Thursday, December 4, 2008

More Nixon tapes

The Washington Post emphasizes: Nixon Tapes Reveal Vietnam Strategy, while the LA Times focuses on Nixon archives shed light on his campaign to investigate enemies.

The new tapes contain conversations on the Christmas bombings of North Vietnam in 1972, while some of the memos touch on Nixon's campaign against anyone he saw as an enemy (which, famously, was just about anyone and everyone).

"The press is the enemy. The establishment is the enemy. The professors are the enemy," Nixon told Kissinger in a recorded Oval Office conversation on Dec. 14, 1972.

One document in particular may reveal the beginnings of Nixon's so-called "enemies list." In a handwritten note on June 23, 1971, Nixon's top aide, H.R. Haldeman, documents Nixon's order to pressure former Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford using the IRS. Clifford was a vocal critic of Nixon's Vietnam policy.

Haldeman also references action to be taken against another Nixon enemy, "TK," whom many believe to be Senator Ted Kennedy.

"Get him -- compromising situation . . . Get evidence -- use another Dem as front," Haldeman writes of "TK."

... and ...

In a memo to Nixon on Jan. 16, 1970, presidential staffer Alexander Butterfield reported on the progress of Nixon's order to remove all pictures of past presidents from White House walls. Butterfield noted that of 35 offices occupied by White House support staff, six had displayed one or more former presidents.

Nixon, the memo reveals, had expressed special concern about an office in which he saw two pictures of John F. Kennedy. Butterfield discovered the office belonged to Edna Rosenberg, a low-level civil servant who had been on the White House staff for 41 years, longer than any other staffer. Butterfield said he "checked her file very carefully" and found the CIA, FBI and Secret Service all considered her a loyal American.

One of the Kennedy portraits, it turned out, bore a personal inscription. Still, she was made to take it down.

Embarrassing stuff, which makes it no wonder that some people have decided it's best to leave no paper trail at all.* There's the dilemma for historians and archivists: politicians were more comfortable keeping diaries and saving notes when they thought they would be able to write their history themselves, or control who had access to their files. But if you're never going to have the chance to edit your own records, it's very tempting to leave as impoverished a record as possible, just as a matter of self-preservation. For the sake of reliable history (eventually), it's a good idea to allow some things to remain sealed until the contemporary generation has left the stage.

* We could also say, If you don't want to be embarrassed, stop doing things you don't want people to know about. But let's be real.

1 comment:

James Hanley said...

" The professors are the enemy,"

Damn right! And I fully intend to keep on being the enemy of power-abusing executives..