I finished Stephen Ambrose’s Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972. One thing that I read in my latest reading was the Acknowledgments section. And, to be honest, this was actually my favorite part of the book! Ambrose talked about a variety of topics:
—-Ambrose said that writing this book was a lonely process for him, and that he was wondering while writing if all of the solitary effort he was expending on the project really mattered—-if that many people would care to read about Richard Nixon. Then, Ambrose would get a letter or two from a reader saying that he or she was looking forward to Volume 2 coming out. Ambrose says that “There is nothing like that to keep a writer going.”
—-I liked what Ambrose said about his editor: “She is also demanding and can be difficult, but as time goes by she becomes easier to work with (this is our fifth book together), because I have learned that she is always right (well, almost) and that by doing what she says/suggests rather than fighting her, the book is vastly improved.”
—-Ambrose worked extensively with H.R. Haldeman, who had been a high-ranking aide in the Nixon Administration, in researching for the book. Haldeman was quite generous with his time, agreeing to interviews and even reading and commenting extensively on Ambrose’s manuscript. Ambrose relates that Haldeman was still loyal to Nixon, even years after Watergate, and that Haldeman disagrees with a number of things that Ambrose says in his book. Still, I was impressed that Haldeman was generous in helping Ambrose out.
—-Ambrose thanks Michael Beschloss, who read the manuscript and gave suggestions. Ambrose says that “Michael is not only a brilliant young historian but also an inside-the-Beltway addict, who, like me, is ready, nay eager, to talk politics from noon until MacNeil-Lehrer comes on.” I can get that way, at times!
—-Ambrose talks about a dinner he went to that was hosted by Steve Hess, who had served on President Nixon’s staff. Some Nixon alumni were there: Pat Moynihan, William Safire, and Mort Allin. According to Ambrose, these men after the Nixon Administration had become successes in their own right: Hess was at the Brookings Institution, Moynihan was a Democratic U.S. Senator representing New York, Safire wrote for the New York Times as a senior columnist, and Allin was rising within the ranks of the U.S. Government. Ambrose says that these men did not owe their success to Richard Nixon, and that “Each had some reason to feel that Nixon let them down.” Yet, notwithstanding their ideological diversity, “they agreed that Richard Nixon was a kind man, a considerate man, a rewarding man to work for, and a good if not great President.” This impressed Ambrose, and he kept it in mind, even when in his research he did not reach positive, glowing conclusions about Richard Nixon.
—-Ambrose thanks the Nixon Presidential Materials Project. Ambrose says that it was helpful in terms of his (and others’) research, even though its quarters were not as magnificent as those of certain presidential libraries, and even though it got no cooperation from Richard Nixon himself. At the time, there was a legal battle going on between the National Archives and ex-President Nixon: “Although Nixon has managed to block access to tens of thousands of documents, the Archives has managed to open significant sections of the basic record” (page 702). By the time that volume 3 of Ambrose’s Nixon trilogy came out, Nixon had his own Presidential library, and with that control over which documents and tapes scholars could see.
—-Ambrose’s wife helped him on this project, and Ambrose says that this volume was difficult for her “because of her passionate opposition to the war in Vietnam.” She was a Nixon supporter in 1960, but she could not stand Nixon’s Vietnam strategy. Ambrose told her that Lyndon Johnson was as much at fault as Nixon!
On what Ambrose himself thinks about the Vietnam War, he did not seem in Volume 2 to critique it from only one ideological angle. Rather, he critiqued it from a variety of angles. He thought that Nixon exaggerated the country of Vietnam’s significance on the global scale, yet he appeared to agree with the hawks that some of Nixon’s bombings did not go on long enough to cripple the Communists significantly. He portrayed Vietnamization (having the South Vietnamese take on more slack in defending their country) as a failure in areas, yet he acknowledged that Vietnamization eventually did make the South Vietnamese military into a powerful force. He argued that the U.S. supporting General Thieu of South Vietnam was problematic, yet he could still identify somewhat with Thieu’s concerns about the truce that Nixon and Henry Kissinger were pushing (that it could leave South Vietnam vulnerable to Communism).
The next Nixon book that I will read will be Volume 3 of Ambrose’s trilogy. Stay tuned!