ReThink Interview: Daniel Ellsberg -- the Most Dangerous Man in America Speaks, Part Two

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Here is the second part of my interview with Daniel Ellsberg, the true American hero who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, which later led to Nixon's resignation and the end of the Vietnam War several months after that. Ellsberg is the subject of a new documentary, The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. You can see part one of my interview with him here.)

On Ellsberg's disappointment that so many Americans support torture, that so few in the media and the democratic party have opposed it more forcefully and logically, and why so many people have Machiavelli's most famous quote wrong.

On the dangers of intelligent men (like Obama) being overly influenced by those who Ellsberg calls "smart dumb people."

On why America seems to think it has the right to overthrow regimes, occupy countries, etc., and why it would help if the US were better at listening.

On advice for potential whistleblowers who have privileged information about the war in Afghanistan. As the patron saint of whistlblowers, this is a subject Ellsberg knows probably better than anyone. If you know anyone who works in government/military, I'd strongly suggest that you send this to them. Ellsberg is living proof that one man can truly change the course of history. When you consider the vast number of lives at stake in the Afghan war (or any other war) and how many soldiers are willing to put their lives on the line every day, it puts the possibility of sacrificing one's career in perspective.

After the interview, Ellsberg complimented me on my questions and the research I had done to prepare for the interview. He asked how old I was and was shocked to learn that I was much older than I looked (I get that a lot). "I guess I gave you too much credit," he said. Maybe I should start lying about my age like everyone else does in LA.

As I packed up my gear, I mentioned to Ellsberg that I had recently watched The Battle of Algiers for the first time (see my review here). A film enthusiast himself (The Most Dangerous Man in America mentions that Ellsberg had seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid over seven times), Ellsberg was very familiar with the film and the real-life events it was based on. He told me that the film underplays how the brutal torture of Algerian prisoners by the French made the task of winning their hearts and minds impossible and shared my surprise that the Pentagon thought the movie could provide any lessons other than that occupying foreign countries is exceedingly unwise.

After having a picture taken, Ellsberg and I parted ways. Still buzzing from the interview, I decided to go inside the art center to check out the exhibit. As I looked at the artwork, a man came up to me and asked if I had just interviewed Ellsberg. I told him I had, and he gave me a hearty congratulation on my achievement. He recounted his memories of being a young man during the Vietnam War and how much Ellsberg had meant to himself and his other friends who were against the war. We talked for a few minutes more, and it was amazing to feel how excited this stranger was for me that I had been able to talk to a living legend. "He was so brave. He really changed history. He did so much for this country," he told me.

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