Just in case you didn’t already have a deep well of nausea and disgust to draw upon when you hear the name “Richard Nixon” (and if you don’t, then what is wrong with you? Here is your remedial reading!), some recent reviews of historical documents should help you top off your Rage Reserves. It’s long been known that in 1968, fearing that a peace deal might end the Vietnam War and tip the election to Hubert Humphrey, Nixon sabotaged the Paris peace talks by telling the South Vietnamese government that they could get a much better deal if he were President. The South Vietnamese pulled out of the talks, Humphrey lost, and the war went on for years longer, killing thousands more Americans and hundreds of thousands more Vietnamese on both sides. Needless to say, this pales in comparison to BENGHAZI!!!, but some of us history nerds still think it’s kind of a big deal.
Over the weekend, the BBC ran a story about declassified tapes of President Lyndon Johnson, who knew about Nixon’s interference in the peace talks by November 1968. Although he called Nixon’s actions “treason,” LBJ decided not to reveal the sabotage, because of how he knew about it — the FBI had tapped the South Vietnamese ambassador’s phones and LBJ had transcripts of the ambassador’s talks with Nixon’s intermediary, Anna Chenault, and revealing Nixon’s involvement in the scheme would have meant revealing the illegal wiretaps. Oops. Johnson’s administration did pass the information on to the Humphrey campaign, which chose not to use it either, since their polling suggested that they would win. Oops, again. If you’re up for a good historical rage, you can listen to the hour-long report on BBC Radio 4 until March 21.* (There’s also some great weirdness about LBJ’s strange notion that he might literally land Marine One on the roof of the 1968 Democratic Convention and grab the nomination for himself, which happily never went beyond the stage of “insane pipe dream.” We’re going to stick with Nixon here, since nothing gets the big laughs like knowing that a war dragged on endlessly for really no reason at all.)
Another recent article on AlterNet looks at how the fallout from interfering in the Paris peace talks eventually led to — taa-daa! — the Watergate break-in. Turns out that Nixon knew that LBJ knew, and panicked when the file on the 1968 wiretaps couldn’t be found in the White House archives. Newly discovered documents reveal that LBJ had given the file — illegally — to his national security aide Walter Rostow, to keep it out of Nixon’s hands.
Nixon, however, had no idea that Johnson and Rostow had taken the missing file or, indeed, who might possess it. Normally, national security documents are passed from the outgoing President to the incoming President to maintain continuity in government.
So of course, Nixon aides H.R. Haldeman and Henry Kissinger went nuts looking for the file, but were only able to reconstruct a rough idea of what it contained: proof that Nixon had queered the peace talks (there’s just something so noir-ish about this whole thing that we had to use that verb).
The release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 made Nixon even more paranoid — the man had infinite reserves of paranoia — that the truth of his 1968 ratfucking would also come out, and so of course the obvious solution was MORE ratfucking: thinking the file was at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, the president’s men concocted a scheme, apparently never realized, to break into Brookings and steal the file from its safe. The group of burglars assembled by Nixon supporter E. Howard Hunt for that aborted plan eventually went on to break into offices at the Watergate hotel on a more broadly-aimed dirty tricks operation. Oops.
Fucking dominoes. How do they work?
*Worked OK for us on Chrome, not so well with Firefox; your mileage may vary.