I have two items for my write-up today on volume 2 of Richard Nixon’s memoirs.
1. My first item will be the Vietnam War. In a previous write-up on this book, I talked about the topics of civilian casualties in Vietnam and the objections of General Thieu, the leader of South Vietnam, to a proposed settlement. In this item, I’ll elaborate upon those two topics. On the issue of civilian casualties, Nixon continues to follow his pattern of saying that his bombings of Vietnam were aimed at military targets, not civilian targets. Nixon was considering stepping up the bombing in order to persuade North Vietnam to return to the table and negotiate a “fair settlement” (page 241). The Haiphong Harbor would be re-mined, there would be “B-52 strikes against military targets in the Hanoi-Haiphong complex”, and full-scale bombing would occur south of the 20th parallel, which Nixon says was “largely rice paddies and jungle” (page 242). But, even according to Nixon’s narration, these particular bombings were highly controversial. That makes me wonder if there actually were a lot of civilian casualties due to these bombings, even if civilians may not have been deliberately targeted. I’ll be reading anti-Nixon books in the course of this Year (or More) of Nixon, so I’ll probably get a different perspective on the bombings from them.
On General Thieu’s objections to the proposed settlement, Nixon says on page 246 that Thieu was afraid that, after the Americans would leave, “the Communists would resume their guerrilla warfare”, but “this time they would fight with knives and bayonets, being careful not to do anything to justify American retaliation” (Nixon’s words). But Nixon assured Thieu that the U.S. would be committed to keeping the North Vietnamese out of South Vietnam and would provide economic and military aid to South Vietnam, while Nixon also warned Thieu that the Congress might cut off aid to South Vietnam if it deemed him to be a roadblock to peace. Thieu eventually agreed to play ball, and the Vietnam War came to an end.
2. Nixon talks about the death of Lyndon Johnson, which occurred in 1973. Nixon in this part of the book appears to be quite affectionate towards Johnson. Nixon respects Johnson’s contribution to the Vietnam War and values Johnson’s support of him (Nixon) when Nixon was President. Yet, Nixon does not believe that Johnson was much of a fighter near the end of Johnson’s Presidency, when Johnson was harshly criticized by anti-war activists. Overall, Nixon displays affection for LBJ, as well as an attempt to understand him, as Nixon says that Johnson was someone who wanted to be loved.
It’s interesting to me which political opponents Nixon respects, and which he does not. Nixon praises LBJ. Nixon also appears to like Hubert Humphrey (his opponent for the Presidency in 1968) and Ted Eagleton, who was George McGovern’s first running-mate in 1972. Nixon regards George Wallace as a demagogue, yet he admires Wallace’s patriotism. Nixon also regrets how he bashed Dean Acheson (President Harry Truman’s Secretary of State) in the early 1950’s because Acheson was later a supporter of Nixon as President, when Nixon was conducting the Vietnam War.
But Nixon does not say anything positive about Helen Gahagan Douglas, whom he ran against in 1950 for the U.S. Senate. And, at least in my reading so far, Nixon is very, very sparing in terms of his praise of George McGovern. Nixon one time calls McGovern sincere, but that’s pretty much the only positive or humanizing thing that Nixon says about him!
I’m not sure if I can some up with absolute, iron-clad laws that explain why Nixon liked whom he liked, and disliked whom he disliked. I do think that there may be general patterns, but they’re not absolute. For one, Nixon seems to respect the humanity of those he can pity. For example, Nixon had compassion for Ted Kennedy after Chappaquiddick, for Ted Eagleton when Eagleton was grilled over his depression and allegations of alcoholism, and for Hubert Humphrey after his political loss. Second, Nixon tended to like those with whom he had a relationship in the past. Nixon seems to have liked John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, even though they did things that made him mad (or at least Kennedy did), for he had a history with them. But my impression is that Nixon didn’t really know Helen Gahagan Douglas and George McGovern.