In my latest reading of Richard Nixon’s 1962 book Six Crises, Nixon talks about his visit as Vice-President to Latin America, where he was attacked by Communist-inspired mobs. I’d like to comment on two items:
1. On page 204, Nixon talks about a time when he was in Peru and a person in the mob spit in Nixon’s face. Nixon relates that he wanted to tear the man’s face to pieces, but someone restrained Nixon “from handling the man personally.” Nixon states, however, that he still got to give the person who had spit in his face “a healthy kick on his shins”, and Nixon goes on to say that “Nothing I did all day made me feel better.”
Don Fulsom, in his anti-Nixon book Nixon’s Darkest Secrets (which I will read and blog about at some point in the future), says on page 205 that “probably no other American politician [than Nixon] actually punched, slapped, shouldered, shoved or upended as many folks who’d ignited—-usually without malicious intent—-his volcanic temper.” On page 204 of Six Crises, we see an example of Nixon kicking in the shins someone who (actually with malicious intent) had spit in Nixon’s face, and getting satisfaction out of doing so. On page 568 of Nixon: The Education of a Politician, Stephen Ambrose tells a story about Nixon during the 1960 Presidential election. Nixon was upset because John Ehrlichman made a blunder that caused Nixon to waste a whole day of campaigning, plus Nixon was probably still sick with the flu and was very tired. Nixon lost his temper in the back-seat of the car and was repeatedly kicking the back of campaign-aide Don Hughes’ seat, leading Hughes to leave the car angrily. Moreover, on a note that’s unrelated to violence but which may pertain to Nixon’s temper, Ambrose states on page 652 that “few people managed to stay on Nixon’s staff for very long” because people tended to fall out of Nixon’s favor pretty quickly.
In Six Crises, we see Nixon losing his temper more than once, and Nixon acknowledges this, attributing it to being tired or frustration. The incident on page 204 of Six Crises is the only time in the book (at least in what I have read so far) when Nixon refers to an act of violence that he committed. Overall, Nixon narrates that he was quite restrained when he was attacked by mobs in Latin America. Nixon chose to continue standing for the Venezuelan national anthem rather than attacking back, for example, because he wanted to show that he respected the anthem. And Nixon sought to identify and to respect the humanity of the protesters: he said that they were teens around the age of his daughter Tricia, and that he hated that they were being exploited by the Communists.
Nixon was someone who could be quite measured and reflective—-who could reasonably look at situations from different angles. Yet, Nixon had a temper, which sometimes (or, if Fulsom is correct, more than sometimes) was expressed through violence.
2. On pages 190-191, Nixon favorably refers to an Argentinian leader who devised “a formula for the development of Argentina’s vast oil resources by privately-owned companies while retaining ‘ownership’ of the oil by the people…” This sounds like a combination of privatization with nationalization. I’m not sure how exactly that worked, but I admire Nixon’s apparent openness to the idea. Overall, Nixon appears in Six Crises to be sensitive to the problems of poverty and inequality of wealth in Latin America. I respect that, and I hope that he had that sensitivity when he was President.