The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers



The Most Dangerous Man in America catapults us to 1971 where we find America in the grip of a familiar scenario: a dirty war based on lies.  And Dr. Daniel Ellsberg, one of the nation’s leading war planners, has the documents to prove it.




The Most Dangerous Man in America catapults us to 1971 where we find America in the grip of a familiar scenario: a dirty war based on lies.  And Dr. Daniel Ellsberg, one of the nation’s leading war planners, has the documents to prove it.  Armed with 7000 pages of Top Secret documents; he leaks the truth about the Vietnam War to The New York Times and risks life in prison to end the war he helped plan.  It is a story that held the world in its grip, with daily headlines, the top story on the nightly news for weeks on end.

What makes a dedicated Cold Warrior throw away his high-level access, his career, his friends, and risk life in prison for a mere CHANCE at helping to end the war?  The Daniel Ellsberg in the first part of the film is a brilliant, complex man wrestling with his conscience over his role in a war he sees first as a problem to be solved, then as a hopeless stalemate, finally as a crime to be stopped at any costs.

Ellsberg’s leak of the top-secret Pentagon Papers to The New York Times sets into motion an extraordinary series of events.  The Nixon Administration first goes after the nation’s press, resulting in a First Amendment battle that, within two weeks, ends up in the Supreme Court.  Ellsberg goes underground to avoid a nationwide FBI manhunt.  When he emerges, he is hailed as a hero, accused of being a traitor, ostracized by friends, and finds himself on trial for his life.


Anthony Carey, Time Off

Directors: Judith Ehrlich, Rick Goldsmith
Starring: Daniel Ellsberg, Patricia Ellsberg, John Dean
Review by Anthony Carew
The Most Dangerous Man In America: Daniel Ellsberg And The Pentagon Papers is an Oscar-nominated documentary that recounts the honourable sedition of its titular protagonist. Ellsberg made public classified documents that, in plain black-and-white, chronicled 20 years of institutionalised lying by the American government in regards to its foreign policy; specifically in the lead-up to the Vietnam War. Ellsberg is lionised herein as a veritable hero, a governmental worker – a veteran of the marines, the Pentagon, and special ops – who made the astonishing decision to “put conscience ahead of career”.

Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith’s documentary never pretends, however, to be a work of unbiased journalism: it’s based on a pair of its subject’s memoirs, and Ellsberg himself serves as the picture’s noble narrator. In contrast to its hero – handsome, well-spoken, a veritable beacon of virtue – the film plumps up a suitably villainous villain: everyone’s favourite runamok “imperial President”, Richard Nixon. Nixon is, as always, an easy stooge.

Here, the way the filmmakers play their hero against the villain comes off as more broadly comic than subtly-manipulative: the smooth voice-overs of the regal Ellsberg contrasting with the red-faced rantings and ravings of a covertly-recorded Nixon, swearing like a sailor and bristling with the kind of hot-headed fury of his satirical Futurama character. In such, there’s a people-pleasin’ quality to The Most Dangerous Man In America – hey, that Academy Award nomination wasn’t for nothing – that seems a little too easy.

With 40 years of hindsight, it’s plain to see the Vietnam debacle with clarity; to, too, make the parallels between American invasions, both covert and overt, that have occurred since in Latin America and the Middle East. To me, even the triumphs of first-amendment crusading chronicled herein feel a little like empty victories. Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers believing that, if the American people knew they’d been duped, fed phoney reasons for continuing a farkakte foreign war, that they’d rise up in a sea of righteous indignation, topple the government, and end this war pronto.

And, yet, mere months after Ellsberg shook the skeletons from the Nixon closet, the American populace re-elected him in a landslide. The parallels between ’72 and ’04 are too obvious to belabour, but, this decade, when history repeated itself, it hardly seemed like a farce; just another tragedy perpetrated by the world’s self-appointed most powerful nation.

Read the review here



At the Movies- Margaret Pomeranz & David Stratton

Margaret    David

Review by Margaret Pomeranz

Now to the Oscar-nominated documentary THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. It was Henry Kissinger who gave Ellsberg that moniker after he leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times in 1971. The Pentagon Papers were a top secret report about the history of the United States’ role in Indo-China, commissioned by Robert MacNamara who was Secretary of Defence under President Johnson in the 1960’s, the time when the war in Vietnam was seeing a frightening escalation. Ellsberg worked as a Pentagon top policy analyst under both Johnson and Nixon, advising on the conduct of the war…

Ellsberg became increasingly interested and involved in the peace movement, which was completely at odds with the work he was doing…

For many of you who didn’t live through those years of the Vietnam War this documentary is damning and revealing. But it’s actually much more than the story of a man caught between loyalty to his job and colleagues and the government of the time and loyalty to his country. When President Nixon tried to suppress the New York Times from continuing to print the papers, the press joined forces against the government, leading to a Supreme Court decision that is significant today and a court case in which Ellsberg was tried and which ultimately led to the impeachment of the President.

Apart from anything else, it’s a very moving document of a period of history in which this country was intimately involved. Impeccably made by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith who’ve made great use of archival material and structured contemporary interviews beautifully, to make sense out of a complex scenario.

Watch the review and Margaret’s interview with director Judith Ehrlich, plus extras here


Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. Chris has won a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards for his reporting.