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March 2017 High School

February 20th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2016-2017 | High School | March

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steven Sheinkin. Roaring Brook Press, 2015

An engrossing look at U.S. government deception of the American public throughout our involvement in Vietnam, and Daniel Ellsberg’s efforts to make that deception—chronicled in the Pentagon Papers—public. Ellsberg, a veteran and Harvard Ph.D., worked at the Pentagon, and later for the State Department in Vietnam, gradually changing his views on U.S. involvement there, especially as he realized how much was being kept from the public. U.S. fears of Communism post World War II, and the refusal of one president after another to “lose” a war, were among the barriers to rational decision-making. But at a new position for a California-based think tank, Ellsberg ended up with access to a single copy of the Pentagon Papers, which he eventually decided to photocopy. No politician would touch what he begged them to make public, so he went to the New York Times. Part political thriller, part American primer, Sheinkin’s account becomes even more riveting as it follows the release of the story in the Times, a court injunction to stop publication of additional stories in that paper, and Ells-berg, hiding from federal authorities, getting additional copies into the hands of one major paper after another. Ellsberg’s patriotism is never in doubt in Sheinkin’s account, but neither is the patriotism of soldiers serving in the war who, like Vietnamese civilians and our military allies there, were also at the mercy of the decisions being made. Detailed source notes round out this masterful account that includes occasional black-and-white photos.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. How are we affected today by the decisions our political leaders make?
  2. Was Daniel Ellsberg right or wrong to release the Pentagon Papers? What role did his experiences in the war affect his eventual decisions?
  3. Who should decide what secrets the government gets to keep? Should all government information eventually become public?
  4. Steve Sheinkin has tells us about history in a much different way than a history textbook. How is it different and how does Sheinkin hold the reader’s interest in such a complicated story?

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