COMMENT: As I see it, there are two sides of Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. He is a technocrat-manager, and he is also a politician. It is easy to get your wires crossed when you judge him. I experienced this cognitive dissonance every time I commented on him, and painfully too. As a person, the Tun is gentle, kind and considerate. As a politico, he can be as tough and unbending as a nail of reinforced steel.
Tun Dr. Mahathir –Technocrat-Manager and Politician and Prime Minister
I am familiar with the man as a technocrat-manager because I had the privilege of working for him directly in 1970s. I also had worked for Tun Ghazalie Shafie (Wisma Putra), Tun Ismail Bin Mohamed Ali (Bank Negara Malaysia and later when he became successor to Tun Tan), and Tun Tan Siew Sin and Tunku Ahmad Yahaya (Sime Darby Group ) in 1960s-1990s.
What do these outstanding personalities have in common? To me, they were thoroughly professional, smart, decisive and demanding bosses who did not suffer fools easily. More importantly, they judged me for my work and fidelity to the institution, not for my loyalty to them, or capacity to flatter them. In fact, I was afraid to even compliment them for fear of being misconstrued. Of course, they all had their strengths and failings, but there was no doubt in my mind that they were patriots who served Malaysia with distinction. They led by example, and had a great impact on my professional career.
Then there is Tun Dr.Mahathir, the politician, the Senator, Member of Parliament (Kubang Pasu) and Prime Minister of Malaysia (for 22 odd years). I knew him when I was growing up in Alor Setar, Kedah too. But I have great difficulty in understanding his decisions and actions, although I understood and accepted his Vision 2020, Look East Policy and other economic and social policies.
Up to a point, I was even willing to accept his rationale for wanting power. I remember him saying that he needed the power to get things done. Indeed, he got the power he wanted and he certainly got things done. Look around and you can see for yourself his many accomplishments. He has left an indelible mark on our national landscape.
I know that Prime Minister Najib Razak is trying to erase them. I heard from my friends when my wife Dr. Kamsiah and I visited Langkawi recently that Najib’s cronies were trying to eliminate some landmarks of the Mahathir era in Kuah. How low and immature one can get.
Unfortunately, the Tun had too much power. With unchecked powers, he systematically brought all institutions of governance under the control of a powerful Executive Branch, a legacy he left to the present Prime Minister Najib Razak to fully exploit. Now, it is next to impossible to replace the incumbent Prime Minister for corruption and abuses of power. Even national elections can be rigged.
I can change my mind too. When Tun Dr. Mahathir put his Deputy Prime Minister Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim in jail on trumped up charges of sodomy in 1998, I had a change of heart and became critical of his political leadership. I even wrote what I thought of Tun Dr. Mahathir the Politician in Tom Plate’s book’s Conversations with Mahathir Mohamad. I have remained steadfast to my views on the Political Mahathir.
But I will never stoop so low as to condemn our Fourth Prime Minister and deny him his place in our national history. He is a truly outstanding statesmen and role model for Malaysians of my generation, especially those from Kedah. He belongs with Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, a fellow Kedahan, in my pantheon of heroes. –Din Merican
Malaysia: Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad is a Statesman and a Patriot
It was John Maynard Keynes who said: “When the facts change, I change my view”. The philosophy served him well.
Keynes could see ahead of time. When France and its allies punished Germany with reparations after World War I, Keynes knew that Germany would rise again to seek its revenge. He even wrote The Economic Consequences of the Peace [The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919) is a book written and published by John Maynard Keynes. Keynes attended the Paris Peace Conference, 1919 as a delegate of the British Treasury and argued for a much more generous peace. It was a best-seller throughout the world and was critical in establishing a general opinion that the Versailles Treaty was a “Carthaginian peace“. It helped to consolidate American public opinion against the treaty and involvement in the League of Nations. The perception by much of the British public that Germany had been treated unfairly in turn was a crucial factor in public support for appeasement. The success of the book established Keynes’ reputation as a leading economist especially on the left. When Keynes was a key player in establishing the Bretton Woods system in 1944, he remembered the lessons from Versailles as well as the Great Depression. The Marshall Plan, after the Second World War, was a similar system to that proposed by Keynes in The Economic Consequences of the Peace.–wikipedia]
True enough, within a short generation of 20 years after the conclusion of the Versailles Treaty in 1919, Nazi was led by Hitler, wrecking damage on the whole of Europe. Did Keynes insist on more revenge against Germany? No. True to form when the facts change, he changed his opinion.
After Second World War, Keynes was among the few to insist that Germany has to be integrated into Europe to keep the whole region safe.
Statesmanship is about peering into the future. Under Dr Mahathir Mohamad, well before Malaysia knew what was Vision 2020, he had spoken at the Malaysian Business Council in 1990 on the importance of creating a country that was morally and economically strong.
In contrast, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak has run the ship aground with allegedly the brazen RM44 billion mismanagement, of which the likes of Khairul Azwan, the Umno Youth vice-chief, is still in denial. It is as if 1MDB is “Pi Mai Pi Mai Tang Tu” (Come and go, come and go, and it’s OK too).
Well, too bad for Najib. Mahathir did not earn his “Tunship” by sheer ingratiation. If he did, the award would have been withdrawn given the government’s accusations that he has sold the country down the river with a wave and a bye.
Between 1981 and 2002, a full 22 years, Malaysia was the only one to have grown by leaps and bounds. Even at the height of the Asian financial crisis in 1999, Malaysia never so much as ask for a single dollar from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Yet, had IMF come into the picture, the bumiputera economic program, right down to how the government payroll would be spent, would come under the scrutiny of IMF.
Almost overnight, the sovereignty and independence of Malaysia were saved, which is more than any Malaysians can ask for from their leader.
In contrast, at the height of the Global Economic Recession in 2009, what Najib did was well-nigh irresponsible. Instead of building our country’s human capital, allegedly some RM44 billion or more, were borrowed and squandered, saddling Malaysia with even more debt.
Khairul Azwan–The Super Ampu Najib character
Khairul Azwan (photo), being a junior politician, some believe juvenile too, can only claim that Mahathir is not worthy of the title of being called a statesman. If not Mahathir, then who?
‘Upset Mahathir can support Anwar again’
Khairul Azwan is upset that Mahathir can support Anwar Ibrahim again. Well, when the facts change, Mahathir’s opinion too. And the facts that have changed are these: Najib has allegedly mismanaged the funds that were leveraged on the name of 1MDB, and avoided coming head to head with Mahathir for a public debate. If there is nothing to hide, Najib must debate with Mahathir.
In avoiding the need to face Mahathir head on, the likes of Khairul Azwan have had to step to the fore to defend the Prime Minister. But how can Khairul Azwan even suit the role granted that most Malaysian had never heard of his name until today?
Is he crying out to attract attention? Like he did when he lodged a police report against three impeccable “Tan Sris” that include Zeti Akhtar Aziz, Abdul Gani Patail and Abu Kassim Mohamed for attention. And attention he got when he was instantaneously rewarded with a senatorship by Najib.
Is he now crying for attention so that he will be given a parliamentary or state seats to contest? Is he eyeing a ministerial position or who knows, the coveted Menteri Besar post of Perak? Khairul Azwan knows loyalty to Najib has instant rewards or remuneration.
He had experienced it first-hand. Time to accentuate his loyalty to Najib for instant rewards while negating the interest of the people or the nation?
RAIS HUSSIN is a supreme council member of Parti Peribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu). He also heads the Policy and Strategy Bureau of Bersatu.
It’s difficult for people who weren’t around at the time to grasp the scale of the Hemingway cult in twentieth-century America. As late as 1965, the editor of could write reverently of scenes from a kind of Ernest Hemingway Advent calendar: “Wine-stained moods in the sidewalk cafés and roistering nights in Left Bank”. Walking home alone in the rain. Talk of death, and scenes of it, in the Spanish sun. Treks and trophies in Tanganyika’s green hills. Duck-shooting in the Venetian marshes. . . . Loving and drinking and fishing out of Key West and Havana.” It was real fame, too, not the thirty-minutes-with-Terry Gross kind that writers have to content themselves with now.
To get close to the tone of it today, you would have to imagine the literary reputation of Raymond Carver joined with the popularity and political piety of Bruce Springsteen. “Papa” Hemingway was not just a much admired artist; he was seen as a representative American public man. He represented the authority of writing even for people who didn’t read.
The debunking, when it came, came hard. As the bitter memoirs poured out, we got alcoholism, male chauvinism, fabulation, malice toward those who had made the mistake of being kind to him—all that. Eventually there came, from his avid estate, the lucrative but not reputation-enhancing publication of posthumous novels. The brand continues: his estate licenses the “Ernest Hemingway Collection,” which includes an artisanal rum, Papa’s preferred eyewear, and heavy Cuban-style furniture featuring “leather-like vinyl with a warm patina.” (What would Papa have said of that!) But few would now give the old man the heavyweight championship of literature for which he fought so hard, not least because thinking of literature as an elimination bout is no longer our style. We think of it more as a quilting bee, with everyone having a chance to add a patch, and the finest patches often arising from the least privileged quilters. In recent decades, Hemingway has represented the authority of writing only for people who never read.
Suddenly, though, there has been an academic revival in Hemingway studies in which, with an irony no satirist could have imagined, Hemingway, who in his day exemplified American macho, has, through our taste for “queering the text,” become Hemingway the gender bender. The Hemingway Review can now contain admiring articles with subtitles like “Sodomy and Transvestic Hallucination in Hemingway.” It is newly possible to deduce that Papa was far weirder, in a positive sense, than he liked to pretend, and that his texts contain, just below their rigidly tumescent surface, deep glimmering pools of sexual ambiguity and gender liquidity.
Mary V. Dearborn’s new biography, “Hemingway” (Knopf), is hardly full of revelations. With the witnesses almost all dead, and the archives combed through as if by addicts looking for remnants of crack, how could it be? But it is up to date in attitude. The queer-theory patches are all in place, as are the feminist ones. Dearborn has an oddly puritanical attitude toward the storytelling of a storyteller, becoming quite prim as she points out that Hemingway exaggerated here, confabulated there, made less of this than was quite truthful, and more of that. Hemingway, she writes, told “enormous whoppers” about, for instance, trapping pigeons in the Luxembourg Gardens for dinner in his early years in Paris. In fact, he and his first wife, Hadley, had plenty of money. But he was writing fables about the aspirations of expatriates, not textbooks on accounting. Hungry people—and no one is hungrier than a young writer trying to make a reputation—feel hungry even when they’re not actually starving.
In general, Dearborn seems not to have met many writers along her scholarly path, and appears astounded that the good ones tell tall tales about their own formation, which is like being astounded that fishermen exaggerate the size of their catch. (Of course, Hemingway did that, too.) Most of Hemingway’s fabulations are transparent in style and purpose: he told an interviewer once that, when he walked with Joyce in Paris in the nineteen-twenties, Joyce would “fall into an argument or a fight. He couldn’t even see the man so he’d say, ‘Deal with him, Hemingway! Deal with him!’ ” This surely never happened, but you can see why he wished it had, and can’t hate him for wishing it. He wanted to be Joyce’s Luca Brasi.
In Dearborn’s better moments, she shows how intelligently Hemingway managed to apportion the amount of empirical accuracy for each occasion. Although he inflated his heroism in the Great War—at one point giving credence to the report that he had carried a wounded Italian soldier over a distance twice the length of a football field—he was direct and understated in his published stories. Dearborn thinks that Hemingway was asking whether “there was any more authenticity, or truth.” No, he wasn’t. He was allocating authenticity and truth according to the needs of his art. The original of Catherine in “A Farewell to Arms” was an American nurse named Agnes von Kurowsky, whom he loved passionately, only to have her reject him with a chilly Dear John letter, in which she told him that she was “still very fond” of him but “more as a mother than a sweetheart.” He fixed the facts in the novel by having her die for love bearing his child. Revenge on reality like that is what literature is.
But Dearborn is an encyclopedic collector of facts and, on the whole, a decent and fair-minded judge of them. One rarely objects to her verdicts about what exactly happened and why. The story here gets retold more or less on the terms we know, with judicious guesses made as to the truth of much-argued-over episodes: yes, his mother dressed him as a girl until he was old enough to notice; no, Scott Fitzgerald probably never asked him to check the size of Fitzgerald’s member in a Paris men’s room; yes, those famous wilderness outings in Michigan took place in the context of a big middle-class house and middle-class vacations, and were not nearly as primitive as the stories make them sound; and no, his first wife did not lose all of his early work on a train for good—a lot was soon recovered. Recent “discoveries” in the field are put more or less into place: the revelation from the author Nicholas Reynolds, in “Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy,” that Hemingway had been recruited as a spy by Stalin’s N.K.V.D. in the nineteen-thirties is noted, although it’s also noted that Hemingway seems never to have done anything for it. The truth that he was not entirely paranoid at the end of his life to think that the F.B.I. had been keeping an eye on him is noted, too, and so is the fact that the Bureau seemed to have little malice toward him. Indeed, J. Edgar Hoover himself—another tough guy with a hidden side—was an admirer. And Dearborn sees clearly what was clouded then: that a large part of Hemingway’s decline in his last years was due to an inherited bipolar disorder coupled with a penchant for self-medication through alcohol.
We pass through the usual progress of Hemingway’s life, already well charted in all those other books. Early fraught years in Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago, with a distant, manic-depressive father, who eventually committed suicide, and a cold mother, who once ordered the young Ernest out of the house and, years later, when his first novel was a hit, found a wholly negative local review to send him. Relief in the form of summers spent fishing at the family’s lake cottage. No college years—he missed that part, and paid for it by overcompensating intellectually—but war experiences. Hemingway went to the Italian front in 1918, at eighteen, as an ambulance driver, in the company of the once famous, now largely forgotten novelist John Dos Passos. As James McGrath Morris points out in his new book “The Ambulance Drivers,” Dos Passos had a keen sense of the real waste and horror of war, whereas Hemingway still saw it as an occasion for a heroic show of stoical endurance. The courage of his going at all is undeniable; after a few weeks, he got blown up by a mortar and recovered in the hospital, falling in love with that beautiful nurse. He then went to work as a journalist for the Toronto Star; there’s a nice line in “The Sun Also Rises” about the easy social graces of Canadians. But, as much as generations of newspapermen have claimed him as a student of newspaper style, nothing memorable emerges from the collected journalism.
It was only after his marriage to Hadley Richardson, a St. Louis heiress, that he set off for Paris, arriving in late 1921 with a determination to become a great and modern writer that was touching in one who had received so little encouragement. Encouragement as a writer, that is; Hemingway’s charisma and good looks had made life easy for him, as they would go on doing for a long time after. (Of all the gifts that can grace a literary career, good looks are the most easily overlooked and not the least important: though we may read blind, we don’t befriend blind.)
Dearborn is faintly disapproving of his literary careerism in Paris, registering the fact that he used his attractiveness to attract, while rather missing the point that the people he was courting, Ezra Pound and Sylvia Beach and Gertrude Stein and the rest, were avant-gardists with no influence in the realms of commercial publishing where he had to make a living. He was certainly ambitious and appealing, but the ambition for which he used his appeal was to write well in a new way.
His natural sound, the tone that rises when he is writing unself-consciously to friends, is nothing like the voice of his good fiction. He was naturally garrulous and jocose—indeed, by the time he was a celebrity he was so garrulous and jocose that it shocked people, though he was just being himself. (This explains the response to the notorious Profile of him by Lillian Ross that ran in this magazine in 1950: he read the galleys, thought he sounded hilarious and charming, and had no idea that he would come off as a self-absorbed blowhard.) Writing to a friend about bullfights in 1925, when his literary style was already fully formed, he said, “It ain’t a moral spectacle and if a male looks at it for a moral standpoint there isn’t any excuses. But if a male takes it as it comes. Gawk what a hell of a wonderful show.” His letters are stuffed with similar kinds of heavy-handed kidding.
The real American masculine style, as Sinclair Lewis shrewdly saw, is not tight-lipped-stoical but wheezy-genial. Hemingway was no exception to the rule that every American man needs to see himself as funny. (Clint Eastwood’s famous turn at the 2012 Republican National Convention is further evidence of this: America’s tough guy took it for granted that he was so naturally amusing that all he had to do was drag an empty chair onstage and start joking.) Hemingway actually had zero gift for comedy—he liked making fun of other people, but could never implicate himself in the jokes, which shuts off the humor spigot quickly. Still, the tight-lipped grimace was always threatening to turn into a regular-guy grin, since the regular-guy grin was what the tight-lipped grimace started off concealing.
But—what a fantastic writer he became! Scribner has now produced a new volume of Hemingway’s short stories, most from the nineteen-twenties, his best decade, complete with many of the drafts he made along the way. What is amazing is how pitch-perfect he was. Reading passages from the Nick Adams stories published originally in relatively obscure literary reviews, one is overwhelmed by how so little produces so much—how the brevity, far from being taciturn or severe, is matchlessly eloquent in its evocation of the pleasures of the senses and of the feeling of place, as in the famous description of a trout stream in Michigan from the 1925 story “Big Two-Hearted River”:
Nick looked down into the pool from the bridge. It was a hot day. A kingfisher flew up the stream. It was a long time since Nick had looked into a stream and seen trout. They were very satisfactory. As the shadow of the kingfisher moved up the stream, a big trout shot upstream in a long angle, only his shadow marking the angle, then lost his shadow as he came through the surface of the water, caught the sun, and then, as he went back into the stream under the surface, his shadow seemed to float down the stream with the current, unresisting, to his post under the bridge where he tightened facing up into the current.
Nick’s heart tightened as the trout moved. He felt all the old feeling.
The beauty of the description is reinforced by its emotional subject: we sense and then briefly deduce that Nick is a veteran of the war, trying to relocate his mind through familiar pleasures. How did Hemingway do it? Simplicity, monosyllables, elimination of adverbs and adjectives . . . that’s supposed to be the formula. For mordant mischief, one can now download the Hemingway Editor app, which contains an algorithm meant to reproduce his style, and see how well this works. (The app picks out, adversely, the single adverb “swiftly” in the opening paragraph of “A Farewell to Arms.”) But all the algorithm can do is simplify, and produce the kind of baby-talk prose that Hemingway himself wrote only when he was losing it. The heart of his style was not abbreviation but amputation; not simplicity but mystery.
Again and again, he creates his effects by striking out what would seem to be essential material. In “Big Two-Hearted River,” Nick’s complicated European experience—or the way that fishing is sanity-preserving for Nick, the damaged veteran—is conveyed clearly in the first version, and left apparent only as implication in the published second version. In a draft of the heartbreaking early story “Hills Like White Elephants,” about a man talking his girlfriend into having an abortion, Hemingway twice uses the words “three of us.” This is the woman’s essential desire, to become three rather than two. But Hemingway strikes both instances from the finished story, so the key image remains as ghostly subtext within the sentences. We feel the missing “three,” but we don’t read it.
That’s typical of his practice. The art comes from scissoring out his natural garrulousness, and the mystery is made by what was elided. Reading through draft and then finished story, one is repeatedly stunned by the meticulous rightness of his elisions. There are influences at work, obviously, from Stephen Crane to Sherwood Anderson, not to mention Gertrude Stein’s faux-naïf smarts. Yet Hemingway himself gave most of the credit to Cézanne. In that cancelled passage from “Big Two-Hearted River,” we read, “He wanted to write like Cezanne painted. Cezanne started with all the tricks. Then he broke the whole thing down and built clearly and slowly the real thing. It was hell to do. He was the greatest. It wasn’t a cult.” (The crossing-out is in the original.) This is the kind of classy thing that writers are bound to say and biographers are bound to doubt—Dearborn calls Hemingway’s constant reference to Cézanne “mystifying”—but it makes all the sense in the world. The whole aim of Cézanne’s painting from the eighteen-seventies on is to build up landscape and still-life from the pictorial equivalent of monosyllables—from small, square constructive marks, like the cross-shadings of a pencil, which make space by being overlaid. Outline and firm shape are subordinated, as in Hemingway, to the passage of one shape into the next. Both men are masters of “and” more than “this.”
Cézanne also showed that a few strong hints of specificity—this one pine tree in the right front plane, this plastic foregrounded orange—are all that is needed for the evocation of shapes and spaces. In “Big Two-Hearted River,” there are moments that are not just constructed like a Cézanne painting; they look like a Cézanne painting:
There was no underbrush in the island of pine trees. The trunks of the trees went straight up or slanted toward each other. The trunks were straight and brown without branches. The branches were high above. Some interlocked to make a solid shadow on the brown forest floor. Around the grove of trees was a bare space. It was brown and soft underfoot as Nick walked on it.
It is exactly the feeling of Cézanne’s “Pines and Rocks,” at MoMA. Hemingway’s prose combines the brightly colored sensuality of modern French painting with a clench-jawed American repression. The stoical stance and the sensual touch: that was Hemingway’s keynote emotion, and his claim to have learned it from Cézanne looks just.
The stoical stance has been much celebrated—“grace under pressure” and the rest—but the sensual touch is the more frequent material of the prose. Whether at Michigan trout streams or Pamplona fiestas or those Paris boîtes, there is a strong element of “travel writing.” He wrote pleasure far better than violence. Fitzgerald’s evocation of the fashionable world is quite abstract and mostly unspecific. Hemingway is full of advice about what to eat and drink. “Death in the Afternoon” even includes a brief but decisive “Lonely Planet”-style discourse on European beer—the best is Czech, German, and Spanish—as “The Sun Also Rises” does on Spanish wine. There’s a reason that the bar at the Paris Ritz was the first place he “liberated” in Paris, and that El Floridita restaurant, in Havana, still claims him as the father of its grapefruit-enhanced Daiquiri. No good writer ever had such clear views on hotels and cafés and restaurants.
Hemingway’s people are damaged but not shell-shocked. “A Farewell to Arms” is a romance—a Hollywood-movie romance, featuring a couple with glamorous names. The romance of honor and glory may have died on the Western Front, but the romance of romance, and of sex and the material life in particular, was relighted; in the face of annihilation, postponing pleasure just looked silly. For all his reputation for “masculine” values, an instinctive Hemingway theme is far more culturally “feminine,” a graceful bending under pressure. “I’m not brave any more, darling,” Catherine tells Frederic in “A Farewell to Arms.” “I’m all broken. They’ve broken me.” The self-recognition of breakage is the form of bravery available to real people. The edict of Hemingway’s art is to take what life throws at you without complaint, but it is also to never postpone pleasure if you can help it. The travel-literature, brand-name side of Hemingway—the side that made Pamplona a tourist trap and Venice’s Gritti Palace an “icon,” the side kept alive in degraded form by all that artisanal rum and patio furniture—is essential to his effects. Hemingway was a master not of a realized stoicism but of a wounded epicureanism. Have fun while you can, and then endure the bad stuff when it comes. It doesn’t sound high-minded when you say it, but it was saner than almost anything else on offer.
Hemingway’s early style is also a poetic style; it’s significant that, like the Romantic poets, he bloomed as a writer in his mid-twenties. The novel was invented by the middle-aged, and George Eliot and Anthony Trollope were in their fifties when they wrote their masterpieces. But lyric poetry is for the young, and the trouble with a poetic style is that, with age, it can become a pose. Hemingway’s became a style so mannered that it could be parodied endlessly, to the point that Hemingway parodies are nearly as rich a literary form as Hemingway stories. The two best—Wolcott Gibbs’s “Death in the Rumble Seat” and E. B. White’s “Across the Street and Into the Grill”—both appeared in this magazine, and it’s significant that the two parodists shared Hemingway’s project of simplifying the hell out of American prose; it attuned them to the distortions and tics in the Master’s way of doing so.
Dearborn brings home another truth: for all his time with the Paris modernists, Hemingway’s reputation was made on the best-seller lists in America. “A Farewell to Arms” (1929) had a first print run of more than thirty thousand copies, huge in its day. “For Whom the Bell Tolls” (1940), helped by its timely fighting-the-Fascists subject, stayed on the best-seller lists for two years. He had written much of it while renting Finca Vigía, a beautiful house in Cuba, and, with the money from his books, he bought the place. It became his castle and retreat almost for the rest of his life, until the Cuban Revolution forced him out. It was here that he became Papa Hemingway, the great bear of literature, receiving journalists and raising children and inventing the grapefruit Daiquiri and fighting marlin and taking quick and often dangerous trips to lesser provinces of his empire, to Africa (where, on a single trip, he twice crashed in a plane) and Spain (where he continued to return, Franco notwithstanding, to watch the bullfights).
The weird sexual stuff began, or began to be recorded, in the nineteen-forties. The actual sequence is a little hard to follow, since the literary evidence appears in “The Garden of Eden,” an unfinished, posthumously published novel that he worked on in the forties and fifties but that takes place in the mid-twenties, which is when he started seeing the American journalist Pauline Pfeiffer, who eventually became his second wife. Basically, Hemingway began to insist that the women in his life get their hair cut short, like his, while he dyed his to match theirs, with many complicated twists in both color and styling. The ins and outs of this “sex play,” as Dearborn calls it, read like a mix of D. H. Lawrence and a Clairol ad. She recounts:
First, Ernest bleached or dyed his. Josephine Merck, a friend from Montana, visited Ernest and Pauline in 1933 and remembered Ernest’s hair “bleached by the sun”; it was highly unlikely that the sun “bleached” his dark hair. She also saw it just after, when his hair was red, and when she asked him about it, he got annoyed. A letter from Pauline to her husband cleared up what color his hair was that spring: “About your hair,” she wrote him, “don’t know how to turn red to gold. What about straight peroxide—or better what’s the matter with red hair. Red hair lovely on you.” Evidently Ernest felt some regret, if not for dyeing his hair in the first place, then for choosing the wrong color.
We know this because Pauline wrote to a friend that Hemingway was “a little subdued, though not much, by his haircut,” and explained, “His hair turned bright gold on the boat to Havana . . . and he cut it to the roots in a frenzy.” Later, Hemingway dyed his hair red and went around insisting that it had happened “accidentally.”
Realized as fiction, all the cutting and dyeing becomes even odder, not because of its daring gender fluidity but because of the sticky prose that was necessary to dramatize it. “The Garden of Eden” has sequences with the cooing, self-caressing sound of someone whispering his sexual fantasies in your ear, and, like all sex fantasies, they have a standardized, stereotyped setting—in this case, French hair salons. Dearborn tells us that Hemingway loved to write down the shades of blondness: pale gold, deep gold, ash blond. (The power of words for a writer’s fetishes is absolute; Auden says that he was more stimulated by the words for his sexual obsessions than by their objects.) “Over time, just writing about the shades of hair color would become almost unbearably exciting to him; he would catalogue them with obvious erotic pleasure,” Dearborn recounts. Simply thinking about hair color “made Mr. Scrooby stand at attention.”
Where Mr. Scrooby really got turned around, though, was in bed. In “The Garden of Eden,” the Hemingway stand-in, David Bourne, is anally penetrated night after night by a dildo, with the now short-haired Hadley character on top—a practice that, in real life, seems to date to Hemingway’s fourth marriage, to the journalist Mary Welsh, in 1946. When “The Garden of Eden” appeared, in 1986, reviewers made much of the hair-cutting androgyny while leaving the anality more or less alone, but it’s clear in the text that the “devil things,” as Catherine calls them, center on the penetration, for which all the hair treatment is merely a preparation.
It’s this kind of thing that makes Hemingway’s “libidinal politics” look progressive today, revealing gender roles as the culturally manufactured toys they are. Yet the sex, one soon sees, is actually imagined on much the same macho terms as before, just with the signifiers shaken up. “The Garden of Eden” evokes not cheerful pluralism in transgressing gender boundaries but the old Hemingway themes of the bonding of hunter and hunted, prey and predator. Sex roles are switched, not broadened. The twists and turns are, in this view, entirely sinful—what drives us from paradise, not what reminds us of it.
Like every sexual fetish, his got its tang from transgression. Sex must be experienced as sin to be satisfying. For Hemingway, there was no greater sin than acting in a “womanish” way, and it was therefore the subject that Mr. Scrooby awoke to. The prospect of being unmanned was as thrillingly illicit for his self-stimulation as the enactment of manly ritual was essential to his self-image. We need not believe that the public face is fake to understand that the private desire can be its opposite. The result, as evidenced in “The Garden of Eden,” was certainly more daring and original and honest than the “Old Man and the Sea” stuff he published in the fifties instead. But it was not postmodern gender pluralism, either. It was more binary than that, and more brutal.
What gives Hemingway’s flirtation with gender reversal a special pathos is his relationship with his much loved son Gregory, an intermittent cross-dresser who had a sex-change operation at the age of sixty-three and died using the name Gloria. At one point, Hemingway came upon the boy, whom he called Giggy, trying on his mother’s stockings and dress in a family bedroom in Cuba, and later said to him, “We come from a strange tribe, you and I.” He doubtless saw in this boy, his favorite, ambiguities that he could never confess, and it made him by turns both enraged and, oddly, touchingly, empathetic. Their letters, reprinted in a memoir by Greg’s son John called, appropriately, “Strange Tribe,” are deeply moving, in their moments of cruelty and, on Greg’s part, at least, their flashes of insight. (Greg was the only person ready to tell Hemingway how bad “The Old Man and the Sea” really was: “As sickly a bucket of sentimental slop as was ever scrubbed off a barroom floor.”) As always happens with famous fathers and strangled sons, the letters turn toward money, with Hemingway gracelessly laying out his budget for the boy. (Let it be said, though, that Hemingway’s money troubles must have been exhausting to live through: he was never nearly as rich as his reputation would make you think.)
“He has the biggest dark side in the family except me and you,” Hemingway wrote to Pauline, “and I’m not in the family.” Hemingway’s own suicide, by shotgun, in 1961, at his hunting retreat in Ketchum, Idaho, brought a palette of tragedy to the story, even though the much discussed curse of the Hemingways seems no more than a gene for bipolarity that bounced around fiendishly from generation to generation. The trail of suicide is heartbreaking to consider—the father, Clarence; Ernest, his brother Leicester, and his sister Ursula; his helpless, beautiful granddaughter Margaux.
The new attempts to make Papa matter by making him a lot less Papa and a little more Mama are, finally, not all that persuasive. Hemingway remains Hemingway—the macho attitudes continue to penetrate the prose even when the gender roles get switched around. And those macho attitudes include many admirable things: a genuine love of courage, a surprising readiness to celebrate failure if it is bought with bravery, an unsparing sense of the fatality of human existence, a love of the small pleasures that ennoble it.
At Hemingway’s best, the affectations are undone by an affection for the sensuous surface of life, which is of necessity erotically multivalent, neither neatly masculine nor neatly feminine. Although we may “gender” it, our descriptions, if they have density at all, escape the brutal binaries, the narrow categories, of appetite. To read the opening lines about the lovers’ breakfast in “The Garden of Eden” is to be in touch with an impulse far more moving and pansexual than all the sexual reversals that revisionist critics have to offer:
On this morning there was brioche and red raspberry preserve and the eggs were boiled and there was a pat of butter that melted as they stirred them and salted them lightly and ground pepper over them in the cups. . . . He remembered that easily and he was happy with his which he diced up with the spoon and ate with only the flow of the butter to moisten them and the fresh early morning texture and the bite of the coarsely ground pepper grains and the hot coffee and the chickory-fragrant bowl of café au lait.
The flow of the butter and the bite of the pepper—there is more effective gender-blending in his breakfasts than in his bedrooms. The pleasure he takes in the world’s surface is more plural than the poses he chooses on the world’s stage.
Always an epicurean before he was a stoic, Hemingway is at his worst when he is boasting and bluffing and ruling the roost, at his best when he is bending and breaking and writing down breakfast. Macho and minimalist alike, the sentences are thrilling still in their exactitude and audacity. Coming away even from the sad last pages of his biography, the reader feels that Hemingway earned the epitaph he would most have wanted. He was a brave man, and he did know how to write. ♦
This article appears in other versions of the July 3, 2017, issue, with the headline “A New Man.”
Adam Gopnik, a staff writer, has been contributing to The New Yorker since 1986. He is the author of “The Table Comes First.”
RICHARD NIXON The Life
By John A. Farrell
Illustrated. 737 pages. Doubleday. $35.
While writing “Richard Nixon: The Life,” John A. Farrell could not possibly have known who would be president on the day his fine book was published. That it happens to be Donald J. Trump is, for him, an extraordinary stroke of luck. To read this biography with an eye only toward the parallels between the two presidents would be lazy and unfair, a disservice to Farrell’s nuanced scholarship.
But the context here is unignorable. The similarities between Nixon and Trump leap off the page like crickets.
There is, first and most superficially, their nonpresidential looks — Trump with his roosterly combover, Nixon with jowls so low they formed an A-frame with his nose. More substantively, there’s the matter of their Old Testament fury at the news media. (“The press is the enemy,” Nixon told his aides. “Write that on the blackboard 100 times and never forget it.”)
What else? Their thin skin. Their skyscraping paranoia. Their cavernous memory for slights. It’s hard to think of two modern presidents with a more dire case of political hemophilia. Once wounded, these men never stop bleeding.
Like Trump, Nixon was a monomaniac on the stump, obsessed with the enemies lurking within. Nixon, too, had a penchant for sowing mayhem and a gourmand’s appetite for revenge, especially in the wee hours of the morning. (Trump tweets. Nixon made phone calls.)
And members of Nixon’s own party feared for his stability. As vice president, he once flew into a rage after contending with a group of hostile student journalists at Cornell University. “What scares the hell out of me is that you would blow sky high over a thing as inconsequential as this,” an adviser told him. “What in goddamn would you do if you were president and get into a really bad situation?”
These similarities in character lead to eerily similar behavioral consequences. In 1968, Nixon opened up a back channel to the president of South Vietnam, assuring him he’d get further support if he could just hold out for a Nixon presidency and resist Lyndon B. Johnson’s offers to broker peace. Nearly 50 years later, Michael Flynn had private discussions with the Russians that seemed to promise them a friendlier American policy — if they could just sit tight until Trump was inaugurated.
Both men went on to claim that their predecessors had wiretapped these discussions. Nixon said he’d been tipped off by J. Edgar Hoover.
Confirmation of Nixon’s meddling in Johnson’s peace efforts is the only real news that “Richard Nixon” breaks. But startling revelations are hardly the only criterion for a good Nixon biography. He’s an electrifying subject, a muttering Lear, of perennial interest to anyone with even an average curiosity about politics or psychology. The real test of a good Nixon biography, given how many there are, is far simpler: Is it elegantly written? And, even more important, can it tolerate paradoxes and complexity, the spikier stuff that distinguishes real-life sinners from comic-book villains?
The answer, in the case of “Richard Nixon,” is yes, on both counts. Farrell has a liquid style that slips easily down the gullet, and he understands all too well that Nixon was a vat of contradictions. Some readers may find Farrell’s portrait too sympathetic — he’s as apt to describe Nixon as a tortured depressive as he is to call him a malevolent sneak — but more readers, I think, will find this book complicating and well-rounded.
It’s also hard to read a one-volume history of a president’s life without feeling like you’re crawling over the dense folds of an accordion. But most chapters in “Richard Nixon” have room to breathe.
The development of Nixon’s character in this book is subtle. He doesn’t start out as a rampaging narcissist and megalomaniac. Over time, it was power combined with profound insecurity that misshaped him. He had no ability to tolerate the slings and arrows of outrageous public humiliations, of which he probably suffered a disproportionate many, and he responded with the venom of a toadfish. The press trolled him. Even Dwight D. Eisenhower trolled him. Once, Ike was asked to name an important decision Nixon had helped him make as his vice president. “If you give me a week, I might think of one,” he replied.
Farrell follows a mostly chronological structure. We go to Whittier, Calif., where Nixon was raised by an ogre of a father, a fellow so bad at farming he couldn’t grow lemons. As a young man, Nixon was awkward, square, hopeless at making small talk. I could read a whole book of his love letters to Pat, his future wife. They’re endearing and pathetic, the desperate pleas of the runt of the litter.
“Yes, I know I’m crazy!” he wrote in a note he shoved under her door. “And that … I don’t take hints, but you see, Miss Pat, I like you!”
In some ways, the Watergate years, because they’re so familiar, are the least interesting stretch of this book. (Though here’s a detail I’d forgotten: Nixon had a mole in almost every opponent’s campaign, a thumb in every pie.) It’s Farrell’s chapters about race that prove the most textured and dizzying: It was over this issue that the president’s Quaker upbringing and Machiavellian impulses seemed most overtly at war. When Nixon first ran for Congress, he was made an honorary member of the local N.A.A.C.P., so progressive was he on matters of race. Yet while running for president, he made it clear he’d “lay off pro-Negro crap,” and once in office he mastered the rhetorical art of exploiting racial grievances. Thus began the South’s transformation from a block of Democratic-voting states to a G.O.P. sea.
You can also draw a through line from Nixon’s contempt for the liberal elite to Trump’s boastful claims of political incorrectness. That vaudevillian public disdain for East Coast intellectuals, Ivy League blue bloods, cosmopolites — all of it started with Nixon. It was he who first used the phrase “the silent majority.”
He came by that populism honestly. He started from nothing, and he found the culture of Washington, which went gaga over pretty, privileged boys like John F. Kennedy, infuriating. What his populism didn’t mean, however, was stripping the welfare state to the studs. The public still had a taste for big government back then. During Nixon’s presidency, he signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act and established the Environmental Protection Agency.
The most charitable biographies paint Nixon as a tragic figure, and that’s precisely what the president is here. Farrell’s Nixon is smart and ambitious, a visionary in some ways (China), but also skinless, both driven and utterly undone by self-doubt.
It may be the way he differs most, at least psychologically, from our current president. Trump has shown almost no evidence of self-doubt, ever, about anything. He appears to sail through life unencumbered by introspection. He’d yield no more depth if you used an oil rig.
But grandiosity and profound insecurity often find the same form of public expression: recklessness. “I sometimes had the impression that he invited crisis and that he couldn’t stand normalcy,” Henry Kissinger once said. I’ll leave it up to the reader to determine which president he’s best describing.
If Freud, as Auden wrote in his 1939 elegy, is “a whole climate of opinion / under whom we conduct our different lives”, then it would be fair to say that the local weather patterns around him shift from temptestuous to clement with uncanny regularity. Geography inevitably plays into the picture.
There are actually only two (relative) constants in the diffusion of Freud’s invention, psychoanalysis, from 1906 on. One is the acceptance of the fact that each of us has an unconscious life: parts of ourselves that are hidden from our own view inform dreams, and shape unwitting remarks and behaviour. The second is the talk and listening technology of two people – the free-associating patient and the analyst engaged in an intimate therapeutic conversation. The rest of the huge and often subtle panoply of Freud’s ideas, developed and revised over a lifetime of practice and writing, has been – and is – up for grabs.
There is a wealth of material to pick over. From Freud’s first book, On Aphasia, published when he was 35, to his last, Moses and Monotheism, written just before his death at 83, there are 23 volumes of the standard edition, not to mention many thick tomes of reflective and revealing letters to his fiancee (then wife), Martha, and to friends and colleagues, plus proceedings of international psychoanalytic meetings. Followers, interpreters, critics and bashers, reinventors and film-makers, slipper and watch manufacturers, in America, India, China, Europe, Africa and Latin America, can thus dispute, develop or make jokes about everything from the importance of the sex drive or libido to the dynamics of memory and repression; the relations between ego, id and superego; identification; therapeutic practice; cultural liberation and much more, including, of course, Freud’s own integrity – his scientific and medical status.
As Dagmar Herzog, an eminent historian of religion, gender and sexuality, points out in the introduction to her excellent Cold War Freud, the derestriction of the now fully digitised Sigmund Freud Archives in the Library of Congress from 2000 on has ushered in a new era in Freud studies, one rich in contextual detail. Joel Whitebook’s illuminating intellectual biography is part of this fresh and buoyant wave of thinking.
It marks a welcome change from the bile of the Freud wars, that wholesale attack during the last two decades of the 20th century on Freud’s reputation and work (or what might lurk under his capacious mantle). In the US, the virulence of the assault was undoubtedly linked to the postwar centrality of psychoanalysis in both popular and medical culture, where it formed part of psychiatric training until the roll out of drug therapies from the 70s on.
Herzog shows with telling detail how the variety of psychoanalysis that was developed in the US after the second world war had little in common with Freud’s initial project. A wholesale flight from sexuality and an insistence on conservative conformity within the patriotic family dominated many analysts’ repertoire. The sign of “cure” for the ego psychologists became an individual’s ability to control her impulses and adapt to reality. What was understood by “reality” was delimited by the norms of the 50s. The analyst’s task was to work through internal conflicts with the patient, never bringing in shaping social or political conditions. Even analysts for whom Freud’s libidinal emphases were in play sent women back to sterile marriages and worse. Convention ruled, undeterred by the famous emigres from the Frankfurt School who married Freud to social critique and had started publishing in the US.
Herzog brings fascinating documents to bear to show how US psychoanalysts formed alliances with Christian clergy who themselves wanted treatment. In 1952, Pope Pius XII even granted his imprimatur to analysis – as long as it didn’t arouse too many sexual appetites. It was against this cold war analytic ethos that the women’s movement reacted so vociferously, often blaming Freud for a practice that wasn’t his.
Homosexuality was a highly fraught arena, judged by the analysts to be a perverse condition that could be successfully treated. Freud himself had hypothesised that everyone was bisexual and could experience homoerotic feelings and fantasies. He often enough noted them in himself. Not so the US cold war analysts, who also condemned the Kinsey Reports with their challenges to the accepted face of monogamous heterosexual marriage. Herzog meticulously charts the long campaign to eradicate homophobia from American psychoanalytic ranks. Though individual analysts, such as the pioneering Robert Stoller, had long stood against the general trend, it wasn’t until 1991 that the American Psychoanalytic Association officially allowed openly gay practitioners.
Like an anthropologist engaged in fieldwork, Herzog moves from site to site to give us a textured understanding of complex historical matter. She zeroes in on German psychoanalysis, where the naturalising of aggression served to exonerate a troubled postwar nation in which Nazis were still everywhere. She scrutinises the politically radical post-68 Anti-Oedipe by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, grounding the book and its huge impact in its times, and stressing that it initiates a conceptual shift in how to think about the interrelation between psyche and politics.
Herzog also focuses in on the ascent of trauma theory or PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder. During the 50s, when postwar reparations were being sought from Germany, it was disputed that the camps could have long-term psychic as well as physical damage on individual survivors, particularly since psychic damage seemed only to manifest itself after the event. A large dose of antisemitism was at work in these deliberations. Only with the Vietnam war (and the work of NGOs with torture survivors) did PTSD become a recognised mental disorder.
Whitebook argues that Freud was never able fully to explore the unruly, pre-linguistic, pre-Oedipal maternal sphere
Whitebook’s Freud is an elegant foray into the man and his mind by a philosopher who is also a psychoanalyst. Freud was notoriously suspicious of biographers (as Adam Phillips’ recent anti-biography of the young Freud stressed). Perhaps he intuited that, once he had given us something of a Proustian autobiography in The Interpretation of Dreams, the very readings his own work prompted would be turned back on himself. Whitebook is both questioning and respectful. He is also shaped by present intellectual currents, so a discomfort with enlightenment universals and an alertness to gender underpin this book far more than they did, say, Peter Gay’s classic Freud: A Life for Our Time or Ernest Jones’s first enthusiastic portrayal of the Freud who was his friend and mentor.
Whitebook persuasively positions Freud as a thinker of the dark enlightenment, “a deeper, conflicted, disconsolate, and even tragic yet still emancipatory tradition within the broader movement of the enlightenment”. Freud understood the forces of the counter-enlightenment, the pull of the irrational, the sway of belief, and integrated all this into his vision. Whitebook’s Freud broke with his own Jewish tradition to forge an identity as a secular and sceptical scientist, but was alert to the shaping distortions of the passions he so skilfully reinterpreted. He offers new insight into Freud’s move away from philosophy to science and medicine, and gives a gripping and even-handed rendition of Freud’s homoerotic yet thoroughly intellectual friendships with the zany but charismatic Berlin doctor Wilhelm Fliess and later with Carl Gustav Jung.
My only reservation with Whitebook’s account is his attributing a modish traumatic significance to Freud’s early family life. He speculates that Freud was traumatised by the oddness of his relations with his mother, Amalia. He was her first, idealised son, but in the aftermath of her next son’s early death, she purportedly developed depression, leaving little Ziggy to the whims of his Catholic nanny. Amalia was a generation younger than Freud’s father, which also meant that one of Freud’s nephews was a little older than him. As a result of this family constellation, Whitebook argues, Freud was never able fully to explore and theorise the unruly, pre-linguistic, pre-Oedipal maternal sphere. Mothers are far less central to Freud’s thinking than fathers. But as a child of the second half of the 19th century, Freud’s early experience was historically hardly uncommon. The powers of patriarchy may have had as much to do with the “Missing Mother” in his work (a figure also important in much Victorian literature) as his own intra-psychic state. In later life, partly under the influence of female analysts, he began thinking about the pre-Oedipal far more.
That said, Whitebook’s is a rich and illuminating intellectual biography, and like Herzog’s Cold War Freud kindles new thought. Together, the books signal that there are still many areas to pursue in the field Freud sparked. The Freudian weather currently feels clement.
Obama’s effort to fix an overextended foreign policy is a lot like Nixon and Kissinger’s.
Stephen Sestanovich, The Atlantic, January/February 2016 Issue
No matter how many books are written about Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, there’s always room on the shelf for more. Our fascination with these two larger-than-life characters hardly needs explaining. There’s the doomed and moody president, manic when he wasn’t melancholic, and his super-brainy, super-vain, Nobel Prize–winning adviser—a pair of shape-shifting personalities who took control of American foreign policy at its lowest moment of the Cold War. They combined ambitious statesmanship with jaw-dropping weirdness, sparked controversies that continue to this day, and—while pretending otherwise—were obsessively desirous of our good opinion. How could we not be just as interested in them?
It’s not only the pull of great characters, of course, that keeps the Nixon and Kissinger books coming. There’s plenty of fresh material, too. The many titles of the past year draw on reams of declassified documents; the final batch of Oval Office tapes; first-ever access to some personal papers; extensive interviews with friends, family members, and staffers; and much more. It’s a measure of the abundant information available that one author can pay tribute to another scholar by calling him the only person to have read the “millions of papers at the Nixon Library.” These new books come by their juice and color the old-fashioned way—through tedious, time-consuming research.
The torrent of information has not, alas, given us the unified picture of Nixon and Kissinger that we might have hoped for. The clash of views is sharper than ever. The journalist Evan Thomas (Being Nixon: A Man Divided) and the historian Niall Ferguson (volume one of whose Kissinger biography is arrestingly subtitled The Idealist) are determined to humanize their subjects. Leading the vilification effort are another journalist, Tim Weiner (One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon), and another historian, Greg Grandin (Kissinger’s Shadow: The Long Reach of America’s Most Controversial Statesman). The first two want to complicate and soften our views; the second pair aim to simplify and harden them.
Nixon and Kissinger combined ambitious statesmanship with jaw-dropping weirdness.
Humanizers and vilifiers do share a crucial premise. They believe the story of Nixon and Kissinger can best be told by delving into their personalities and peculiarities, mapping every quirk, savoring every tape, noting every outrageous conversation and vulgarity. (The president does seem to have been very fond of the word nut-cutting.) And it’s not enough to be inside the Oval Office, listening to the astonishing things Nixon and Kissinger said. These books want us inside their heads, too, inside their wild ids and egos. Humanizers and vilifiers don’t disagree on where to look, only on what they find there. Of the young Kissinger’s overripe prose, Grandin jokes, “You can almost hear Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ in the background.” Ferguson claims to hear Bob Dylan.
More than 40 years after Nixon resigned the presidency, and almost 40 after Kissinger stepped down as secretary of state, this hyper-personalized approach is nearly spent. Both demonizers and defenders have produced valuable and entertaining books. They have clarified the strengths and weaknesses, prejudices and preferences, and thoroughly unsettling pathologies of two major public figures. But it’s time for a change—and not just because the flow of shocking revelations is slowing down. We have found out amazing things about what went on in the Nixon White House. Even so, we have much to learn by trying to see past some of the horrifying details. We need to appreciate the story’s ordinariness as well.
Our first step should be back to the history books. Nixon and Kissinger were neither the first nor the last to manage American foreign policy while the country was feeling overextended and unsure of itself. How do their efforts compare with what others in the same situation have done—most recently, and notably, Barack Obama? The answer gives Nixon and Kissinger’s record more-normal human proportions, and makes clear that they were neither madmen nor demigods. It clarifies the challenges they faced—and our own.
Putting aside our long debate about these two will not be easy. Both critics and admirers have what seem like pretty good arguments. If you hate Nixon and Kissinger, you talk about the cruel—some say criminal—use of American military power in Indochina. If you admire them, you stress their pathbreaking diplomatic initiatives. Christmas bombing versus opening to China—the conversation hasn’t changed much in four decades.
These same fixations animate the latest books. Speaking for the demonizers, Weiner says that “subterfuge and brutality” were Nixon’s “preferred” policy mode. The two halves of this formula—the harsh use of force produced by hidden decision making—also loom large in Grandin’s book. Both authors recount the regular bursts of military power that marked the Nixon presidency—the secret bombing of Cambodia (complete with falsified record-keeping arranged by the new national-security adviser, Henry Kissinger), the Cambodian invasion of 1970, the copycat (and thoroughly botched) operation in Laos in 1971, the mining of Haiphong harbor in 1972, and the Christmas bombing of North Vietnam later that year.
Most of these episodes have a similar story line, with the White House overruling (or excluding) dissenting Cabinet secretaries, and the president barking out orders for more planes, more bombs, more sorties, more destruction. Nixon can seem completely indifferent to domestic consequences. “Let this country go up in flames,” we hear him say—and he wasn’t referring to Vietnam. (This particular outburst, to be fair, may have been the liquor talking—Weiner’s Nixon is often drunk.)
Like much of the Nixon and Kissinger record, these stories could be recounted with less vilifying zeal, but the basic facts are hard to dispute. No matter how much new information they present, the humanizers will win few converts on the secrecy, illegality, and brutality front. Thomas may convince us that Nixon was awkward and graceless and insecure (didn’t we sort of know this?), but no amount of talk about poor social skills will make anyone see his foreign policy differently. If you believe Nixon was a war criminal, hearing that he was an introvert will not change your mind.
Ferguson’s Kissinger faces the same hurdles. Calling the book a bildungsroman, Ferguson gamely tries to make Kissinger a regular-guy genius. He was devoted to his cocker spaniel, Smoky; he was just as snotty to his parents as any bright young man; and so forth. But it’s a struggle. The book also reminds us that, long before entering government service, Henry Kissinger the young Harvard professor made his reputation with one big policy idea—that small nuclear weapons were essential instruments of modern war. There was a reason people thought him a model for Dr. Strangelove.
Of course, when the humanizers get a chance to talk about their favorite elements of the Nixon and Kissinger record, they too make a lot of points that aren’t easily countered. Who, after all, is against visionary and effective diplomacy? Speaking at Nixon’s funeral in 1994, Bill Clinton helped along this reassessment of the former president. Nixon’s legacy, he said, had to be judged “in totality”—meaning, let’s remember the good stuff. Even the megalomania and weirdness look a lot more excusable, perhaps almost desirable, when measured against the demands of high-pressure peacemaking. As Joe Biden said recently at a Washington awards dinner, with the former secretary of state present, “I’m still intimidated by Dr. Kissinger.”
Thomas’s summary aphorism about Nixon—that “inner torment and even a touch of wickedness can be catalysts to greatness”—may not seem quite enough to justify the bombing of Cambodia. Still, when offered the goal of a “generation of peace,” which Nixon conjured in his second inaugural address, the demonizers become a lot less vehement. They don’t drop their overall indictment. (Détente, Grandin gripes in a footnote, just didn’t go far enough—Washington should have “thoroughly demilitarized.”) But few critics challenge the idea that their favorite villains were genuinely innovative strategists.
Polemics like these keep us from seeing Nixon and Kissinger in a fresh light. For that, we must weigh their record alongside those of other leaders who were given the job of ending America’s stalemated wars. Judged merely by temperament, after all, Dwight Eisenhower, who wound down the Korean War, and Barack Obama, who reduced U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, could hardly be further from Richard Nixon. And their advisers are not to be confused with Henry Kissinger. Yet personal differences were not decisive. Eisenhower and Obama chose policies strikingly similar to Nixon’s.
All three presidents began with the same analysis of their strategic predicament. For the long haul—to avoid going “down the drain as a great power,” as Nixon put it—America needed a downsized foreign policy that better connected ends and means. A “spasmodic reaction to the stimulus of emergencies”—Eisenhower’s description of the way his predecessor, Harry Truman, had done things—was not sustainable, politically or economically. Ike’s answer: military budget cuts that were deeper and faster than any his successors made.
In the same spirit, Nixon told Congress in his 1970 “State of the World” message that the United States could no longer “conceive all the plans, design all the programs, execute all the decisions, and undertake all the defense of the free nations of the world.” Other nations had to do more too—if only, as Kissinger had written just before becoming national-security adviser, to “discipline our occasional impetuosity.” Barack Obama thought of George W. Bush much as Nixon did of Lyndon B. Johnson and Eisenhower did of Truman, and he certainly agreed with Kissinger. The core of a better strategy was to stop, as Obama had it, doing “stupid shit.”
Eisenhower, Nixon, and Obama further agreed on how to implement their analysis—by making the big decisions themselves. Humanizers and vilifiers tend to see the centralization of power in the White House as an outgrowth of Nixon’s and Kissinger’s personal oddities. In fact, strong policy control is characteristic of all retrenchment presidents. Elected to clean up a mess, they tend (with some justice) to view the bureaucracies they inherit as prisoners of old ideas and aims.
How such presidents overcome obstacles can vary; their determination to do so does not. Eisenhower, accustomed to command, asserted his authority without any of Nixon and Kissinger’s extreme secrecy and intrigue. He insisted on a crisp and orderly process—but felt free to ignore the recommendations it produced. Having become president as a foreign-policy neophyte, Obama found it far more difficult than Ike did, at least at first, to impose his views on his advisers. But on one issue after another—from Iran to Ukraine—he has carried the day. Seeing Obama as an ineffectual egghead is as wrong as considering Eisenhower a grandfatherly golfer. Both knew that managing weakness requires a strong hand.
Nixon and Kissinger’s critics insist, of course, that they used their total dominance of policy to make retrenchment a far bloodier and more violent process than it has been in any other administration. This can hardly be doubted. Yet the accusation misses something fundamental, both about how the United States got out of Vietnam, and about how other presidents have limited the risks that accompany a downsized foreign policy.
Richard Nixon’s strategy to achieve peace in Vietnam had two equally important leitmotifs. First was his readiness, at key moments, to rain down death and destruction on the other side. But the second was an unshakable commitment to get the hell out. His “go for broke” military offensives were inseparable from steady troop withdrawals. As he bombed Cambodia in 1969, Nixon started bringing the boys home. The United States invaded Cambodia in 1970, right after the announcement of an even bigger withdrawal. Equally large troop drawdowns were made in 1971. One reason Nixon relied so heavily on airpower to pound North Vietnam in 1972 was that by then he had cut the U.S. force to fewer than 70,000 men, not even 15 percent of the number he began with. Nothing—certainly not the appeals of his generals—ever led Nixon to suspend or slow the pace of withdrawals. He was getting out of the war, and if he used brutal bombing campaigns to cover his retreat, there’s no doubt that it was a retreat. “Peace with honor” was no bar to horrific violence, but it wasn’t exactly mindless, either. Nixon had accepted the inevitable—he just wasn’t ready to have it look as though pulling out had been forced on him.
Outreach to adversaries has followed each of our stalemated wars.
Did other presidents manage the downsizing of foreign policy without the threat or use of compensatory violence? Certainly not. Eisenhower believed that only his threat of nuclear war had achieved an armistice in Korea. (A secret threat, of course, not shared with the American public or U.S. allies.) Ike actually considered and even threatened using nuclear weapons more than any other president. They were his go-to tool for deterring Soviet advances. Where nuclear threats would not do the job, covert action played its part. Some of the most important CIA operations ever, in Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954, were undertaken—or, in the case of the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco, planned—under Eisenhower. And who launched the largest Cold War military operation in the Middle East—the American intervention in Lebanon in 1958—simply out of worry that his policy had begun to look too weak? Same president.
For Obama, winding down overseas combat operations has been as firm a goal as it was for Nixon. The troop surge Obama allowed his generals in Afghanistan was limited, and it came with a strict deadline that he devised himself and would not extend, despite repeated appeals. (Only recently, with a tiny force left, did he change his mind about going all the way to zero.) In pulling out of the post-9/11 wars, Obama wanted what Nixon wanted—a way to keep casualties low and limit the risk of big military setbacks. His means—increased use of unmanned drones, greater reliance on Special Operations forces and cyber attacks, aggressive telephone and e-mail intercepts—were ones whose purpose Nixon and Eisenhower would have applauded. Yes, George W. Bush fashioned these policies, but Obama has used them—and the secrecy they depend on—far more fully. He has given them, moreover, a different goal—not to advance Bush’s strategy, but to reverse it.
Nixon and Kissinger’s claim to immortality rests on the other half of their foreign policy—the new relationships they forged with the Soviet Union and China. Their visits to Beijing were among the most skillfully orchestrated moves in American diplomatic history. Alongside détente with Moscow, these initiatives seemed precisely what the country needed for a successful rebound from the Vietnam War.
All the same, the impulse behind the new strategy was far from unique. Outreach to adversaries—and especially an effort to achieve what Kissinger called an “ideological truce”—has followed each of our stalemated wars. Eisenhower, even after the armistice in Korea, felt there was still a public “hunger for peace”—for relief from the rigors of the Cold War—that he had to satisfy. He considered harsh anticommunist rhetoric “tragically stupid and ultimately worthless.” He spent his presidency seeking a Soviet-American agreement that would lift the threat of nuclear war. None of Eisenhower’s proposals—not “Atoms for Peace,” not “Open Skies,” not a nuclear-test ban—led anywhere with Moscow. The hopeful moods he sought to create—the “Spirit of Geneva,” which followed his first meeting with Nikita Khrushchev, in 1955, and the “Spirit of Camp David,” which followed his next one, in 1959—came to nothing.
But Ike persisted. If scaling back the Cold War meant compromising long-standing positions, he was ready for it. He told his advisers that to stop nuclear tests, he would accept pretty much any inspection arrangements Khrushchev proposed. He wanted a 20 percent drawdown of U.S. troops in Europe; when others called for a 25 percent defense-budget increase, he preferred none. (One of the most vocal critics of this early search for détente was Henry Kissinger, who warned that the United States was losing its will to carry on the East-West competition.)
It’s unclear whether Obama has drawn consciously from either Eisenhower or Nixon and Kissinger. Yet the same impulses that shaped their strategy have clearly shaped his. All three administrations shared the goal of developing a post-ideological foreign-policy vocabulary; the conviction that the resource levels devoted to national security were unsustainably high; the desire to make relations with adversaries less competitive; and the hope to use nuclear agreements as levers with which to advance a broader geopolitical (even civilizational) transformation.
Just as Nixon and Kissinger’s critics insist that their crimes were sui generis, their admirers can be counted on to claim that their foreign-policy achievements stand alone. Didn’t the architects of “triangular diplomacy”—détente with the Soviet Union paired with an opening to China—give us a master class in how to manipulate rival powers for mutual benefit? Has any other administration displayed such strategic insight or dazzling professional skill?
The Beijing and Moscow summits of 1972 were, to be sure, a gigantic domestic political triumph. They restored a sense of direction and purpose after years of setbacks. But the president and his adviser thought they were doing much more than pandering to voters. (Of the public’s enthusiasm for his China policy, Nixon’s view was typically disdainful: “The American people are suckers.” He derided the very hope he had created by restoring ties: “ ‘Getting to know you’—all that bullshit.”) The big strategic idea underlying their policy was to preserve American “influence” by yielding “formal predominance.” By playing the two leading Communist states against each other, Washington could get their help in Vietnam, soften the hard ideological edges of their foreign policy, and—especially in the case of China—make them supporters of a continuing global role for the United States.
Little of this big idea unfolded as Nixon and Kissinger had hoped. Soviet and Chinese aid to North Vietnam went up, not down. The dramatic U.S. military operations of 1972—first the mining of Haiphong harbor, and then the Christmas bombing—took place because triangular diplomacy had not kept Hanoi from launching another offensive that spring. The Russians and the Chinese did not force the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table, nor oblige them to accept adverse terms once negotiations began. Nixon and Kissinger had successfully taken the ideological element out of their own relations with the Soviet Union and China, but the same was not true of relations between Moscow and Beijing. If anything, American policy made ideological rivalry between the major Communist states more acute, not less. The United States had to cope with the consequences not only in Vietnam but also, later in the decade, in Africa—as Moscow and Beijing vied for influence in Angola and Ethiopia.
Kissinger has long insisted that after his early visits, China became an advocate of a strong and confident international role for the U.S. (Mao even admitted to being a closet Republican: As he told Nixon in 1972, “I like rightists.”) What Kissinger does not say is that in those same visits he sketched out for his hosts a very different American role, less strong and less confident. Nixon, Kissinger told Zhou Enlai, was not guided by “dreams of the past” and would pursue a different strategy, especially in Asia. The U.S. would not try to “stop history” by propping up weak clients, such as South Vietnam and Taiwan. Kissinger forecast an end to the U.S. military presence in South Korea and expressed alarm at Japan’s growing economic strength. Beijing and Washington, he speculated, might have to unite to oppose Tokyo’s militarism. But he urged Zhou not to push for too much too fast. Washington was still getting used to its new role. “You could not respect us,” he pleaded, “if we found this easy.”
Nothing unites the Nixon and Kissinger record more tightly with those of Eisenhower and Obama than the difference between their first and second terms. For all the trials of downsizing, each of these three presidents made foreign policy a major asset in his first four years—and a ticket to resounding reelection. Adlai Stevenson, George McGovern, and Mitt Romney never had a chance against the masters of retrenchment. But then came something altogether different. A strategy that had been broadly accepted as a way to extricate the United States from over commitment seemed less relevant when the war was over, less valuable in responding to new challenges. Retrenchment, to the surprise of its own architects, became ever more controversial.
Kissinger liked to portray his critics as isolationists or militarists.
What went wrong? To Nixon and Kissinger, the only thing that made any sense of this sudden disenchantment was Watergate. Post-Vietnam demoralization played a part, and so perhaps did skyrocketing oil prices and then recession. But the destructive impact of these events was nothing alongside a domestic political scandal almost unique in American history. Kissinger likes to describe Watergate’s significance this way: “We were castrated.” No wonder the “glittering promise” he felt at the beginning of Nixon’s second term was ultimately wasted.
The postwar-retrenchment blues of other presidents should, however, alert us to other explanations. If, without Watergate, Eisenhower faced a strong second-term challenge to his foreign policy, and Obama has too, then maybe we need to look beyond scandal and “castration” for the real story.
Eisenhower had his own way of explaining his second-term frustrations. The key was Sputnik and what he called, in his famous farewell address, the “military-industrial complex.” When the Soviet Union launched the first globe-circling satellite in 1957, hard-liners with strong corporate backing stoked fears of a “missile gap.” Unfortunately, the president could not reassure the public without compromising top-secret intelligence.
Yet Ike’s version of how his foreign policy lost its allure was incomplete. Fears of a changing nuclear balance were just one factor. In the late 1950s, the U.S. and its friends seemed suddenly on the defensive almost everywhere. New crises erupted in virtually every region of the world—in Berlin, Lebanon, the Taiwan Strait, and Cuba. Calls for a more consistent and better-articulated policy were heard across the political spectrum, even among Eisenhower’s closest advisers. As East-West tensions rose, Ike responded with annoyance. He invoked his own vast foreign-policy experience, said the U.S. was not falling behind, belittled those who wanted to spend more on defense, and impugned their motives. He pushed back, but it was not enough.
Second-term presidents who have managed to tidy up an inherited foreign-policy mess have always been blindsided by what came next. Slow to cope with—or even recognize—new problems, they hope to stick with the winning formulas of their first term. Here too Obama has had much in common with Eisenhower. In the past two years, as he talked about banging out “singles” and “doubles” (while Ukraine was under siege, Syria in flames, and China muscling American allies), Obama channeled Eisenhower’s complacency. When he said that criticism of his nuclear deal with Iran reflected the same mind-set that led to war with Iraq, he displayed Ike’s irritability.
Nixon and Kissinger didn’t see their troubles coming either. Though détente had evoked little real opposition while fighting continued in Vietnam, it fell to earth once the war was over. In the ensuing debate, Kissinger, easily the most acclaimed policy celebrity of modern times, often hurt his own case. He called those who questioned his arms-control offers to Moscow “strategically and politically illiterate.” When support for Soviet dissidents grew in Congress, he inflamed it by advising the president (now Gerald Ford) not to meet Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. When Congress banned covert aid to anti-Soviet guerrillas in Angola, he treated the measure as a kind of peacenik absurdity. (In fact, most Republican senators present—from Jacob Javits to Jesse Helms—had voted against him.)
America’s retrenchment presidents have all hoped to devise a foreign policy for the long haul.
Kissinger liked to portray his critics as isolationists or militarists—the left- and right-wing fringes of serious debate. He claimed to be the prudent centrist, to have the only long-term strategy for advancing the national interest. No setbacks shook this conviction. In an otherwise conciliatory letter he wrote to Daniel Patrick Moynihan shortly after leaving office, Kissinger tried to take the edge off their earlier clashes. As ambassador to the United Nations, Moynihan had seen human rights as a way to retake the ideological high ground of the Cold War. The secretary of state, his nominal boss, would have none of it. “I had to position our policy for a long haul,” Kissinger explained, “while you were concerned with the immediate crisis.”
It was a telling inversion of the truth. Kissinger’s position as chief steward of American foreign policy obliged him to focus on a large portfolio of endless pressing concerns. Yet in managing them on a daily basis, he failed to elaborate a strategy that could command support from one administration to the next. He missed, in fact, exactly what Eisenhower—and later, Obama—missed. He had lost the center.
There was no shortage of reasons for this result. The American people may have wanted uplift more than nuance. They may have been too easily frightened by new difficulties. They may have responded too quickly to partisanship. They may have sensed that their leaders were not really leveling with them, were too in thrall to their own ideas, could not see how to change course. Whatever the reason, the public needed a more compelling and coherent description of what Kissinger was trying to do. It wasn’t Watergate that held him back.
America’s retrenchment presidents teach an ironic lesson. Coming in to manage a disaster, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Barack Obama all hoped to devise a foreign policy for the United States that would avoid big swings between over- and undercommitment. What they came up with, however, turned out to command support only as an interim measure. Once it became clear that the world was still a confusing and tumultuous place, the acclaim they had enjoyed was soon forgotten. The resurgence of heated policy debate didn’t just disappoint them—it infuriated them. They found their second terms a bumpy ride, full of criticisms they felt were unfair and unconstructive. They got angry at American politics, and at the American people.
If retrenchment presidents are irritable, they are also surprisingly inarticulate. Few rise to the challenge of explaining their policies. In the course of their careers, Eisenhower, Nixon, and Obama were all known—in very different ways—for clear and persuasive expression. Yet this gift failed them when their ostensibly long-haul foreign policy came under attack. Persuasiveness gave way to petulance.
Strategies of retrenchment always lose their shine.
Inarticulateness overcame other presidents who carried out strategies of retrenchment. Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter adopted many of Nixon’s policies, especially toward China and the Soviet Union—and explained them no better. George H. W. Bush, having achieved both the successful conclusion of the Cold War and victory in the Persian Gulf, sought to de-emphasize foreign policy in the second half of his presidency. But international upheavals—from the Balkans to Somalia—did not subside. Like other downsizers, Bush seemed unsure how to handle these new issues—much less how to talk about them.
Retrenchment is a hard product to market. Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Bush 41, and Obama belong to an honor roll of presidents all with the same problem: how to convince the American people that their foreign policy was more successful, less rudderless and reactive, than it seemed. Believing that they had fashioned a creative response to national war weariness, they found themselves labeled too passive. Certain that theirs was the standard against which all other strategies should be measured, they were called confused. Confident that they had put American foreign policy on a sustainable course that hardly needed to be debated, they lost control of the conversation.
As these presidents discovered, strategies of retrenchment always lose their shine. That’s normal. For Henry Kissinger, of course, normal will be a hard verdict to accept. But it fits. He had only a very difficult assignment, we can now see, not a unique one. In carrying it out, he did some things well, others not so well, and still others badly. With the perspective that time affords, both the calumny and the praise he and Nixon elicited seem obviously excessive. They were sometimes brilliant, sometimes foolish, sometimes lucky, sometimes terribly unlucky. For all their eccentricity and defensive self-regard, their record looks less distinctive than we have usually thought. If, 10 years from now, the next generation of scholars has produced a new shelf of books that help us to see the ordinariness of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, we will understand them—and perhaps ourselves—far better than we do now.
Richard M. Nixon always denied it: to David Frost, to historians and to Lyndon B. Johnson, who had the strongest suspicions and the most cause for outrage at his successor’s rumored treachery. To them all, Nixon insisted that he had not sabotaged Johnson’s 1968 peace initiative to bring the war in Vietnam to an early conclusion. “My God. I would never do anything to encourage” South Vietnam “not to come to the table,” Nixon told Johnson, in a conversation captured on the White House taping system.
Now we know Nixon lied. A newfound cache of notes left by H. R. Haldeman, his closest aide, shows that Nixon directed his campaign’s efforts to scuttle the peace talks, which he feared could give his opponent, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, an edge in the 1968 election. On Oct. 22, 1968, he ordered Haldeman to “monkey wrench” the initiative.
The 37th president has been enjoying a bit of a revival recently, as his achievements in foreign policy and the landmark domestic legislation he signed into law draw favorable comparisons to the presidents (and president-elect) that followed. A new, $15 million face-lift at the Nixon presidential library, while not burying the Watergate scandals, spotlights his considerable record of accomplishments.
Haldeman’s notes return us to the dark side. Amid the reappraisals, we must now weigh apparently criminal behavior that, given the human lives at stake and the decade of carnage that followed in Southeast Asia, may be more reprehensible than anything Nixon did in Watergate.
Nixon had entered the fall campaign with a lead over Humphrey, but the gap was closing that October. Henry A. Kissinger, then an outside Republican adviser, had called, alerting Nixon that a deal was in the works: If Johnson would halt all bombing of North Vietnam, the Soviets pledged to have Hanoi engage in constructive talks to end a war that had already claimed 30,000 American lives.
Anna Chennault, 1969.Credit Ira Gay Sealy/The Denver Post, via Getty Images
But Nixon had a pipeline to Saigon, where the South Vietnamese president, Nguyen Van Thieu, feared that Johnson would sell him out. If Thieu would stall the talks, Nixon could portray Johnson’s actions as a cheap political trick. The conduit was Anna Chennault, a Republican doyenne and Nixon fund-raiser, and a member of the pro-nationalist China lobby, with connections across Asia.
“! Keep Anna Chennault working on” South Vietnam, Haldeman scrawled, recording Nixon’s orders. “Any other way to monkey wrench it? Anything RN can do.”
Nixon told Haldeman to have Rose Mary Woods, the candidate’s personal secretary, contact another nationalist Chinese figure — the businessman Louis Kung — and have him press Thieu as well. “Tell him hold firm,” Nixon said.
Nixon also sought help from Chiang Kai-shek, the President of Taiwan. And he ordered Haldeman to have his vice-presidential candidate, Spiro T. Agnew, threaten the C.I.A. director, Richard Helms. Helms’s hopes of keeping his job under Nixon depended on his pliancy, Agnew was to say. “Tell him we want the truth — or he hasn’t got the job,” Nixon said.
Throughout his life, Nixon feared disclosure of this skulduggery. “I did nothing to undercut them,” he told Frost in their 1977 interviews. “As far as Madame Chennault or any number of other people,” he added, “I did not authorize them and I had no knowledge of any contact with the South Vietnamese at that point, urging them not to.” Even after Watergate, he made it a point of character. “I couldn’t have done that in conscience.”
Nixon had cause to lie. His actions appear to violate federal law, which prohibits private citizens from trying to “defeat the measures of the United States.” His lawyers fought throughout Nixon’s life to keep the records of the 1968 campaign private. The broad outline of “the Chennault affair” would dribble out over the years. But the lack of evidence of Nixon’s direct involvement gave pause to historians and afforded his loyalists a defense.
Time has yielded Nixon’s secrets. Haldeman’s notes were opened quietly at the presidential library in 2007, where I came upon them in my research for a biography of the former president. They contain other gems, like Haldeman’s notations of a promise, made by Nixon to Southern Republicans, that he would retreat on civil rights and “lay off pro-Negro crap” if elected president. There are notes from Nixon’s 1962 California gubernatorial campaign, in which he and his aides discuss the need to wiretap political foes.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that, absent Nixon, talks would have proceeded, let alone ended the war. But Johnson and his advisers, at least, believed in their mission and its prospects for success.
When Johnson got word of Nixon’s meddling, he ordered the F.B.I. to track Chennault’s movements. She “contacted Vietnam Ambassador Bui Diem,” one report from the surveillance noted, “and advised him that she had received a message from her boss … to give personally to the ambassador. She said the message was … ‘Hold on. We are gonna win. … Please tell your boss to hold on.’ ”
In a conversation with the Republican senator Everett Dirksen, the minority leader, Johnson lashed out at Nixon. “I’m reading their hand, Everett,” Johnson told his old friend. “This is treason.”
“I know,” Dirksen said mournfully.
Johnson’s closest aides urged him to unmask Nixon’s actions. But on a Nov. 4 conference call, they concluded that they could not go public because, among other factors, they lacked the “absolute proof,” as Defense Secretary Clark Clifford put it, of Nixon’s direct involvement.