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."
Trailer for the film.
PBS newsmagazine Need To Know co-anchor Jon Meacham interviewed Daniel Ellsberg this past Friday. Ellsberg speaks to how early in the Vietnam war, he had mistakenly equated loyalty to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara with proper loyalty to the Constitution and the American public, and that by releasing the Pentagon papers, he restored his loyalty to the oath he took to preserve and protect the Constitution. He also comments on Bob Woodward's book, Obama's Wars, and says he sees arguments and disputes within the Obama administration which parallel those during escalation of the Vietnam war during the Johnson administration.
As we will have to wait until this evening to see The Most Dangerous Man in America, it will be interesting to see what other parallels which Daniel Ellsberg finds between the Vietnam escalation and the escalation in Afghanistan. Two mistakes made by the U.S. in Vietnam which are being repeated in Afghanistan are 1) counterinsurgency requires that we partner with a host government which is legitimate and viable (otherwise, you're just supporting one group of bad actors over another), but a legitimate, viable government did not exist in South Vietnam and also does not exist in Afghanistan, and 2) U.S. military and political leaders did not understand the political and cultural history of the Vietnamese, nor do they appear to understand that of the ethnic groups in Afghanistan. It will be interesting to see if these topics are developed in tonight's documentary.
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