Traitors, Liars & Cowards …


Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War, Steve Sheinkin.

How the world has changed! Did people actually trust the government once? Did wars drag on for years simply because leaders didn’t want to be seen as a loser? Did thousands, even millions, die because of bad decisions? Did dysfunctional politics and power grabs create all kinds of bad incentives for members of Congress? Did we really see people who exposed the truth as traitors?

Most Dangerous is less about the person – Daniel Ellsberg here – and more about the overall history of the Vietnam War, the 1960s, and the early 1970s. The emotional wounds of the war and Nixon’s presidency were still too raw for most Midwestern public school history teachers to take on when I was in school, and textbooks only seemed to make it as far as the Korean War.   In any case, I didn’t learn much about the Vietnam War until I worked with refugees in the early 1990s, and most of what I gleaned then was the impact of our foreign policy on those individuals.

Daniel Ellsberg’s personal journey reflects the changes going on in American society as the Vietnam War first escalated and then became wrapped up in the power plays going on in the White House. It’s a little shocking to see how much Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were motivated by the fear of being labeled “the President who lost a war”, so much so that they kept throwing troops and bombs at a situation they didn’t really seem to think they’d win. Steve Sheinkin creates convincing portrayals of other characters involved, too – from newspaper reporters to administration officials and academics.

Most Dangerous is targeted at upper elementary, middle school and teen readers, and for those kids who love learning about history, it’s an unsettling eye-opener. It’ll be just that much harder to get them to trust authority figures after reading this one… but they might also come to think of patriotism in a new and more nuanced way.

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