Memorial Day–remembering the Vietnam War–part four

In 1972, Nixon traveled to China and to the Soviet Union, meeting with the leaders of both countries. His popularity grew at home. Meanwhile, a bruising primary campaign resulted in the Democratic nomination of George McGovern for President, probably the weakest candidate the Democrats could have named. Part of North Vietnam’s strategy for victory depended upon American distaste for the war. Anti-war demonstrations in American cities made it appear that the United States government might bow to pressure from the people and withdraw from the conflict. With Nixon’s reelection increasingly probable, North Vietnam dropped that strategy and entered serious negotiations with Kissinger in Paris. As the election neared, Kissinger hinted that peace was at hand. But after the election, the negotiators from North Vietnam backpedaled on some of the concessions they had promised. Nixon renewed bombing attacks and mining on North Vietnam—which he had reduced while the negotiations seemed successful. North Vietnam returned to the bargaining table, and in January 1973 papers were signed that officially ended the war, released American prisoners of war held in North Vietnam, brought all the American troops home, and guaranteed the survival of South Vietnam.

The agreements contained numerous restrictions upon action by North Vietnam against South Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos. Reprisals by American military force against any violation of these restrictions was guaranteed. However, despite Nixon’s overwhelming reelection in November 1972, the American Congress had grown more Democratic, with many newly-elected Democrats in Congress outspoken opponents of the war. Congress passed legislation to limit the ability of a President to wage war. It also voted to allow no funding for additional military action in Indochina. North Vietnam tested the treaty, violating some of its minor terms, and saw no American response. Weakened by the Watergate scandal, Nixon was unable to keep the American promises made in the treaty. After Nixon resigned, Ford was equally unable to enforce the treaty. North Vietnam patiently strengthened its military forces and waited for an opportunity to strike. In the spring of 1975 they struck. Ford again begged Congress for funds to defend South Vietnam, and again Congress denied his request. North Vietnamese troops and equipment poured across the border and seized all of South Vietnam. Many refugees escaped South Vietnam and were resettled in the United States. Many more (600,000) died trying to escape. Still more were imprisoned, tortured, and “reeducated” or killed by the Communists. With help from North Vietnam, communists overthrew the governments of Cambodia and Laos. In Cambodia alone more than two million citizens were killed by their new leaders.

The United States won the Vietnam War. The conditions established in the treaties signed in January 1973 were consistent with the goals that brought our troops into South Vietnam. Refusal to enforce the treaty changed victory into defeat. As Nixon would later say, “We won the war, but we lost the peace.”

More than fifty thousand Americans (58,220) lost their lives fighting in Vietnam. Many more returned home with significant health problems caused by the war. More than $50 billion was spent to contain communism in southeast Asia. The 93rd United States Congress wasted all that loss when they denied funds to enforce the treaty. The Vietnam War is widely seen today as a blot on the pages of American history—a war fought at the wrong time in the wrong place for the wrong reasons. Careful analysis of the facts—particularly Communist treatment of conquered people in South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos—shows that we were fighting what was evil and seeking to preserve what was good. We owe a debt of gratitude to the soldiers who fell in Vietnam. We should remember them this week as heroes, not as failures. J.


Memorial Day–remembering the Vietnam War–part three

President Johnson chose not to run for reelection in 1968. Several candidates entered the race, including former Vice-President Richard Nixon, the eventual winner of the election. Some of the Democratic candidates emphasized that they would pull American troops out of Vietnam as quickly as possible. When a reporter asked Nixon about his plans involving the war, he assured the reporter that he also wanted to bring Americans home from Vietnam. Somehow this statement turned into a rumor that candidate Nixon had a “secret plan” to end the Vietnam War. He never said he had a “secret plan,” only that he wanted to end the war. What he wanted, though, was “peace with honor”—not a surrender to the Communists, but an assurance that South Vietnam would survive as a free country.

There are rumors, believed by some historians, that the Nixon campaign interfered with President Johnson’s attempts to end the Vietnam War in 1968. This rumors center around Anna Chenault, a supporter of Nixon who also knew General Nguyen Van Thieu, who had replaced Diem in the government of South Vietnam. Chenault had some minor contact with members of Nixon’s campaign. She also communicated with Thieu, apparently assuring him that he would get a better deal from President Nixon than from Johnson; that he should refuse any deal to end the war before the end of 1968. The latter may have been the opinion of Chenault, and she may have expressed that opinion to Thieu, but this was by no means a message from the candidate or from any official in his campaign.

At any rate President Johnson did try to influence the American election by manipulating the war. Five days before the election, he declared a halt to American bombing of North Vietnam. Johnson did this unilaterally, without any corresponding concessions from North Vietnam. His tactic may have shifted some votes to Humphrey, but it did not win the election for Humphrey. Nor did it contribute to ending the war.

President Nixon acted on three fronts to try to end the war. First, he established secret negotiations in Paris between American officials—primarily National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger—and North Vietnamese negotiators. For three years the talks remained stalled, as North Vietnam insisted that the United States withdraw all its troops from South Vietnam and also assist in the overthrow of Thieu’s government. Only in the second half of 1972, when it became apparent to the North Vietnamese that Nixon would be reelected, did they offer serious negotiations to end the war.

Second, Nixon embarked on a program he called “Vietnamization.” He announced that American forces would train the army of South Vietnam to defend its own land, adding that the number of Americans fighting in South Vietnam would be steadily reduced. Over the next four years, Nixon kept his promise, bringing home soldiers by the thousands without replacing them with new American troops. By January 1, 1972, the number of Americans fighting in South Vietnam had been reduced by 400,000. Yet the remaining American fighters, assisting the strengthened South Vietnamese army, were able to withstand a strong invasion out of North Vietnam.

Nixon’s third strategy to end the war was to attack the enemy where the enemy was strongest rather than waiting for the enemy to enter South Vietnam. He resumed bombing military targets in North Vietnam. He ordered attacks on North Vietnamese positions in Cambodia and Laos. Political critics of Nixon have claimed that he expanded the war by involving neutral countries, but the North Vietnamese were already present in force in those countries. By attacking those positions, Nixon was able to prevent attacks upon South Vietnam, saving lives and moving toward victory against the enemy. Nixon also authorized planting mines in the waters near Hanoi, North Vietnam’s capital. These mines deterred shipments of military supplies into North Vietnam.

To be continued… J.

Let’s talk about the Golan Heights

“After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability,” President Trump tweeted earlier this week. As with everything else the President has said and done over the past two years, Trump has been greatly criticized for those words. But is he right or wrong in what he tweeted, and how much does it matter?

Golan is mentioned four times in the Bible. It is in the region of Bashan, east of the Jordan River. Under Moses the Israelites captured Bashan, and the land was allotted to the tribe of Manasseh. Golan was designated a city of refuge, where a person guilty of manslaughter (but not of murder) could live in safety according to God’s law.

As the kingdom of Aram (ancient Syria) grew in strength, the Golan Heights became contested territory between Aram and Israel. Even before the development of modern weapons, the Heights had significant strategic military value. Like much of western Asia, the land eventually became part of the Assyrian Empire, then moved through the hands of the Babylonians, the Persians, the Macedonians, the Romans, and the Byzantines. Eventually the land was captured by Muslims, under whom it was ruled first from Baghdad, then from Egypt, and finally from the Ottoman Empire. When the Ottoman Empire fell apart after the First World War, Syria (including Golan) was made a French protectorate, although the British seem to have been more involved than the French in developing the modern state of Syria. The country first declared its independence in 1941, but over the next thirty years several Syrian governments rose and fell before the Assad family rose to power in the 1970s.

After World War II, European governments gradually gave full independence to their Asian protectorates. The British divided the land along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea between Israel and Palestine, basing ownership of each section upon whether the residents were primarily Jewish or Muslim. (They had previously done a similar division of land between India and Pakistan, based on whether the residents were primarily Hindu or Muslim. Neither division has worked well for the residents of those countries.) Almost immediately war broke out between Israel and its neighbors. The result of that war was the end of Palestine as an independent nation: some parts were captured and claimed by Israel, and other parts were assimilated by Jordan. In 1967, almost twenty years later, a second war broke out between Israel and its neighbors. During that war, Israel captured two-thirds of the Golan Heights, recognizing their strategic value. After a third war in 1973, Israel and Syria were persuaded to negotiate their borders in the Golan Heights region and elsewhere. The negotiations, overseen by American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, involved a detailed study of the region. Kissinger spent nearly the entire month of May 1974 working with both governments. He describes the process as “grueling,” adding that “the long shuttle produced an accord that, with all its inherent complexity, fragility, and mistrust, has endured….”

Shortly after he wrote those words, in 1981 Israel announced that it was annexing its occupied portion of the Golan Heights. Syria protested, and the United Nations deemed the annexation null and void, without international legal effect. Until this week, all people speaking for the United States government on this topic have agreed with the United Nations ruling.

The involvement of the United States in the wars of 1967 was largely—but not entirely—conducted with an eye aimed at the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The United States was one of the first nations to recognize Israel in 1948, and the Soviets tried to draw Muslim countries in Asia and north Africa into the Soviet sphere of influence. Syria and Egypt particularly benefited from Soviet military equipment and advisors. When they nearly overwhelmed Israel’s forces in 1973, President Nixon did all he could to resupply Israel. One result of his action was an Arab boycott of petroleum sold to the United States and its allies, followed by a massive increase in the price of petroleum. This threw the United States into an inflationary recession for the rest of the decade. But Israel survived the war, and shortly thereafter Egypt threw out Soviet advisors and welcomed the United States as an ally.

The Iranian revolution of 1978 demonstrated that more is involved in foreign relations than a cold war between two superpowers, as the new government in Iran was equally opposed to both the United States and the Soviet Union. Of course, the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet government in 1991; but terrorist attacks on the United States ten years afterward demonstrated that America still had powerful and determined enemies. In response, President Bush announced a war on terror, one which included attacks upon Afghanistan and Iraq. The primary goals of those attacks were to confront terrorists on their home ground and to eliminate their access to weapons of mass destruction. Another hope was that governments could be established in those countries that would include western values of freedom and democracy. It must be noted that Israel, during all these years, remained the only true democracy in the region; all its neighbors, even allies of the United States, were under dictatorships.

Years later, while the United States was still struggling to build democratic governments in Afghanistan and Iraq, citizens of Tunisia and Egypt took to the streets and effectively overthrew their dictators. In what was being called the Arab Spring, it seemed at first that a wave of freedom was moving through the Muslim world. When the people of Libya rose against their dictator, Khadafi used his armed forces to try to remain in control. In response, the United States intervened with military force to keep Khadafi from killing his own people, and he was overthrown and killed. Assad in Syria seemed to be the next tyrant to topple, but the United States did not help the people of Syria as it had helped the people of Libya. Even when it was demonstrated that the Syrian forces had used chemical weapons against citizens, they received from the United States little more than a frown and a scolding.

What makes Syria different? One difference is that Assad has maintained ties to Russia in spite of the change in government there since the 1970s. Vladimir Putin does not want the Russian people to hear of dictators being overthrown, so he has provided much support and help to Assad’s government in Syria. While the United States under Barack Obama temporized over Syria, pro-American forces were weakened and an Islamic State was declared. Problems also arose in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, as western freedom and democracy did not emerge as expected.

Donald Trump promised that he was going to do things differently. He showed this after the election but before his inauguration when he spoke with the President of the Republic of China (Taiwan). Ever since Mao’s revolution in the 1940s, American leaders and diplomats have joined the rest of the world in maintaining the fiction that China is one country and has only one legitimate government. From Truman to Nixon, the Communist government was treated by the United States as the illegitimate government, but Nixon opened communication with the Communists, and President Carter recognized the Communist government as legitimate. (All American Presidents, including Nixon and Carter, have made it clear to the Communists that a military taking of Taiwan would not be permitted.) President Reagan once spoke of “two Chinas,” but backpedaled from that position. Not speaking to the President of Taiwan was part of that diplomatic fiction which Trump chose to eschew.

Now he has recognized the reality that the Golan Heights belong to Israel and not to Syria, something which has been practically the case since 1981 (and since the occupation of the Heights began during the 1967 war, fifty-two years ago). As he does on many matters, President Trump has openly recognized reality rather than clinging to polite fictions. After all, the United States has no reason to appease Syria; its government is no friend of our government. Describing reality in blunt terms sometimes is the beginning of solving problems between nations. About the only reason to protest Trump’s statement about the Golan Heights is the reflex assumption some people make that, if Trump did it, it must be wrong. J.

Can Trump be defeated?

CNN wants to be known as the child who observes that the emperor has no clothes. Instead, CNN is increasingly acting as the boy who called wolf. Every week we receive shrill warnings about the end of the Trump administration. Investigations will reveal terrible things that happened in the White House over the last two years, or that happened during the presidential campaign in 2016. Those who have left the administration have secrets to share, and those secrets will topple Trump’s government. Congress will Impeach him and convict him, or else he will resign before that happens. President Trump has no future.

So many Democrats believe this that those in Congress are prepared to open new investigations. They are eager to question every former Trump advisor and assistant. Meanwhile, dozens of Democrats are opening campaigns to run for President. Each of them is convinced that he or she is the one who can defeat Donald Trump in a one-on-one election. They are prepared to battle each other for that privilege. They are convinced that, by November 2020, the country will be so tired of Donald Trump that they will accept any replacement.

“Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.” Richard Nixon was very unpopular in the early months of 1971. Many people, even in the White House, assumed that Nixon would be a one-term President. This, of course, was before he visited China and the Soviet Union. More important, it was before George McGovern was nominated by the Democrats. Nixon won the electoral college votes of forty-nine states in one of the most one-sided elections in American history.

Ronald Reagan was unpopular in the early months of 1983. The country was still struggling from inflation and unemployment. Many blamed Reagan’s economic policies for the nation’s woes. But by the summer of 1984, the economy was strong again. This time the Democrats nominated the bland former Vice-President Walter Mondale, and Reagan repeated Nixon’s accomplishment of winning forty-nine states.

Bill Clinton was unpopular in the early months of 1995. The Republicans had just taken control of both houses of Congress. Clinton’s efforts to change the national health care system had been defeated. The White House appeared to be ready for a Republican to move in. But once again, a strong national economy and an uninspiring opponent gave the incumbent President a second term in the White House.

Democrats thought that the narrow election of George W. Bush would make it easy to defeat him four years later. They failed. Republicans thought they could make Barack Obama look like Jimmy Carter and limit him to a single term. They also failed. In the 1970s, due to the turmoil following the Vietnam War and Watergate, voters resisted the reelections of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. But Carter was largely overturned by the popular appeal of Ronald Reagan. The elder George Bush was held to a single term in spite of his popularity in early 1991. That popularity was due to victory in the Persian Gulf conflict, but by the end of 1992, the struggling postwar economy and the centrist policies of Bill Clinton denied President Bush his second term.

If, in the next fifteen months, the Democrats are able to identify a candidate with the personal charm and middle-of-the-road politics of Bill Clinton, they might remove Donald Trump from the White House. But if the voters in the Democratic primaries favor a left-wing candidate, they will lose the general election. If they choose the candidate who promises the most from government, the candidate who offers to tax the rich in order to take care of everyone else, Donald Trump will repeat Richard Nixon’s comeback of 1972. President Trump has positioned himself well to maintain his base. He can say that he has tried harder than any recent President (indeed, than any recent politician) to keep all his campaign promises. When he failed to deliver, it was not his fault. So long as Trump can point to a strong economy, to improved trade agreements with other countries, and to similar successes, he will have the support of enough voters to keep his job.

Congressional investigations and shrill news stories about suspected corruption will not overturn this presidency. Americans are already bored by these stories. We are ready to move on. So long as opposition to the President keeps playing the same tune, fewer and fewer American citizens will join them on the dance floor. History says so. And some people have forgotten to study their history. J.

Respecting Donald Trump

By mid-November of last year, meetings were being held in Washington DC to plan and organize the impeachment of President Donald Trump. This fact is bizarre, given that he had just won the election that month and would not be inaugurated for another two months.

I did not vote for Donald Trump in the Republican primary election. I did not vote for Donald Trump in the general election last November. If the election was held today, I would not vote for Donald Trump. But Donald Trump is my President. He won the election last year, an election held according to the procedures mandated in the Constitution of the United States.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves….Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience” (Romans 13:1-2, 5). The apostle Peter wrote, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right (I Peter 2:13-14). These apostles were not writing about democratically elected leaders or about Christian leaders. They wrote about Caesar and the Roman Senate. If first-century Christians were expected to honor and respect Caesar, then twenty-first century Christians in the United States should be expected to honor and respect President Trump.

During the campaigns before the election, many media outlets worked vigorously to find and to publish every negative fact or rumor about Donald Trump. Since he became President, the same media outlets have worked vigorously to undermine his authority and encourage his impeachment. Every appointment made by the President was publicly questioned and criticized. His speeches and other communications have been studied, searching for flaws. Nearly every action of the President has been described in the media as if it were criminal. The election itself has been treated as doubtful, as rumors persist that Russian forces somehow influenced American voters. From Presidential executive orders to the recent covfefe kerfuffle, Americans have seen our President mocked and verbally abused, not only by late-night comedians, but by trusted news reporters.

Rumors that Donald Trump entered the primaries as a publicity stunt and that he did not expect to be nominated and elected may very well be true. That does not lessen the legitimacy of his office. He was chosen by the voters to be President of the United States. In 2013, I already sensed the mood of the typical American voter. That voter wanted to get the politicians out of government and was ready to support any outsider who had a chance of winning. In the words of candidate Trump, American voters wanted to “drain the swamp.” Voters who generally support the Democratic Party because of its reputation for helping workers and defending the oppressed regularly reject Democratic candidates for the highest office, preferring Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Donald Trump. All three men have been despised by the liberal elite but embraced by American voters. All three Republicans were seen as better able to lead the United States than their Democratic opponents.

Donald Trump is a survivor. He will continue to weather the increasingly shrill accusations of his enemies in and out of politics. The media has weakened its effectiveness as a guard upon government ethics by opposing President Trump at every turn. Like the boy who cried “wolf,” the media will be ignored even if President Trump should do something truly criminal, because our ears have already tired of the voices that declare the President to be wrong in everything he does.

Meanwhile, our nation risks judgment from the Lord for the way we have allowed our leader to be mocked and despised. Other Presidents have been treated badly, but President Trump is the victim of a new low in savagery and deceit. The way we speak of our father and our mother, of our teachers, of our employers, and of our government leaders reveals our attitude toward authority in general, including God’s authority over our lives. While “we must obey God rather than men,” we also must honor and respect those who rule over us as pictures of the ultimate authority Jesus Christ has over us. When we do less, we sin against God and his kingdom. J.

Obsessive and compulsive reading

I am an obsessive and compulsive reader. Notice that I did not use the word “disorder.” There is nothing disordered about my reading. It does not interfere with my life, but in fact it enriches my life. All the same, I use my library in a way many people would find unnatural.

On any given day, I generally read from four or five books. (This does not include my daily Bible reading or any work-related reading.) In college, when I was taking four different classes and reading different kinds of material for each class, I was quite content. Now that I’m no longer in school, I continue my education, reading from an assortment of books that cover history, philosophy, theology, science, and literature. My mean average of books finished in a year is 120. (Yes, I keep track. My range since 2001 has been 91 to 176.)

As I start a book, I check how many pages it contains, and I calculate how many days I will be reading that book. A difficult book might hold me to twenty pages a day, an average book thirty pages a day, and an easy book forty or fifty pages a day. One of my coworkers has a husband who has the same habit. She has commented that she does not understand that habit—she reads to enjoy reading, and counting pages (in her opinion) lessens the enjoyment. Neither of us is able to explain to her why we count the number of pages we read in a day. We just do it.

In 2009 I arranged all my fiction books alphabetically by author and chronologically within the work of each author. I then started with Douglas Adams and began reading each book from beginning to end. Sometimes the jump from one author to the next is jarring—switching from Henry Miller to John Milton was recently quite a jolt. When I am finished with Milton, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind is next. I’m looking forward to that book—I picked it up at a used book sale years ago and still haven’t gotten around to reading it. I’ve seen the movie more than once, and some of my daughters own copies of the book. One of them reads Gone with the Wind every year or so. This will be my first time.

If I like an author, I try to acquire all of his or her books. In my collection I have most of the books written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Vladimir Nabokov, Mark Twain, and Kurt Vonnegut. I also have impressive collections of books by Dave Barry, Soren Kierkegaard, C. S. Lewis, Martin Luther, and Walker Percy. I have a copy of every book written by Richard Nixon, and I have about fifty books about Nixon, his presidency, and Watergate.

I have a shelf of books devoted to poetry and another devoted to drama. I have a shelf of books about King Arthur, ranging from fantasy works to historic investigations into the original Camelot.

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote that he tried meditation, but every benefit promised by meditation, he gained from reading a book. I quite agree. After a stressful day at work, nothing is more relaxing than time to read. I might be obsessive and compulsive about my books, but that’s OK—they keep me sane. J.

A squirrel, a truck, and a scandal

This morning I chased a squirrel away from our birdfeeder three or four times in less than ten minutes. The birdfeeder is outside our kitchen window, roughly twelve to fifteen feet above the ground. Every time I chased the squirrel, he leaped (or leapt) toward a large oak tree several feet away from the house. Of course in leaping he plummeted several feet down before reaching the tree. Each time, though, he managed to cling to the trunk before scampering away in one or another direction, only to return again to the birdfeeder when he thought I wasn’t watching.

Other bloggers might try to make some Life Lesson from this event, something about leaping to safety or clinging to the tree. What ran through my mind this morning was completely different. Each time the squirrel jumped, I saw him follow the same parabolic arc. I learned about that arc in high school math and physics. Every unsupported object near the earth is drawn by gravity toward the earth. The speed of the fall accelerates, so unless the object is falling straight down, its path will be a parabolic arc. I remember the physics teacher explaining that if an archer shot an arrow at a monkey sitting in a tree hundreds of yards away, and if the monkey dropped from the tree at the instant the arrow left the bow, gravity would pull the moving arrow and the dropping monkey at the same rate. If the archer had aimed directly at the monkey, the arrow would reach the monkey, and its path would be a parabolic arc.

It’s unlike me not to try to find some Life Lesson about the leaping squirrel. Usually I’m good at creating analogies from any situation. I remember one event some years ago. Several of us were riding in the bed of a pick-up truck. I noticed how we could see the road behind us, where we had been. We could see other places where we had not been. We could not see where we were going. Life is like that: we observe where we were, and we see what might have been, but we know far less about where we are going.

I was thinking about that analogy as I drove to my counseling appointment. I brought a book with me, because I usually have twenty or thirty minutes to kill in the waiting room before the counselor is ready to see me, and I don’t care much for the television news shows. Around the middle of the session, my counselor remarked, “You look tired? Did you sleep poorly last night?”

I frowned. “Not that I recall.”

“Well, is something bothering you today?”

I thought for a minute. “I can’t think of anything that’s bothering me.”

“Are you angry or irritated about something?”

“No, I’m sure that I’m not.”

“Are you not feeling well today?”

“I’ve had a little minor sinus pain, but nothing serious.”

The counselor then changed the subject, and I didn’t think much about the exchange until I was driving to work after the session. Why would my counselor think I might be troubled or angry? I glanced at the book I had been reading: In the Arena by Richard Nixon. In the pages I read in the waiting room, the former president had discussed Watergate: myths about the scandal that people have written and others have believed, what really had happened so far as Nixon knew, the mistakes he had made, and the double standard he perceived in the way he was treated compared to the treatment given other American politicians.

I can be intensely involved in my reading. I suspect that, without knowing it, I had carried Nixon’s Watergate problems into the session with me. I may be wrong about that, but it’s the best theory I can find.

Other bloggers would try to combine the leaping squirrel, the ride in the pick-up truck, and the Watergate scandal into one neat package. It would be quite a trick, but I’m sure it can be done. I’m sorry to say that I’m not having that kind of day where things knit together into one neat package. Feel free to share if you can combine these anecdotes into one Life Lesson. J.

Remembering the Sixties

It’s all coming back to me now: the Beatles, the space program, Woodstock, Star Trek, Presidents Johnson and Nixon, I Dream of Jeannie, the Vietnam War, the Avengers (John Steed and Emma Peel), MAD magazine, hippies, protests, the Six Day War….

My youngest daughter and I watch television together. Mondays we see I Dream of Jeannie, binge-watching if you can call three episodes a week a binge. Wednesdays we see the original Star Trek, although we have only three episodes left until we have to jump to the feature movies. Weekends this new year we’ve been watching musicals. So about ten days ago we saw “The Way to Eden,” known among Trekkies and Trekkers as the “space hippy” episode. With that episode still in my head, when we chose a musical to watch last night, I suggested we see Hair. She had not seen it before, but she’s old enough to handle it, so that is what we did.

Now I am very much in a Sixties mood. I’m torn between two movies for tonight. To stay with musicals and with Sixties music and dancing and clothing, I’m leaning toward Jesus Christ, Superstar. On the other hand, to continue her education about the 1960s (which is as remote to her life as the Great Depression is to mine), I am thinking of watching Forrest Gump. Either one would be a lot of fun, and I have a few hours left before I have to make up my mind.

Of course there is also the four-hour movie version of the Woodstock music festival. That might have to wait for another weekend, though…. J.


On August 9, 1974, Richard Nixon became the only American President to resign his office. The reasons for his resignation are gathered together in a story that is often called “Watergate,” although the Watergate scandal involves far more than the office building and apartment complex of that name in Washington DC.

The seeds of the Watergate scandal were planted early in the Nixon administration when President Nixon and his advisors decided that the White House staff should include a Special Investigations Unit independent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and other branches of the executive branch of American government that would normally conduct investigations at the order of the President. Nixon felt that he needed an independent unit for two reasons. First, as Vice-President under Dwight David Eisenhower, Nixon witnessed first-hand the fact that government agencies are frequently filled with people hired by previous administrations whose priorities and loyalties remain those of their appointers. Before Eisenhower’s election, the White House had been home to Democratic presidents for twenty years. After Eisenhower, the White House was home to Democratic presidents for another eight years. Many of the workers Nixon inherited in his administration had been hired under Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson. Nixon wanted a team of investigators who would be loyal personally to him and his associates.

Moreover, Nixon intended to ask these investigators to look into matters that were not the business of the FBI or the CIA. He wanted information about his potential opponents in the next election, such as Edward Kennedy and Edmund Muskie. Nixon also wanted to identify which employees in the White House were “leaking,” that is, talking to reporters about government matters that Nixon preferred to keep secret. (These were not necessarily nefarious schemes; they included efforts to bring an end to the Vietnam War and to begin negotiations with the People’s Republic of China.) Because of their assignment to identify leaks, the Special Investigations Unit at times referred to themselves as “Plumbers.”

Four “Plumbers” worked in the White House. They were E. Howard Hunt, a former CIA official and writer of spy novels, recommended by Charles Colson; Egil “Bud” Krogh, a former partner of attorney John Ehrlichman, and then a special advisor to the President; G. Gordon Liddy, a former FBI agent and failed candidate for the U. S. House of Representatives, briefly employed by John Mitchell’s Department of Justice; and David Young, a special assistant to the National Security Council that was headed by Henry Kissinger. The team hired additional investigators, including retired police officers Jack Caulfield and Tony Ulasewicz, as well as several associates of Howard Hunt from the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961.

Among the “leaks” investigated by the “Plumbers” was the revelation of a secret report about the handling of the Vietnam War during the 1960s. Known as the Pentagon Papers, this report was given to various newspapers by Daniel Ellsberg, also an assistant to the National Security Council. Nixon and Kissinger deplored the publication of the Pentagon Papers, not because they revealed any wrongdoing by the Nixon administration (They didn’t.), but because their publication risked revealing sensitive sources aiding the American government, as well as causing doubts in other governments (including China) that Nixon’s White House could keep important secrets hidden. The Plumbers sought and received permission through Ehrlichman to break into the office of LewisFielding, Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, hoping to find information derogatory to Ellsberg. They failed to find Ellsberg’s personal files, and to hide their activities the team hired by the Plumbers damaged the office in such a way that it would appear that the break-in had been the work of criminals seeking prescription medications.

With an election year approaching, Attorney General John Mitchell was named head of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP), and Liddy was transferred to the CRP. His assignment was to investigate the plans of the Democratic Party and their candidate for President, so that Nixon’s campaign would have advance warning of any surprises from their opponents. Nixon stressed to his advisors and to the CRP that intelligence about Democratic plans was essential to his re-election. Liddy, believing that he had carte blanche to pursue such intelligence and to hinder the Democratic effort, presented a complicated and highly illegal scheme to Mitchell and the other directors of the CRP, seeking a budget of one million dollars. Appalled, Mitchell refused Liddy’s request, but Liddy allowed himself to be persuaded that the refusal was due to expense and not to legal objections. His second presentation scaled back the original plan and requested only half a million dollars. Again, Mitchell said no.

By the time of Liddy’s third presentation, Mitchell was already receiving pressure directly from Nixon, asking about the CRP’s intelligence campaign relative to the Democratic Party. Liddy’s proposal, now costing only $250,000 was one of many items on the agenda of a CRP planning meeting and was reluctantly approved. Liddy assembled a team of agents to seek information on the plans of the Democratic Party; these agents included some of the Cubans who had been hired by the Plumbers because of their relationship with Hunt. Liddy also recruited the help of James McCord, a former CIA agent who had been hired by the CRP to seek and remove electronic listening devices from the Republican and CRP offices in Washington DC.

Liddy sent his team, including McCord, in to the Democratic National Office located in the Watergate Complex in Washington DC. Their first foray into the office was largely successful, but some of the listening devices they installed did not work properly. The team was sent in again the night of June 16, 1972, and the five burglars were arrested early in the morning of June 17. They used tape to keep doors from locking behind them after they entered the building, and when a security guard first removed the tape, they replaced it. The five were wearing suits and plastic gloves and were caught with cameras and listening devices. They also had stacks of one hundred dollar bills in their wallets. Through a room key carried by one of the burglars, they were traced to a nearby motel room, where one of the burglars had left his wallet which included Howard Hunt’s office phone number in the White House. McCord was also quickly identified as an employee of the CRP.

By this time, illicit gathering of intelligence about the Democratic Party was unnecessary for Nixon’s victory. No secret plan of the Democrats was going to overwhelm Nixon’s eventual victory, in which he gained majorities in forty-nine of the fifty states. Moreover, as Nixon could have told Liddy and his burglars, no sensitive information was likely to be found in the official National Office of the Democratic Party. The trail of evidence leading from the burglars back to the White House was so blatant that some conspiracy theorists have speculated that the effort was deliberately bungled to embarrass the President. In fact, the errors revealed not a hidden conspiracy but the massive incompetence of Liddy, Hunt, and the men working for them.

Had Nixon disavowed and condemned the burglary and all those involved, the Watergate scandal would have been a minor event in the election campaign, barely worthy of a footnote in history books today. Instead of viewing the event as a moral problem, though, Nixon treated it as a political problem. He tried to diminish or remove any connection between the arrested men and his presidency, while at the same time he wanted to treat those arrested as naïve campaign volunteers who were trying to help the president and the country and who deserved at least some financial support. Given the Cuban connections of most of the men arrested, Nixon suggested that funds be raised from the Cuban-American community to pay for their legal defense and to support their families while they were imprisoned. Because of the CIA connections of Hunt, McCord, and the Cubans, Nixon also suggested that the CIA might inform the FBI that investigation of this crime could uncover legitimate CIA activities that were better kept secret. A recording of the conversation where Nixon proposed this manner of impeding the investigation was released in the summer of 1974, effectively ending Nixon’s efforts to complete his term as President of the United States.

By the end of June 1972, Nixon had returned his attention to national matters and to his own re-election, trusting his staff to handle the matter of the Watergate break-in, investigation, and forthcoming trials. Attorney John Dean represented the President and even attended sessions in which FBI agents interviewed CRP and White House staff. Meanwhile, television and newspaper reporters sought more information about the scandal and its underlying causes and significance. Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of the Washington Post covered the story from the time of the arrest on June 17. Both reporters had sources within the FBI—Woodward’s source being Mark Felt, deputy director of the FBI, although his identity was hidden for years under the code name “Deep Throat.” These sources shared with both reporters every rumor that was mentioned during the investigation, and most of those rumors were printed in the Post. Over the summer and fall, the reporters developed a story of a large secret fund, fed by illegal donations from corporations and used for illegal activities by agents of the campaign. These rumors were generally untrue, but because they were reported in the newspaper, many of them have been repeated in studies and books about Watergate and are still widely believed to be true. Felt even persuaded Woodward that the reporters were being followed and were in personal danger. Bernstein, Woodward, and their editors reacted to the threat Felt described, but no danger to the reporters actually existed.

Nixon was re-elected in November 1972, but the investigation into the Watergate crimes continued. Money was raised for the defendants, which by this time included Hunt and Liddy. Money delivered to Hunt was kept by him and his family, while Hunt told the others that no money had been given. The five burglars, along with Hunt and Liddy, were sentenced at the end of January 1973. Appalled at the length of the sentence and irate that he had received no financial support, burglar James McCord wrote a letter to Judge John Sirica in March 1973, suggesting that many of the parties guilty of complicity in the Watergate scandal were going unpunished. A few days later, John Dean suggested to Nixon that the demands of the defendants (namely Hunt, although Dean seems not to have been aware of Hunt’s duplicity) could be as much as one million dollars. To Dean’s surprise, the President replied that the money could be found.
Meanwhile, L. Patrick Gray—acting director of the FBI since the death of J. Edgar Hoover—had been nominated by Nixon to be the next director of the FBI. Members of Congress questioned him during his nomination hearings about Watergate. Learning that he had allowed John Dean to sit in on interviews, and—worse—that Gray had taken and destroyed evidence relevant to the Watergate scandal, Congress refused to accept the nomination. Concerned by the growing scandal, President Nixon asked John Dean to write a report on the Watergate scandal, including what had been known about the scandal by members of the administration. Dean was concerned that such a report would lay the blame for covering up Watergate crimes upon Dean himself. He therefore began negotiating with Judge Sirica and with the members of Congress, offering to tell them all that he knew about Watergate.
At the end of April 1973, President Nixon called for the resignations of his chief of staff H. R. Haldeman, his special advisor John Ehrlichman, and Attorney General Richard Kleindiest. At the same time, Nixon fired John Dean. In May, the President appointed Archibald Cox as Special Prosecutor to investigate any and all crimes related to the Watergate scandal. Nixon promised the full cooperation of the White House in Cox’s investigation.

Contrary to the President’s hopes, Congress did not stop looking into Watergate after the Special Prosecutor was named. During a routine questioning of Alexander Butterfield, a White House employee, members of Congress learned for the first time that the President had secretly recorded many of his conversations in the White House. This information was widely published, and both Cox and the Congressional committee began demanding that they be allowed to hear the recordings of conversations relating to Watergate. President Nixon said that executive privilege protected his recordings from Congress and even from his own Special Prosecutor. American courts, culminating in the Supreme Court, ruled that executive privileges did not cover materials, including audio recordings, that were evidence in the investigation of a crime.

Nixon and his lawyers offered to provide edited transcripts of the recorded conversations. Many of them were released over the following months, but the effort became a public relations disaster. The words “expletive deleted” were substituted for even the mildest of vulgar language, leaving an impression in the minds of many readers that the President and his advisors cursed and swore frequently. The printed words, separated from facial expressions and vocal inflections, were open to several interpretations, some of which suggested the President’s innocence while others seemed to prove his guilt.

By October Nixon realized that he was trapped in a losing battle. In an effort to regain control of the situation, he decided to fire Archibald Cox as Special Prosecutor. Both Attorney General Elliott Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resigned rather than submit to the presidential order to fire Cox. Public reaction was swift and severely critical. Several resolutions of impeachment were presented in Confess in the following days. Eventually Nixon backed down and appointed a new Special Prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, who picked up the case where Cox had been interrupted and continued to demand more of the President’s recordings.

News of the scandal continued to obsess the nation, as various court cases, Congressional hearings, and the work of the Special Prosecutor continued to appear in the daily news. President Nixon tried to do his job, but more of his time and attention was drawn to the scandal too. (At the same time that he fired Cox, a war was being fought in southwest Asia between Israel and its neighbors.) Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973 due to a scandal not involved with Watergate. Complex negotiations with the Soviet Union and with the People’s Republic of China were weakened because of the President’s political weakness. When the Supreme Court ruled in July 1974 that the President must release his tapes to investigators, and when the conversation from June 1972 was released (which mentioned asking the CIA to impede the FBI’s work), the Nixon presidency was effectively ended. A group of Republican Senators visited the President in the White House and warned him that, in their opinion, he would surely be impeached and convicted. Nixon finally resigned on August 9, 1974. A month later, President Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon for any crimes he might have committed as part of the Watergate scandal. Several dozen of Nixon’s advisors and workers were tried, convicted, and sentenced to time in prison for their role in the scandal.

What caused the Watergate scandal, and was it inevitable? Nixon said more than once that he regretted running the executive branch in such a way that its employees would even consider criminal behavior justified for the service of the President. Also, he said he regretted following his political instincts to deal with the situation rather than seeing its moral side. Watergate definitely would not have happened if Nixon’s aides and advisors had taken more care about who they hired. Liddy, Hunt, and their associates were a disaster waiting to happen. Trusting Gray and Dean was also a mistake; their errors in judgment had the President deep in trouble before he understood what had happened. Nixon might have survived had he not created evidence by recording his conversations. He meant to keep them secret, using them in the future to construct his memoirs. Once their existence was known outside of the White House, the outcome of the scandal was probably unavoidable.

Some historians claim that Watergate was an inevitable result of flaws in Nixon’s personality, or that Watergate was an inevitable result of corruption in government (including both the FBI and the CIA). Richard Nixon was in fact a man of high moral character; if anything, his desire to assist men who had broken the law while thinking they were serving him did more harm to Nixon than any part of the later cover-up. While the Watergate hearings led to new suspicions about abuse of power in the government, prompting additional hearings which revealed such abuses by the FBI and the CIA, they were also exaggerated by the willingness of some politicians and some journalists to believe the worst of Nixon and his men, then to seek evidence to verify their beliefs.

Richard Nixon served his country during a time of massive upheaval, a time of political assassinations, unrest over the Vietnam War, conflict over civil rights, riots in the cities, countercultural movements across the country, growing awareness of the vulnerability of the natural environment, and increasing bitterness between the two major political parties. Much of the population’s unease was focused on its President. What Nixon’s press agent described as “a third-rate burglary” without doubt was too petty an event to merit the overthrow of a government. Yet the President re-elected by one of the largest margins in American history was forced to resign less than two years later. No wonder some people assume that Nixon’s White House had greater evil lurking under the surface, exposed only by a third-rate burglary. No wonder others assume that the Watergate scandal must have been engineered by some sort of conspiracy intended to get Nixon out of the way and seize power over the American government.
The story of Watergate is not a story of grand crimes or grand conspiracies. It is the story of petty men—Hunt, Liddy, and Dean, among others—whose poor judgment led to a scandal and a crisis that spiraled out of anyone’s control. In some ways the resignation of President Nixon was the final act of a catharsis for all the turmoil of the 1960s. In that case, perhaps something like Watergate was bound to happen after all.