Monday, May 28, 2012

Film Review: The Most Dangerous Man in America

Charles A. Smith

In the early years of the Vietnam war, Dr. Daniel Ellsberg was a strategist, reporting to top officials of the U.S. Government, including then presidents Johnson and Nixon. Some of the information from his earliest missions was falsified and embellished to justify what eventually led to the first attacks by the U.S. Navy against Vietnam. The young Ellsberg watched helplessly as those he reported the truth to lied to the public, fueling the fires of a war that he advised America could not win. Though he disagreed with his superiors behind closed doors, a battle between patriotism and guilt raged within him, but at the time, he took no further measures to unveil the truth to the American people. Ellsberg did his job like so many before and after him, caught between a sense of duty to his country and his own conscience. That duty encompassed keeping secrets, regardless of how they were misused or distorted to accomplish the goals of less than honorable men who sought the accomplishment of their goals despite the cost to the U.S. and others.

The Most Dangerous Man In America, from filmmakers Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith, is a thoroughly entertaining documentary that is both chilling and powerful. It pinpoints that struggle between right and wrong that rages within each of us, but in Ellsberg's case, the battle within was compounded by carrying the weight and fate of the country on his shoulders, affecting him on a deeply personal and moral level. The film shines the light quite brightly on little known facts that are very difficult to face about the U.S. government. Ellsberg's morality eventually led him to expose the very people he had kept quiet to protect, and many lives were spared because of the great personal risk he took to do so. After more than 2 million Vietnamese and 58,000 American lives were lost, wasted on a war that was fought under false pretenses, Ellsberg dropped a bomb of his own on the U.S. government in 1971, confessing what he knew to be true and causing a ripple effect which reverberated on through Watergate, the impeachment of President Richard Nixon, and the U.S. Supreme Court's decision regarding the First Amendment rights of the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Interesting and enlightening from the first second of the documentary to the last, The Most Dangerous Man In America is a must-see film for all Americans and certainly those who believe that our government is beyond reproach. On this Memorial Day, I honor our veterans, but know now also that many of them died for the wrong reasons. I salute their families, share their pain, and hope as many others do, that one day we can learn to settle our differences like gentlemen instead of warriors -- on the chess board instead of the battlefield. And I'm thankful for those who have the courage to make such films and expose us to the harsh reality that power can be a very dangerous thing in the wrong hands and a beacon of hope in the right ones. This film is superb at pointing this out, and nothing could be added or taken away that could make it better than it is. Job well done!

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