A wordy title that suggests terrorism and patriotism in the same phrase this documentary examines the cause and effect of Daniel Ellsberg and his decision to covertly release what is now known as The Pentagon Papers to newspapers and Congressmen at the height of the Vietnam War. If history is written by the victors Ellsberg’s feat was rewriting said history.
Ellsberg was a high-ranking analyst for the Rand Corporation as well as a close advisor to then Secretary of Defense McNamara. Before his conscious got the best of him Ellsberg helped plan the Vietnam War. At one point he commanded 211 Marine troops in the rice fields he had studied so extensively. Top secret access to documents led a paper trail from the Truman administration (financed the French in Indochina after WWII) to Eisenhower in the 50s (Ike canceled Vietnamese elections called for by the Geneva Accord) and up to the Kennedy and Johnson regimes lying about Vietnam to Congress. In other words, especially in light of current events, politics as usual.
The film features Ellsberg then and now recalling his act. Other talking heads include prominent (and recently deceased) historian Howard Zinn. The addition of select outtakes from the Nixon Whitehouse Tapes (everything in the Oval Office is tape recorded) give the President the pompous sound of a gangland boss. Something about “bombing that shit ass country to the stone age.”
Ellsberg eventually smuggled over 7000 pages of documents, page by page, took them home and photocopied them and then returned the originals. The first installment was published by the New York Times but as the government intervened and suppressed that effort other papers took the lead.
The Most Dangerous Man in America will play well with older crowds who lived through the tumulus time depicted here. But younger crowds will find the story as thrilling as a mystery. The timeline only reveals near the end how the entire event played out, complete with a deciding case in front of the Supreme Court.