I finished Conrad Black’s Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full. On page 1052, Black says the following about Henry Kissinger’s eulogy to Richard Nixon at Nixon’s 1994 funeral:
“At this critical moment, all rivalry between the two men finally vanished, and Kissinger’s own best instincts came naturally to his eulogist’s task. His voice broke slightly at one point, when he referred to hearing ‘the final news, by then so expected but so hard to accept, [when] I felt a deep loss and a profound void.’ (He told the author that he felt that ‘part of me died with him.’)”
That’s one narrative about Richard Nixon’s funeral: that it was an incident at which Americans were brought together. Similarly, Daniel Frick states on page 4 of his book, Reinventing Richard Nixon:
“Had the Nixon funeral contained only…preaching to the converted, the ceremony could only have been expected to exacerbate old divisions. Whatever evocative power the funeral service might have had must have come from its enactment of a ritual of political forgiveness between longtime warring camps. Nixon himself could not have selected a more perfect candidate to fulfill this task than Democratic president Bill Clinton. First of all, as a Vietnam-era college student who had avoided the draft and protested the war, he effectively symbolized the irresponsibility and lack of patriotism that Nixon had claimed epitomized too many in the baby boom generation. And, second, Watergate had been pivotal in opening Clinton’s political career…So, when in his eulogy, President Clinton affirmed that Nixon had made mistakes and that these were part of his record, no one could miss the unspoken reference to Watergate. Only someone well-schooled in the catechism of anti-Nixonism could credibly offer the absolution that followed: ‘Today is a day for his family, his friends and his nation to remember President Nixon’s life in totality. To them, let us say: may the day of judging President Nixon on anything less than his entire life and career come to a close…’ As an attempt to face the past and move on, this moment was the political high point of the ceremony: offering to Nixon’s memory a pardon more genuine and complete than the merely legal one that Ford had granted.”
Frick goes on to say that divisions still remained, even during and after Nixon’s funeral. But the narrative that Nixon’s funeral was a place that healed divisions stood out to me on account of the opposite picture that I was reading in Anthony Summers’ anti-Nixon biography, The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon. After Richard Nixon’s death, Alger Hiss, the ex-State Department official whom Nixon during the late 1940’s said was a Communist spy, said: “I am not going to gloat…There are a lot of things in that man’s life that were left unatoned for…” Summers probably agrees with Hiss’ assessment, since his book is about the negative things that Nixon allegedly did throughout his political career.
Summers also notes who did not attend Nixon’s funeral. Some of them (i.e., Watergate conspirator E. Howard Hunt) did not particularly surprise me. But some of what Summers said on page xiv did stand out to me:
“Tens of thousands more Vietnamese died in the short time that remained until South Vietnam collapsed, less than a year after Nixon’s resignation. The ousted former president of South Vietnam, Nguyen Van Thieu, was not at the funeral.
“New research strengthens the suspicion that in 1968, on the eve of the election that brought him to the White House, Nixon manipulated the Vietnam War for selfish political ends. Did he, fearful that impending peace negotiations would swing vital votes to his Democratic opponent, covertly urge Thieu to boycott the talks? The prominent Republican Anna Chennault, who met secretly with Nixon and acted as a go-between with the South Vietnamese, claims he did. She eventually came to despise Nixon and stayed away from the funeral.”
I didn’t know that Chennault came to despise Nixon, after allegedly serving him during the 1968 Presidential election.