This weekend shapes up to be uneventful, and that’s a good thing. There’s too much going on, especially here in the land of the free and the home of the brave . We’re going through another national identity crisis. It happens every fifty years or so.
There is a podcast series called “Slow Burn,” a retelling of the story of the Nixon presidency. By design, its creators stuck to the 1972 campaign and its aftermath. They couldn’t stop Candidate Nixon from putting in an appearance. In a foreshadowing of Watergate, Nixon directed H.R. Haldeman, his chief of staff, to disrupt the Paris Peace Talks to forestall US withdrawal from the catastrophic war in Vietnam. Johnson in effect sued for peace, which brought the warring parties to the table.
Historians do not all believe that Nixon personally stopped the peace talks. Certainly, some people close to him believed that he did.
Applying the Brakes
“There’s really no doubt this was a step beyond the normal political jockeying, to interfere in an active peace negotiation given the stakes with all the lives,” said John A. Farrell, who discovered the notes at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library for his forthcoming biography, “Richard Nixon: The Life,” to be published in March by Doubleday. “Potentially, this is worse than anything he did in Watergate.”
The Special Plan
“Jack Farrell is the F. Scott of The Boston Globe,” fellow columnist Maureen Dowd blurbed. I’ll credit him for being a reliable source. His quote refers to a note hand-written by H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff. Nixon said that a ” special intermediary ” should continue to persuade the South Vietnamese to delay the talks until after the election. The suggestion being that Nixon would not sell them out, as Johnson was doing.
While one of Nixon’s men held off the parties from getting to the peace table, Nixon campaigned that he had a plan for ending the war. George Romney, another candidate for the nomination, asked Nixon about the Secret Plan, and the moniker stuck. There was no secret plan. Instead, Nixon escalated a war that was impossible to win, as the mounting evidence of Johnson’s mess showed; nevertheless, for his political advancement. purposely undermining Johnson’s effort to end it.
It’s not hard to see Nixon’s prints all over this caper. No one can say for certain that Nixon’s deceit was the reason for his victory. It was a close race, and it could have made a difference. The Watergate story was a reminder of the 1968 campaign and the pre-Watergate dirty tricks that Nixon’s plumbers carried out on his enemies. Then, I couldn’t help thinking about Sirhan Sirhan, convicted assassin of Robert Kennedy. I’ve made a note to check if any of Nixon’s men were in Los Angeles that horrible night in June when Bobby Kennedy was murdered.
Of course Nixon didn’t achieve victory in Vietnam, quick or otherwise. He expanded the theater of battle, chasing the Viet Cong into neighboring Laos and Cambodia before coming to the same conclusion as Johnson: the war couldn’t be won. Prolonging it would capsize his presidency. Four years after Nixon touted his Secret Plan, in the waning days of the 1972 campaign National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger went before the American public on TV and announced that “peace is at hand.” It took another two years to extract the last American. Not much later, Saigon fell.
The world of 2018 feels like reminds me of the Vietnam War. Candidate Trump, a political neophyte, didn’t understand the risk of aligning himself with Vladimir Putin Maybe he thought that, as Masters of the Universe, he and Volo would’ve been the best of friends. Or maybe the Russians were so deep into Trump that they started spilling out the other end. Either way, in this remake Putin got to be the master, and Trump got to be the puppet state.