Daniel Ellsberg and Joshua Oppenheimer Surprise Students and Special Guest

Daniel Ellsberg first visited George School in the spring of 2018.

On Thursday, January 14th a special guest speaker became the subject of an unexpected tribute during Aaron Good’s Intensive Peace Studies of the American Century class. Students had been studying the tragic 1965 massacre of 500,000 to 2,000,000 Indonesians. As part of their studies, the class read excerpts of Peter Dale Scott’s, poem Coming to Jakarta. The acclaimed poet, scholar, and retired Berkeley professor, was scheduled to appear through Zoom, planning to give a reading and answer questions about his long form poem.

“Peter Dale Scott did some of the best early work on the massacre,” said Aaron. “He graciously agreed to speak to my students about Coming to Jakarta. This was just days after his 92nd birthday, so to surprise Peter, I invited his best friend to join us—the renowned Pentagon Papers whistleblower and peace activist, Daniel Ellsberg.”

Hoping to make this event for his students extra special, Aaron had another thought. In addition to reading the poem, students also watched Joshua Oppenheimer’s Oscar-nominated film The Act of Killing, also about the massacre. So, on a whim Aaron decided to extend the invite to Joshua too.

“I thought that the only thing that could make this even better would be if we could get Joshua to visit as well,” Aaron said. “I just randomly DM’ed him on Twitter and, amazingly, he got back to me and agreed to surprise Peter and my students.”

“Josh’s films changed Indonesian history, and here he is on video meeting Peter and telling him, in the most heartfelt way, that his poetry and prose were decisive in compelling him to spend eight years making The Act of Killing and a follow-up called The Look of Silence. Both films were nominated for Best Documentary Oscars,” said Aaron. “And Dan—himself the subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary, also gave a wonderful tribute to Joshua’s films and to Peter’s poetry and prose. Daniel told us that no one has taught him more about politics and history than his best friend Peter. It was honestly one of the most heartening things I’ve ever participated in, and I can’t believe how it all came together.”

“Peter and Dan had obviously known each other and held a deep respect, but Josh was a surprise for everyone,” said Carley Rodgers ’22, one of the students in attendance. “Josh’s appreciation for Peter’s poetry and Peter’s for Josh’s films was very humbling. It occurred to me that these men were not prideful men of great recognition; they were all simply just trying to do the right thing and trying to encourage others to do the same. It was not at all lost on me the novelty of seeing so many brilliant minds in one place. Something that wouldn’t have been possible without Zoom classes. Silver linings, I guess!”

“The event was one of the best things I’ve ever been a part of,” said Aaron.

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