DVD Movie Review
Directed by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith, Written by Michael Chandler, Lawrence Lerew, Ehrlich and Goldsmith, 92 Minutes, Not Rated
By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti
In 1971, military analyst Daniel Ellsberg released a series of top secret documents on the nature of the war in Vietnam to the New York Times. This subsequently led to a massive controversy and in many ways served as a catalyst for the events that eventually resulted in Richard Nixon's impeachment, and Henry Kissinger would allegedly call Ellsberg the most dangerous man in America because of his actions. "The Most Dangerous Man in America" explores the motives behind his actions, but even more so, it lays on thick the most core belief in studies in social sciences--those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it.
Ellsberg worked as a military analyst for many years, starting his work on Vietnam specifically early into the Johnson administration. At that time, Ellsberg, though against the war as a whole, was responsible for many of the more effective reports on the war. Later in life he'd feel almost single-handedly responsible for perpetuating what he felt was a war of lies, a military campaign based solely in the desire to maintain a status quo, as opposed to defending democracy as many of the politicians and, of course, the presidents of the time maintained.
The documentary very effectively puts forth a variety of different ideas. Ellsberg himself serves as the primary narrator, so we get quite an in-depth look at the Pentagon's inner workings and the basic principles behind war and how it relates to political strategy. In turn, we also get a deeply person look at Ellsberg, and stories involving his relationships, specifically the tragic death of his mother and sister, bring the events of the film and his actions to very simple and personal emotional resonance.
What appears to be the most basic but powerful aspect of the film is how directors Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith take the events of Vietnam and the Johnson and Nixon administrations and parallel them with the current administrations, and they manage to do so without seeming forced. They point out that the main fact is that, because of the nature of war and the American political system, it's nearly impossible for the American public to keep themselves aware of the nature of their country's own conflicts.
Just as Nixon or Secratary of State Robert S. McNamara would look on in dread at the war they involved themselves in then turn around and tell the media everything was going fine, we involve ourselves in conflicts today and political leaders everywhere try to ease the tension by telling us things are working out when we really can't know for sure without all the information. Ellsberg states at one point that people would make decisions without knowing all the facts, then learn the facts and feel foolish to not have known them before, then never again trust those below them on the off-chance that they were operating without all the facts as well. The inherent dishonesty in the system makes it impossible to succeed.
The film is both a lesson of what has passed and a warning at what could very well pass again if the public stays uninformed. In that sense, it also acts as a fine example of the power of the media, despite the public's lack of faith in many news sources these days. It's not always a great film, but it's definitely an important and generally evocative one, and that alone makes it worth viewing.