At the Movies Interview with Judith Ehrlich

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JUDITH EHRLICH: I don’t think people really understand how Dan Ellsberg – who he was before, who he became. I think at the time I sort of thought he was some kindly college professor or something. I didn’t realise he was such an insider making this – these revelations came from his own involvement; that he was very much a war planner himself and made this tremendous transformation from war planner to war resister to peacemaker.

MARGARET: Research into archival material must have been one of the biggest journeys in this film.

JUDITH EHRLICH: Every night it was on the nightly news, every night on all three networks. It was a huge – it was the biggest story of that period, possibly of that decade, and Richard Nixon in his paranoid state had recorded the nightly news every night from all three networks, which put all that material into the national archives. So we had access to that with fair use, so we didn’t have to pay for that footage. Ordinarily you wouldn’t even be able to buy Walter Cronkite and those very well known anchor people. That material is not for sale, but we were able to use it with some rather new interpretation of fair use in the US. So that opened up a whole possibility for us.

It wasn’t just the New York Times and it wasn’t just the Washington Post who stood up to the injunction – the Supreme Court injunction – but it was 17 other newspapers who really took – risked their institutions to publish the papers. I mean, they were being told by the American government that they were not allowed to do that and they went ahead and did it and really challenged the government and it was the quantity of them, in some way, that really did make it impossible for it to be stopped.

Dan calls the wars we’re in now “Vietnamestan”, the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which you’re feeling in Australia, as well as we’re feeling in the United States. So much of our national resources are going to fight a war that’s basically unwinnable, as the Vietnam War was. We’re on the sides of the wrong people, fighting people who are trying to expel a foreign invader and we’re the foreign invader. It’s a war we shouldn’t be involved in and I feel strongly about that and certainly Dan feels strongly about that and I hope this film – in a way, looking back historically can allow us to look at the present, I think, in a way with fresh eyes and I hope that this film motivates people to rethink the present situation we’re in, as well as understand the history