Before there was the war in Iraq, there was the war in Vietnam. Before there was Bradley Manning, there was Daniel Ellsberg. In this week of both Memorial Day and the ongoing, largely negative, public reaction to PBS Frontline's "WikiSecrets: The Private Life of Bradley Manning" episode, we have decided to once again screen this excellent Frontline documentary on another whistleblower in another era. Frontline's "Private Life" episode has been roundly criticized for taking public television journalism down into the gutter of pop-psychology and celebrity expose. Though Ellsberg himself was a civilian, and Manning was a soldier, though the war-making policies they chose to expose by leaking secret documents have widely variant particulars, Ellsberg himself has come out as a staunch defender of Bradley Manning's actions and his human rights, and he has given compelling public testimony about his reasons for doing so.
This documentary gives a deep look into Ellsberg's motivations for his actions and his life in the aftermath, as well as the lies and ineptitude he exposed, the overall context in which his actions took place, and the course of his life, the anti-war movement he became a part of, and the country's media and political landscape in the aftermath of his leaks. It touches on the personal without being exploitative and hyperbolic, and it lays out the political realities of the situation in a much more objective, less propagandistic manner than the Bradley Manning episode has been accused of doing.
Daniel Ellsberg was more than just the person who leaked the Pentagon Papers. He was an insider in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and also spent 1964 and1965 in Viet Nam on the ground, so his outrage at the lies and misguided policies of the US government were based on deep and intimate knowledge of the situation.
This is an outstanding historical lesson as well as the story of one of the real heroes of that time, a man of conscience in a time of deceit and war.