Richard Nixon’s assistants thought Daniel Ellsberg was crazy. Ellsberg’s fellow soldiers also thought he was crazy when he served in Vietnam. That’s not surprising considering a soldier was frequently threatened with ambushes or booby traps and sniper fire in the dense jungles of Southeast Asia. Those who thought Ellsberg was insane were probably a bit off balance due to the insanity of the war.

Or maybe you saw a psychiatrist because of your divorce. That’s not surprising either, given the upheaval in a young man’s life.

But Nixon, who did not even know Ellsberg, was on board: he is “crazy”, he is “brilliant” and he is “dangerous”, as Steve Sheinkin writes in his book “Most Dangerous, Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War. . “

Sheinkin, with his use of examples like these, touches on the psychological aspect of Ellsberg and how he was perceived by the most powerful people in the world.

But the book also shows how people in power behave when threatened.

To Nixon and his advisers, Ellsberg was a huge threat, the most dangerous man in America, which Nixon said about plumbers, the men who carried out the raid on Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office that started the Watergate scandal, “what those” What the comrades did was not a crime. They should get a medal for chasing Ellsberg. “

Daniel Ellsberg posed a serious threat to the US government: He threatened to delegitimize the ongoing prosecution of the war, because Ellsberg, himself a member of the government who was previously aggressive in the war, was now one of his most staunch opponents.

He had been aggressive enough to engage in a vile technique that used gruesome tales from the battlefield to sway the authorities toward a particular course of action. Readers will be amazed at how this played out under Lyndon Johnson’s presidency. Sheinkin tells Ellsberg that the night he spent gathering the information “was the worst thing I have ever done.”

One wonders if there was someone higher in government than Ellsberg who was capable of reaching a similar self-assessment. If the readers of “Most Dangerous” did not know the history of Vietnam or that Daniel Ellsberg ever existed, they might suspect that they were reading fiction. It is astonishing that top officials consider the success of a war to depend on “death rates”; or that they would consider an option not to report commitments at the US troop level so as not to alarm the public; or that they would consider it responsible behavior to keep secret documents of high government officials, including the president, under penalty of end-of-career punishment, documents that showed that the president and his closest associates had no solution to the war .

The world from which Ellsberg emerged was one in which an individual’s conscience was subordinated to the moral, however distorted, of the state. Running like a thread throughout Sheinkin’s book is the conflict of conscience that takes place among those at the highest levels of government. Men who knew what they supported was immoral lied first to themselves and second to the American people. Sheinkin’s account of Robert MacNamara’s return flight from Vietnam and what he had to say on arrival home illustrates that point.

MacNamara, his colleagues and future administration officials faced a choice: hide behind false reasons to continue the war, or stand up to the American public and acknowledge the futility of war. The stakes were high. The consequences were enormous. On one side was Ellsberg with his personal problems: his divorce, his wartime service and subsequent anti-war convictions and his becoming the face of the anti-war movement in America; On the other side are the men in power: Lyndon Johnson, Robert MacNamara, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and a host of other military and civilians, who were in survival mode, cornered by ever-increasing warfare and the corresponding growth of the nation. anti-war movement. And emanating from secret meetings of hateful and threatening language by those in power, particularly in the Nixon administration, largely directed at Daniel Ellsberg, were his own muddled and murky notions of right and wrong.

“Most Dangerous” is a powerful book for adults and young adults alike interested in the Vietnam War and the key men and women involved in it.

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