Public Library will screen “The Most Dangerous Man In America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers” as part of the Big Read Ephrata 2010 on Monday, October 4 at 6 p.m. The screening is free and open to the public.
When in 1971 Daniel Ellsberg leaked a secret Pentagon history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam to the press, the shockwaves it set off may have been due nearly as much to the leaker as to the information leaked. While Americans were painstakingly digesting the documents’ long and byzantine history — which showed the nation’s leaders, both Democratic and Republican, lying about the facts of the war, proclaiming their desire for peace while seeking a wider war, declaring fidelity to democracy while sabotaging elections, and exhibiting a sweeping callousness to the loss of both Vietnamese and American lives — Ellsberg himself dramatically embodied the country’s division over the Vietnam War.
As recounted in “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers,” nominated for a 2010 Academy Award® for Best Documentary Feature, Dr. Daniel Ellsberg was one of the few people who even had full access to the papers, to which he himself had contributed. Far from being an outsider, the Harvard-educated former Marine officer had worked hard, and brilliantly, in the view of his superiors, as a Pentagon analyst justifying expanded U.S. military action in Indochina. After The New York Times became the first newspaper to begin publishing “The Pentagon Papers” on June 13, 1971, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger told his staff that Ellsberg was “the most dangerous man in America who must be stopped at all costs.”
To tell this gripping tale, the filmmakers have assembled a who’s-who of participants in the events surrounding the papers’ publication: Mort Halperin, who supervised the “Vietnam War Study,” as it was originally called, at the Pentagon; Nobel Laureate Thomas Schelling, a fellow analyst at the RAND Corporation, a military think tank; Egil “Bud” Krogh, the Nixon White House aide who directed the “Plumbers Unit” of Watergate infamy; Anthony Russo, another RAND analyst who encouraged Ellsberg’s leak of the study and later faced charges of conspiracy and espionage; John Dean, Nixon’s White House Counsel, who ultimately broke open the Watergate case; The New York Times reporter Hedrick Smith, who wrote some of the first Pentagon Papers stories; the Times’ General Counsel James Goodale, who gave the go-ahead for their publication in the face of more cautious legal views; Leonard Weinglass, Russo’s defense attorney; draft resister Randy Kehler, whose willingness to go to jail to stop the war profoundly affected Ellsberg; Rep. Pete McCloskey (R-CA), who recognized the papers’ importance but didn’t know what to do with them; and Senator Mike Gravel (D-AK), who during a filibuster against the draft finally got the entire 7,000 pages of the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record.
Among the surprises many will find are Nixon’s desire to use nuclear weapons in Vietnam. Another surprise is that even as a civilian analyst, Ellsberg armed himself and went with U.S. soldiers into the field to learn the truth. Most astonishing is just how difficult it was for Ellsberg to get anyone to release the papers once he had leaked them — a difficulty that found him and his wife, Patricia, desperately distributing copies to politicians and news people in the final days before Ellsberg’s arrest. Their hope was that wide distribution would make the papers impossible to ignore and render irrelevant a court injunction against their publication.
“The Most Dangerous Man in America” is a comprehensive look at the release of the Pentagon Papers and the political firestorm that may have sealed Americans’ disenchantment with the war, and which certainly sealed the fate of the Nixon Administration. But the film is also an intensely intimate look into the conscience of a gifted and intelligent man who wrestled personally and professionally with what he came to see as the contradictions between American ideals and American power in Southeast Asia. The story is illuminated with special insight from Ellsberg’s wife of 40 years, Patricia Marx Ellsberg; his son Robert (from a previous marriage), who as a boy helped with the onerous job of photocopying the voluminous papers; historian Howard Zinn, one of a group of radical academics who supported and befriended Ellsberg; and Ghandian peace activist Janaki Tschannerl, who helped Ellsberg work through his transformation from, as newscasts of the day put it, “hawk to dove.”
This screening is a partnership with POV, PBS’ award-winning documentary series. The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest. For more information about The Big Read Ephrata 2010, visit their website at www.thebigreadephrata.org.
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