An eye-opening reckoning of crimes, misdemeanors and bugging technology 40 years after Richard Nixon’s ignominious departure from the White House.
Brinkley (History/Rice Univ.; Cronkite, 2012, etc.) teams up with Nichter (Texas A&M Univ., Central Texas; Richard M. Nixon: In the Arena, from Valley to Mountaintop, 2014, etc.) to look for the smoking gun in the vast mass of tapes—3,700 hours—Nixon secretly made during his time as president. As they note, the tapes “gave Nixon an accurate record of his meetings and phone calls without the need for someone to sit in and take notes.” Of course, they also gave Nixon something to pore over as well, and they are so abundant that the authors reckon the whole corpus will probably never be completely transcribed. What we have here is damning enough, though not much that the tapes reveal comes as a real surprise: Henry Kissinger reckoned that owing to the weakness of our supposed allies in Indochina (“the South Vietnamese aren’t going anywhere where they’re going to suffer casualties right now”), it was justified to invade theoretically neutral Laos. U.S. ambassador Ellsworth Bunker believed that things were fine in Vietnam “except for this damn drug business.” Nixon, reckoning that by sitting down to negotiate with the Soviet foe he would court a disastrous attack from the right wing of his own Republican Party, fell back on football metaphors: “this is just scoring a damn touchdown, but it’s one that’s going to—maybe, we’ll be able to hold and still win the game in the public opinion field.” The takeaway? Granted that it’s nothing new—see Robert Altman’s film Secret Honor—but Nixon’s constant cynicism is the real hallmark of this anthology of transcriptions, most having to do with foreign policy in a fraught and tumultuous era. His conclusion? Said Nixon in May 1972, on the road to a landmark re-election victory: “The American people are suckers.”
Essential for students of the era and fascinating for those who lived it.