Christopher Hitchens on the Nixon Tapes, Vietnam and Everything

In Slate today, Christopher Hitchens examines the latest Nixon tapes released by the Nixon Library on June 23:


Bad—and revealing—as all this petty filth and bigotry undoubtedly is, it has a tendency to pale when set against the sheer brutal cynicism of the conversations about Vietnam. Nixon liked to talk tough in two distinct but related ways about this subject. To Charles Colson—another pious Christian among his consiglieri—he is heard on the tapes boasting that his massive bombing of North Vietnamese civilians would be vindicated and that those who opposed it would be held “treasonable.” (His famous confidential secretary, Rose Mary Woods, is on the tapes expressing the same hope for an arraignment of disloyal senators and congressmen.) But when talking to his most depraved of all associates, Henry Kissinger, he is full of cruelty and bluster when expressing his intention of applying pain to the South Vietnamese. If the South Vietnamese client president, Nguyen Van Thieu, would not agree to sign Nixon’s version of what was later to be called “peace with honor,” Nixon yelled on tape in 1973 that he would “cut off his head if necessary.” Thus, a huge number of American lives and an incalculable number of Vietnamese ones were thrown away to end the war on more shameful terms than had been on offer in the fall of 1968 (when Nixon had been in league with Kissinger and Nguyen to sabotage and oppose those very terms; for more on this, see my book The Trial of Henry Kissinger).



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