The Most Dangerous Man in America… Inspired by Gandhi?


This weekend I had the opportunity to see “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers” at the Athens Film Festival.

To me, the most compelling part of the movie was a section dedicated to the encounters that Ellsberg had with various people who believed in the Gandhian principles of nonviolence, and never before did I realize what a significant impact these principles had on who I consider to be one of history’s greatest heroes.

As a 1978 recipient of the Gandhi Peace Award, it’s only natural to acknowledge that Ellsberg participated in acts of Gandhian-esque nonviolence. The defining moments of Ellsberg’s life — those in which he released the Pentagon Papers to the press — were all a series of nonviolent resistance in the form of commission. In purposefully breaking the law by leaking classified government documents, Ellsberg knew exactly what he was doing, and he did so as an intentional way of “protesting” the war, with the hopes of bringing it to an end.

Ellsberg, unlike the majority of Americans, had access to documents that were otherwise Top Secret. In defying his contractual obligations of confidentiality to the government and by using the press as leverage to promote his belief (or his Gandhian “truth”) that the government’s involvement in the Vietnam War was wrong, Ellsberg was exercising coercion. That is, his access to and release of the papers was a show of power that Ellsberg had over the American government.

But on a less technical and more soulful level, Ellsberg discusses in the film how his entire life was changed after discussing with other protesters and activists the possibility of facing jail time as a result of his overwhelming civil disobedience.

There was a point, Ellsberg says, that his life was split in two: the time before he accepted jail as a possibility for his future and the time after. In the film, the 78-year-old Ellsberg gazes appreciatively at the activist who helped him realize that getting over the fear of being forever imprisoned meant that he could successfully continue his mission. Ellsberg’s entire outlook life, he said, forever changed.

It is amazing how someone who only embraced nonviolence strategically instead of philosophically was able to be so deeply impacted and essentially change the course of his life based on Gandhian principles.

Without Gandhi, who knows what Ellsberg may have chosen to do? And without his choices, the history of our nation could have drastically changed.


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