Silent Coup, by Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin

I was reading about Silent Coup in other books that I was reading for My Year (or More) of Nixon, and its thesis intrigued me.  I already owned the book, since I had picked it up at a local Goodwill store some time ago.  So I figured that I might as well read it!

I probably should read John Dean’s books in addition to Silent Coup, since Dean sued the authors of Silent Coup for libel.    But I probably won’t read Dean’s books for My Year (or More) of Nixon.  Maybe I’ll read them some other time in the future.  January will be over before you know it.  February is coming up, and I have a couple of books to read and blog about for Black History Month (which is in February).  My Year (or More) of Nixon has to come to an end sometime, and January 31, 2014 is an appropriate date to draw it to a close.  Plus, as much as I have grown accustomed to reading books by and about Nixon—-after all, I’ve been doing so for over a year—-I would like to move on to something else.  Some books I will have to save for another time—-such as John Dean’s works.

So what did I think about Silent Coup?  It was all right, I guess.  I don’t know enough to critique its theses.  Moreover, because the book was rather heavy and detailed, it would take me a long time to evaluate each and every paragraph for accuracy, and I don’t want to devote years of my life to unpacking Silent Coup.  I was looking through some other books about Nixon that I have read, and more than one of them criticizes Silent Coup for making leaps in logic.  Maybe it does, but, to me, as a reader, it did come across as fairly well-documented.  It relied on interviews and documents.  It noted contradictions in people’s testimonies, and between what people said and what the record showed (i.e., someone saying there was such-and-such a meeting, when actually there was not such-and-such a meeting on record).  Maybe there were times when the authors of Silent Coup went a bit beyond the evidence to make certain people look more sinister than they actually were.  Still, they ask good questions.

The main villains of the book are Alexander Haig and John Dean.  Haig, according to Colodny and Gettlin, was sabotaging Nixon’s Administration as White House Chief of Staff.  In the story that Silent Coup lays out, Haig was behind leaks, and he himself was the mysterious Deep Throat who was leaking information to reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.  Colodny and Gettlin even argue that Haig and Woodward had a prior relationship, that Woodward as a Navy man briefed Haig.  Colodny and Gettlin do not buy into Woodward’s portrayal of himself as a political outsider, for they maintain that he was long a part of the establishment.  Why were there forces seeking to sabotage Nixon’s Administration, according to Colodny and Gettlin?  Because there were elements of the military who did not like Nixon’s policies of rapprochement with the Soviet Union and Red China, as well as arms control.

Colodny and Gettlin assert that The Final Days, by Woodward and Bernstein, is essentially Haig’s side of the story—-the propaganda that Haig is behind.  I don’t know.  Granted, Haig wasn’t portrayed too badly in The Final Days: he was loyal to Nixon, yet not blindly loyal.  But The Final Days did include some bad things that Haig did, such as talking badly about Kissinger to Nixon, and about Nixon to Kissinger.  The Final Days also quotes someone who was warning Gerald Ford about Haig, essentially saying that Haig was out for himself.  I don’t think that The Final Days is a complete whitewash of Haig.  But perhaps detractors would argue that The Final Days would have to include some bad details about Haig to look like a credible piece of journalism rather than a whitewash.

On Dean, I have read in other books that Silent Coup‘s thesis is that Dean ordered the Watergate break-in to conceal information there that his girlfriend was associated with a call-girl ring.  That’s certainly a major part of the break-in, according to Silent Coup.  The thing is, though, Dean in Silent Coup does not come across as particularly chivalrous, but rather as ambitious and selfish.  According to Colodny and Gettlin, Dean wanted to work on intelligence to advance himself within the White House ranks; he would look at people’s desks and take credit for their ideas; he broke up with his girlfriend, then decided to marry her because then she couldn’t testify against him.  Silent Coup‘s notorious and controversial thesis was actually the most puzzling and nebulous to me, in light of its portrayal of Dean.

I was looking at David Greenberg’s Nixon’s Shadow, and he says that Nixon in Silent Coup appears “hapless” and “guileless” (page 225).  That’s why he’s so puzzled that Roger Morris supported the book (Morris actually wrote the Foreword to Silent Coup): How could Morris portray Nixon as so manipulative and shady in Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician, only to endorse a book that presented Nixon as a victim of Watergate?  But I didn’t think that Nixon came across as “hapless” and “guileless” in Silent Coup.  Granted, Silent Coup does portray him as a victim of Haig and Dean, but it does not depict Nixon as thoroughly innocent, but rather as one who was involved in a cover-up.

This book would probably be a good read for people who are interested in Watergate.  But I also found it to be rather interesting when it came to the human element—-how the characters were depicted: how one could be an insider yet portray himself as an outsider; how people try to rise in the ranks and impress others; and how one may be on the social margins of the elite and yet be able to seduce women by appealing to his contacts (there was one character like that in the book).

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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