We get a zillion channels with a cable package that is included with our condominium assessment. Quantity trumps quality, though, and I too often find myself channel surfing with Bruce Springsteen’s “Fifty seven channels and nothin’s on” playing in my head.
There’s good stuff on, I’m sure. I just don’t have the patience to research it in advance. But sometimes, I get lucky.
Last night was a lucky night. I happened onto a documentary called “The Most Dangerous Man in America,” screened in timely fashion as the movie “The Post” is released. “Dangerous” (for shorthand) tells the story of Daniel Ellsberg—a one-time U.S. Marine who went to work in the military/intelligence community, originally supported the Vietnam war, then changed his mind as he learned that our presidents, our military, and pretty much our entire government was lying to us. And that those in power knew years before the war ended that it was unwinnable.
It’s not a jaunty watch, but man, it’s worth the time, especially in these times. We have a president who talks about having bigger buttons, and we have people hoping that Oprah Winfrey will run for president on the merits of a speech to an entertainment awards program audience. (And no, I don’t think that she should run and yes, I think that whether it’s her or Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson talking about running it’s a bad, bad thing that speaks to how low we’ve sunk. We can’t careen from one inexperienced billionaire celebrity to another. But I digress.)
I found “Dangerous” uplifting in a both straight ahead and indirect way. First, it’s about a man—and a lot of other people—who risked everything simply to do the right thing. That kind of idea ages well.
Second, it reminded me how crazy screwed up things were up back then. You’re probably thinking, “Not as screwed up as now.” I had thought the same thing. But hearing the tapes of Richard Nixon suggesting the possibility of using nuclear weapons in Vietnam and browbeating Henry Kissinger to “think big” was absolutely chilling. As are his thoughts about taking out the dike system in North Viet Nam—“How many would that kill, 200,000 maybe?” he wonders aloud.
All this with the full knowledge that he, LBJ, JFK and Ike had told bald faced lies about the reasons for, the conduct of, and the progress (or lack thereof) in fighting the war. I knew this already from following it in real time (I grew up in a pretty political household), but it’s easy to forget. The war was a slow motion bi-partisan crime against humanity.
Oh, and there was also an all out war on the press. Sound familiar?
There’s a whole lot of good history in this thing, and I found it more compelling (though it’s a different animal) than the PBS Vietnam series. There are lots of “Oh yeah, I remember” moments: Like the fact that Ellsberg had to line up a Xerox machine and that it took weeks—months—to copy the thousands of pages to send to various newspapers and legislators.
Yesterday afternoon, my cousin Linda emailed her wishes for a Merry Serbian Orthodox Christmas. And she offered this advice: Calm down, this too will pass.
I hope so. But not without us finding the kind of courage that Ellsberg and company did.