A new biography of Richard Nixon is making media headlines for the wrong reasons. The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon by veteran biographer Anthony Summers makes the claim that Nixon beat his wife in 1962 and that in 1974 he was so looped from self-prescribing the mood-altering prescription drug Dilantin that his Secretary of Defense, James R. Schlesinger, had to tell military commanders to confirm all orders emanating from the White House with the Pentagon or the State Department.
The sources for the Dilantin include Schlesinger himself, as well as Jack Dreyfus, the founder of the Dreyfus Fund, who apparently loved Dilantin so much he gave bottles of one-thousand 100 mg capsules to all his friends. Nixon got two. But then what did Nixon know about drugs except that he wanted to throw every stoned hippie in jail for smoking marijuana? The Dreyfus story is of a piece with the story of Elvis Presley's visit to the Nixon White House. In order to gain credibility with young people, Nixon deputized Elvis Presley to fight the war on drugs. Presley, of course, was zonked at the time.
As for the wife-beating story, it's obviously second or third hand. No one can possibly verify it except Pat and Dick and they're dead. Nixon may have been a bastard but there's no evidence he was a batterer. Violence against women is serious business, but even Richard Nixon deserves to be considered innocent until proven guilty. The important story -- the only important story -- in Summers' biography is that in order to win the presidential campaign of 1968, candidate Nixon, with Henry Kissinger's help, undermined a serious initiative to end the Vietnam War.
The Summers book came out on Aug. 28 so I have not read it. But the story he tells has been investigated by other authors. Using declassified FBI and other documents, Summers verifies what others have written.
In Seymour Hersh's The Price of Power: Kissinger in the White House, Kissinger is described as advising the Democrats on Vietnam policy and then, without telling the Johnson Administration, reporting what he knew about peace negotiations to John Mitchell of the Nixon campaign. (Mitchell, of course, was Nixon's future Attorney-General who went to jail for Watergate). This contact is confirmed in RN, Nixon's memoir. According to Nixon, Kissinger warned him in September 1968 that Johnson would call a bombing halt in late October. Johnson and Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey had finally come to understand that to win the election they would have to find a way out of the war.
Hersh goes on to tell how Nixon sent Anna Chennault to lobby South Vietnamese President Nguyen van Thieu to urge him to obstruct the effort to begin peace negotiations. Chennault was a vice president of the Republican election finance committee and chairwoman of Republican Women for Nixon. As head of Flying Tiger Airlines, a once CIA-backed company originally formed to assist Chiang Kai-shek in his war against the Chinese Communists, Mrs. Chennault had high-level contacts in the South Vietnamese government.
All this is confirmed in Stanley Karnow's revised and updated Vietnam: A History, which, in its first edition, was the basis for the PBS series. As Karnow writes, "...through one of Nixon's foreign policy aides, Richard Allen, [Kissinger] contacted the Republicans, offering to furnish them with covert information on Johnson's moves. A clandestine channel was set up through Nixon's campaign manger, John Mitchell, and Kissinger guided the Republicans secretly on the Vietnam issue for nearly two months -- thus supplying Nixon with the ammunition to blast Humphrey for `playing politics with war."
Karnow further documents Chennault's advice to Thieu to obstruct peace negotiations. And he supplies new information that Johnson, suspicious of Nixon's intrigues, was bugging the conversations that Chennault had with Thieu.
This is authenticated in The Palace File by Nguyen Tien Hung and Jerrold Schecter. Hung was an advisor to President Thieu and Schecter was Time magazine's diplomatic editor. "During the closing week of the election, Nixon's campaign manager John Mitchell, called [Chennault] 'almost every day' to persuade her to keep Thieu from going to Paris for peace talks with the North Vietnamese," they write. She was successful. Five days before the American election, Thieu announced his refusal to participate in the peace talks.
According to Nixon's memoirs (and verified by the public opinion polls at the time), LBJ's bombing halt and his declared intention to enter peace negotiations, "resulted in a last-minute surge of support for Humphrey" which was "dampened on November 2, when President Thieu announced his government would not participate in the negotiations Johnson was proposing." Nixon won the election by a narrow margin and the war continued.
Anthony Summers book provides further documentation of what we already know -- but which the media deems less interresting than gossip about Nixon's marriage. That Nixon sabotaged peace to win the 1968 election can no longer be dismissed as speculation, theory, or Nixon-bashing. It's history. It happened.
We're talking high crimes and misdemeanors here. For a citizen, even a candidate, to secretly interfere with and attempt to undermine the affairs of state is treason. More than 20,000 American soldiers and millions of Southeast Asians died as a result of Nixon's and Kissinger's treachery and ambition.
The media's obsession with private lives instead of muckraking public issues is destroying our democracy. It's Nixon's treason and not his marriage (or for that matter his self-medication) that is the major story.
Marty Jezer is a free-lance writer who lives in Brattleboro, Vt. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.