Every American President in the past forty years has faced, at some point, the media-contrived Watergate moment. Ronald Reagan had Iran-Contragate, George H.W. Bush had Savings and Loangate, Bill Clinton had Whitewatergate, Vince Fostergate, Monicagate. During the Dubya Bush administration John Dean – former White House Counsel to Nixon himself – wrote a book called Worse than Watergate, outlining the criminality of the Bush / Cheney team and calling for their impeachment. Barack Obama, of course, has been simmering in a pot of crazy Watergate stew since his first days in office thanks to the yokel brigade that roundly dismisses evidence-based scientific conclusions (global climate change), but for dark and personal reasons somehow feels that an utter absence of evidence proves that the current President is guilty of all manner of crimes against whitemanity – Fast and Furiousgate, IRSgate, Benghazigate! Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, avoided the worst part of the comparisons to Nixon, as he ran a pretty clean ship and came in the embarrassing wake of the Nixonian train wreck. Though he was once attacked by a bunny rabbit, so there’s that.
But let’s be clear here: Nothing that happened (or was imagined to have happened) before or after the Nixon administration should be considered in the same league with Tricky Dick’s crimes against humanity and the nation he presumed to lead, not even the horribly mismanaged wars of the Bush era. Richard Milhous Nixon, an Olympic-caliber son-of-a-bitch, was uniquely evil and should be remembered as such – which is why, twenty years after his death, the Surly Bartender is writing this column. Nixon’s crimes were not petty, nor at some arguable remove from his office. What he did, specifically, intentionally and cloaked in secrecy, cost the lives of over one million laughing and loving, breathing and toiling human beings. Repulsively, his actions were driven purely by a dark and gathering need to seize and hold power for himself. What Woodward and Bernstein found on him, what was enough to run him from the presidency, only scratched the surface of his warty, beshitted soul.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but the Surly Bartender believes that the body of Richard M. Nixon should be dug up from whatever ground it is currently defiling, dragged up a talus-covered mountainside and thrown from a high place into a pot of boiling oil. Whatever rendered remains remain should then be encased in obsidian and sunk into the broiling mantle of the Earth via the great Atlantic rift.
That might seem harsh, but I believe that within a page and a half, I can convince you, at least, to reevaluate how this man should be remembered by history.
To wit: In late July of this year, your Surly Bartender woke up to a bit of news he’d been hoping to receive for decades. Folks over here on the thinking side of history had long suspected that Richard M. Nixon committed treason during his 1968 campaign to become the President of the United States by intentionally scuttling peace accords concurrently in process by the actual President at the time, Lyndon B. Johnson. Compelling circumstantial evidence had been around for a long time, but with the release of new archives and a new book, the case was nailed shut – to the point that even conservo-fellating megapundit George Will gave up the ghost and admitted the same. The book, Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate by historian Ken Hughes does an excellent job of laying the evidence out end-to-end, and as such, ensnaring the 37th President of the United States in a web of his own deceits. I’ll attempt a summary below.
The initial crime takes place in 1968, one of the uglier years in the second half of the 20th century. January of that year saw the launching of the Tet Offensive and made clear to the American people that the Government of the United States had been lying to them, with the willful participation of the major media, about the progress of America’s war in Southeast Asia. That was followed only a few short months later by the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (April 4) and Bobby Kennedy (June 6). Late summer brought 200,000 Soviet troops into Czechoslovakia, ending the Prague Spring. With that as a backdrop, the scene at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago during August of rampant police brutality on peaceful protesters must have led many in the nation to wonder if the world had finally gone mad. All the while, of course, an average of three hundred U.S. soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines were returning home in caskets each week throughout that trip around the sun.
Yet, while having withdrawn from the presidential race, Lyndon B. Johnson and his chief Vietnam advisor, Henry Kissinger had been working tirelessly to bring both South and North Vietnam to the bargaining table with the hopes of landing a cease-fire from which the parties could springboard to a full peace accord. Even in that darkest of years, there was hope of peace and building a new world.
To Johnson it seemed by late October that peace was at hand. He signaled the United States’ willingness to end the war by ordering a full stop to all bombing in North Vietnam on Halloween. He expected his South Vietnamese allies to join him on the path towards peace in the first week of November. Clearly there was a political motive here, too. The Presidential race between Nixon and Johnson’s Vice President, Hubert Humphrey was to be held on November 5, and a major step towards ending that terrible war might have been enough to put the Democrat over the top. Without it, he didn’t stand a chance.
At least that was the operating theory, until Henry Kissinger – a man who can still, inexplicably, walk down the streets of the United States as a free and wealthy man – secretly reached out to the Nixon campaign in June of 1968 to warn them that a peace treaty was imminent. Kissinger, a man as dark and soulless as a tar pit on a moonless night, saw an advantage for Nixon, and, of course, himself in scuttling the treaty. Again, remember, Kissinger did this while still holding down a day job working with Johnson on creating the peace treaty that he was secretly undermining with the Republican nominee for the job of the American Commander-in-Chief. These two man-shaped beings found an intermediary named Anna Chennault, born Chen Xiangmei, to arrange a secret meeting with the South Vietnamese ambassador Bùi Diễm. She did her part and Nixon, rather then calling in the FBI and having Kissinger hauled off in chains, took the meeting and encouraged Diễm to push his government into backing out of the peace talks late in the game. He promised them a better deal than what was on the table with Johnson, but he could only deliver it if he were to be elected.
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Bùi Diễm bit, as did his government in South Vietnam. An announcement between all three parties to the cease-fire was to be announced, but the South Vietnamese pulled their support at the last minute. With no cease-fire (and the help of an overtly racist third-party candidate taking five states of the old confederacy), the Humphrey campaign staggered toward the finish line and Nixon got his victory.
The war then carried on for another four long years.
Make no mistake, this was treason, punishable by death. Nothing that Obama has done, or been imagined to do — nothing that Bush the Lesser or even Dick Cheney most certainly did — rise to this level of criminality. In this case a private citizen, Nixon, working in concert with a quasi-private citizen, Kissinger, intentionally scuttled a foreign policy action of the United States Government with global impact and almost incalculable human suffering.
This act of treason was reported to President Johnson on November 3, and he was initially of a mind to release the information to the public. Ultimately, however, he was talked down from that position by Clark Clifford, an old lion of the Washington establishment, a hawk on Vietnam, Johnson’s Secretary of Defense, and one of the original architects of the Central Intelligence Agency. His advice to President Johnson was to suck it up, as it would be too dangerous for the republic to elect a man President who would, at the same time, be under suspicion of having committed a crime punishable by hanging.
For better or worse, Johnson kept his mouth shut.
No. Screw that. For worse. Definitely for worse.
Several cancers grew inside Nixon’s brain from that initial act of treason. First, he became obsessed with the notion that someone knew about his plot and any day might be the day he’d head for the gallows. In order to forestall such an end, he organized a special investigations group in 1971 to “plug leaks.” They were known as “the plumbers,” and while they didn’t achieve fame until the Watergate scandal in 1972, their first order came earlier.
In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg released The Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. These papers were a mass of information that had been intentionally kept secret, detailing what the Pentagon actually knew about the war, which, it turned out was vastly different from what was being said publicly. Nixon, according to the new book and backed up by actual recordings of the President at the time, was terrified that his nefarious dealings with Anna Chennault and the scuttling of the peace treaty might come out. He had further convinced himself that a copy of the information was being held at the Brookings Institute, a left-of-center think-tank in Washington, D.C. To address the potentially deadly leak, Nixon assembled “the plumbers,” saying, on tape, about the break-in at Brookings,“I want it implemented on a thievery basis. Goddamn it, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.”
Real class act, that one.
The evidence of his treason did not spill forth in the early 1970s. That took decades and the release of archives and documents. The son-of-a-bitch escaped the gallows while he was alive, and even received a kind of rehabilitation of image toward the end. But the truth outs, and this man was rubbish. My ask of you, readers, is to remind people of the facts if ever you’re having a drink with someone who decides to defend the jerk.
In the end, the treasonous madman did escalate the Vietnam War in an effort to turn the tide in favor of the South and America’s reputation as one of the premier nation destroyers on planet Earth when it’s in a mood. He did order the invasion of Cambodia in 1970. He did resume the carpet bombing of North Vietnam and Laos, leaving his signature on a goodly percentage of the eighty million unexploded cluster bombs on the Plain of Jars. He did continue to gut the American economy by promising both guns and butter, and then turned, overtly, to a racist “southern strategy” for his reelection campaign of 1972 — another persistent political legacy of this leprous amoral stump.
To turn a stomach even more, when all was said and done and a peace accord was finally inked in January of 1973, the deal was a carbon copy of the treaty negotiated by President Johnson in the summer of 1968. The difference lies only in the reaper’s ledger. Between the first scuttled treaty and the one finally signed, over 20,000 U.S. servicemen were killed in action, more than 100,000 were wounded and over 1,000,000 Vietnamese lost their lives. All. For. Want. Of. Power.
I danced a jig in 1994 when this bastard died, and it has been gut-wrenching to watch the media spew ignorance about how, on balance, Nixon was a pretty good leader. Before you listen to anyone blather on about him “opening China to the West,” make them take a trip to Vietnam first. After absorbing all that, suggest a mind-cleansing walk through Arlington National Cemetery. In an era when big-ticket bastards make a mint feeding crazy crackers to the trailer-park set about BENGHAZI!!!!, it makes sense to pause and reflect on what a real sociopath can do with his hands on the levers of power.
I thank you for allowing me ten minutes of your time to scream about something that may seem like ancient history to younger readers and already well-plowed terrain to those grown a bit grey around the temple and yellowed about the liver. I hope, at least, that you’re now feeling some righteous anger towards the wrongest people. In the end, that’s what keeps the Surly Bartender sane.
See you for a drink soon, I hope.