Richard Nixon: The traitor

By Charles Taylor



Salon Staff
September 6, 2000 11:36PM (UTC)

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I want to congratulate Charles Taylor for his brilliant, properly scathing denunciation of Richard Nixon in his review of Anthony Summers' new biography of our late, demented president.

Taylor is absolutely right -- forget the story that Nixon may have beaten poor Pat (as if she did not have enough to bear, simply being married to that paranoid, cold-hearted son of a bitch), or even the shocker that he was likely self-medicating with drugs provided by one of America's leading businessmen. (Ah, the genius of the private sector!)

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The really significant story is that Nixon's own defense secretary thought the president was so far gone during his last months in office that he ordered the military to ignore orders from the White House. Now there's a genuinely terrifying thought that should engage our nation in soul-searching discussion.

And as Taylor emphasizes, the most important revelation of the book -- the one that all U.S. history texts should henceforth include -- is the near certainty that Nixon, as a private citizen during the 1968 presidential race, sought to delay and disrupt the Paris peace talks, thereby prolonging the war in Vietnam and leading to the deaths of thousands of American soldiers and millions of Vietnamese.

Again, as Taylor writes -- and it bears repeating -- Nixon committed treason. I might add that Summers' story of Nixon's treachery builds on previous accounts, including veteran reporter Jules Witcover's book "1968: The Year the Dream Died."

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From his earliest days in politics, Nixon embodied America's darkest impulses. It's important to remember just how deplorable and dangerous a man he was.

-- Stephen Talbot

Charles Taylor says one honest thing, or at least implies it: that the key to understanding Richard Nixon is the war in Vietnam. Otherwise he merely compounds and amplifies Summers' comic perversions and distortions, notably regarding the Johnson bombing halt in 1968. A president of the United States, to win an election for his vice president, pressures the leader of a sovereign nation to enter into peace talks that were manifestly not in his people's interests. He announces an unconditional bombing halt just days before the election -- a gesture for which the ruthless aggressors in Hanoi gave nothing -- and Summers and Taylor seriously want people to believe that it was Richard Nixon who was playing politics?

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You want to talk about the blood in which we, the most privileged people in human history, are swimming? In the spring of 1975, the Khmer Rouge began to murder over a million Cambodians. They murdered at least 1,000 men, women and children a day until 1978. Richard Nixon spent his presidency trying to keep these people and their North Vietnamese brethren from power. Although Hanoi and Pol Pot had made abundantly clear what they would do if they won, a generation of elite young Americans took the view that ours was not a worthy commitment. Some even said it would be better if the communists won. At my college in San Diego, some people actually took down the American flag and put up the Khmer Rouge flag at the very time Cambodian refugees arriving a few miles north in Camp Pendleton were telling reporters about the wholesale massacre of Buddhist monks by the new regime. These people with the Khmer Rouge flag are still called "idealists," while Summers says the Cambodian holocaust was Nixon's fault.

It is true that Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, assisted by McNamara and the likes of Daniel Ellsberg, did not effectively prosecute the Vietnam War, because they didn't seem to have much regard for the abilities of the South Vietnamese people. Historians such as Lewis Sorley have established that from 1969-73 Richard Nixon and his battlefield commanders successfully reversed the Americanization of the war that had began with the U.S.-sanctioned coup against Diem in 1963. As a result, South Vietnam might well have survived, while in 1968, it simply could not have. That's a big difference. Of course the political cost to Nixon was enormous. Anyone who fails to see that Congress' anger over Watergate during 1973-74 is rooted in its anger over Nixon's conduct of the war during 1969-72 is being intentionally obtuse. Or maybe he's just an idealist.

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We'll never know for sure if the Paris peace accords would have held, because the antiwar Watergate Congress of 1973-75 intentionally deprived Saigon of bullets. With one heartless and stupid vote after another, they strangled the hopes of a whole people. That's why the destruction and continued desecration of Richard Nixon is so important to the Clinton generation. It keeps us from having ever to think about that nagging might-have-been.

So you can call Nixon a traitor if you want. I can call certain members of Congress accomplices to murder for ensuring that some of the century's worst tyrants would come to power in spite of the promises made to the people of Indochina by three presidents and a half-dozen prior Congresses and in utter contempt of the sacrifices made by nearly 60,000 brave Americans. But we'd just be name-calling, wouldn't we? So let me just say this: The best-kept secret of recent American history is that as a matter of tactics, strategy and sheer morality, Nixon was right about Vietnam and the antiwar movement was wrong. Can Charles Taylor demonstrate otherwise without a single reference to Anna Chennault, Mary McCarthy, Oliver Stone and Helen Gahagan Douglas?

-- John H. Taylor
executive director, Nixon Library

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