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Chapter One: Bad Moon Rising

Return to the Charles A. Thomas Papers (KSU May 4 Collection)


Blood of Isaac
an e-book by Charles A. Thomas



Chapter One: Bad Moon Rising




            The recurring dilemma of the historian no less than the tragedian is why persons who are obsessed with gaining and wielding power invariably set traps for themselves that doom all their designs.   In the case of Richard Milhous Nixon, the fatal moment in the self-destructive process came in the spring of 1970, and the ultimate cause of his downfall, with all of its ramifications, must be sought then.   The beginning of his life’s crisis coincided with the near-death of American astronauts on a voyage to the moon, itself a stark celestial warning sign to the quickening hubris of the nation’s technocratic empire.   True, the other stresses of that society – the deferred cataclysms of race and class war, the economic conundrum of an affluent society’s life being sapped by a parasitic military-industrial parasite, generational estrangement, environmental degradation – were already cracking the façade of civil polity.   But Nixon had been elected to deal with these crises – or so the voters thought.   He and those behind his election knew he had another agenda.

            What traumatized him in April 1970 was that his secret solution for the nation’s ills had been found out.   Suddenly it was so little secret that it had a name: “the Southern strategy” – a plan for a coup d’etat written in the largest possible geographic script, no less than shifting th.e power base of the nation away from the liberal Northeast to the states dominated by the oil and armaments cartels along the southern rim and southwestern coast.[1]   And he had exposed it, perhaps needlessly, by the clumsy way he had handled his nomination of two reactionary Southerners to the US Supreme Court.

            Those given to the ritual of reading through the massive weekly edition of the New York Times on that last calm Sunday the nation would know that spring found no dearth of commentary on Nixon’s blunder.   The unsigned lead editorial, titled “What Was Clothed Has Been Stripped Naked”, referred pointedly to “the Administration’s Southern strategy, or at least its white strategy” – alluding to the President’s pandering for Southern political support by covertly abandoning federal initiatives in desegregation.   Senior commentator James Reston, recalling Nixon’s campaign promise to “bring us together”, accused him rather of “escalating a regional and racial fight that would certainly tear us apart.”   Southerner Tom Wicker fumed that Nixon had tried “to treat Southerners as boobs”, pawns in a ham-handed power play.[2]

            His Supreme Court nominations, now obvious as part of a huge power grab, were quashed.   Nixon, who as a sidelined Navy officer in World War II had distinguished himself solely as a poker player, had tipped, then lost a big hand.   Following a state dinner on Friday, May 10th, he adjourned to the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland to brood over his defeat in the company of his special intimate Charles “Bebe” Rebozo, a Cuban-American “businessman” and professional anti-Communist.   On Sunday, he phoned his chief of staff, H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, to reassure him that he was ready to return to the fray – “thought the big fight last week was good – stirred people up”[3]  -- with a new Supreme Court nominee.   The bellicosity of his mood was conveyed by his suggestion for dealing with those on the US Civil Rights Commission who had opposed his retrograde pace on federal desegregation: “root them out and get rid of them”.[4]   

            He conducted his staff meeting on Monday afternoon in this combative spirit.   He suggested revamping the federal civil service completely – “all it’s for is freezing mediocre people into jobs” – selling the Tennessee Valley Authority (the massive rural electrification program under Franklin Roosevelt), and, with an eye on the worsening economy, he “[t]opped them all with, ‘the Fed[eral Reserve Board] will not be independent if it’s the last thing I do in office.”[5]   There was nothing new in the President’s hostility toward the branch of government he headed, which he characterized as a “big, gooey mass”.[6]   But now he was newly incautious in expressing it.

            Whatever bellicose plans the President had for that week were forgotten around midnight, when Haldeman got a call from national security advisor Henry Kissinger.   The Apollo XIII spacecraft was two days and 205,000 miles out from Earth on its voyage to the moon when one of its oxygen tanks exploded.   The command ship was so badly damaged that the astronauts were forced to climb into the lunar module – which had been designed only to take them from the moon’s orbit to its surface – and use it as a lifeboat in an attempt to get back to Earth.   For the nation and the President, “the four most harrowing days in the history of the American space program” had begun.[7]

            Haldeman did not see the point in waking the President at midnight to tell him.   But when Nixon did learn the next morning, the White House schedule was scrubbed.   He fidgeted through the ceremonials accompanying another state visit and cancelled the entertainment that was supposed to accompany dinner.   Entirely more momentous, he cancelled the nationally-televised speech he had prepared on Vietnam, an announcement of dramatic troop withdrawals designed to trump his detested enemies in the academic antiwar movement – whom he viewed as the major threat to his greatest obsession: a second term in office.   The rest of the day was taken up with discussions on how “to show P[resident Nixon]’s concern & interest” short of obvious “grandstanding”.   To Haldeman it was an all too frightening demonstration of the White House staff’s inability to function in the face of any kind of reverse: “Too much confusion & duplication as everyone gets into the act.”[8]   His yokemate, chief domestic advisor John Ehrlichman, had an earthier assessment:  “shitty handling of crisis.”[9]    It is probably best that neither man knew they would be facing a much sharper test all too soon.

            The frantic pace continued in the morning, with “P determined to find exactly the right way for his getting into it.  Wanted to be the first one on the air to announce safe landing.”[10]

Haldeman finally hammered out a plan which he thought, in the vernacular of his twenty years in advertising, would fly.   The president would pick up the astronauts’ wives in Houston, the ground control center, and take them to Hawaii, to be there when the astronauts splashed down in the Pacific.   Thus did the chief of staff arrange the rendevous that would lead to ultimate catastrophe.

            At this point it might be asked if Nixon were not displaying unusual anxiety over the astronauts’ plight for “a man who had little use for either space or any other program that reminded America of John Kennedy.”   Nixon had not terminated the manned lunar flights because they were popular, but his administration had slighted the space program in every other way.   Did he now realized that the astronauts might be facing death because of his budget office’s meat-axe attacks on its resources, and his deliberate denaturing of the “elitist attitude and espirit” of its meritocracy with “as many mean-spirited Schedule C appointees… as he could”?[11]

Was his death watch driven by guilt?

            Not entirely.   For as soon as Haldeman’s plan was adopted, the president launched into a possibly related tirade on the inadequacy of his public relations staff :  “ – lack of sell and enthusiasm.    lack of adequate use of Cab[inet[ officers…  again wants [Ronald] Z[iegler, the White House press secretary] to analyze K[issinger] briefings on whether he sells our line – not just analyzes.”    In that context, the president’s worry about the astronaut’s was a political commodity to be marketed like any other.   He then segued into a soliloquy on his deepening unease in the office.   “Seems to have lost a lot of the basic ‘feel’ of the job he had.   Partly a result of multiple insoluble problems bearing in… He really needs crises to deal with – not at his best with a period of general erosion like this.”[12]

            Naturally the plans for PR exploitation had to wait on the question of whether the astronauts would make it back alive.   Two of their colleagues moved into a “small office adjoining Nixon’s… to provide the president with running odds” on their comrades’ survival.

Toward evening on the 15th, the “percentages had turned in favor of the Apollo 13 crew” sufficiently for Nixon to phone a message of encouragement to the mission commander’s wife.[13]

            But their fate was still in the balance as of Thursday the 16th.   The President became despondent.   He complained to Haldeman about not getting credit for the quality of his leadership, a quality he felt he had “to a much greater degree than Kennedy, [Lyndon] Johnson, or DDE [Dwight David Eisenhower].”   Then he started talking about his own funeral.     

He wanted a simple service, “no horse” (would the nation ever forget Kennedy’s riderless horse?), prayers offered by Protestant media preachers like Billy Graham and Norman Vincent Peale – “no Catholic or Jew”[14]  -- and to be interred beside his parents in California.   Then he abruptly decided he didn’t want to talk about it further.   “Told me to work up the details – he didn’t care about them.”   Late that night he called Haldeman at home and went into an agitated recap of the plans for capitalizing on the crisis in space.


                        Sounded up tight.  He knows this offers great chance if he handles it right.  His tendency – surprisingly – seems to be to overplay.   Usually the                     opposite.   May be reaction to frustration and slow decline.  Now wants to charge.  Could be bad.[15] 



            As night enveloped America, the astronauts in Apollo XIII resorted to a desperate manuveur that worked, and by dawn were headed for a safe splashdown.   Nixon veered into a fit of elation, handing out cigars and make phone calls of congratulation.   He was still, Haldeman worried, “kind of anxious” and “very cranked up.”[16]    But he managed to sustain his upbeat mood as they followed Haldeman’s itinerary from Houston to Hawaii, where Saturday evening found the two of them relaxing over drinks at the Kahala Hilton and having a “Nice chat – mainly about how bad the press people are.”[17]    Tomorrow they could wing home to the Western White House in San Clemente, where the President would deliver his triumphal address on bringing more of the boys home from Vietnam.   (But was the President altogether easy in his mind about this?   Would the economy get even worse as the war wound down, with the corresponding drop in “defense” expenditures?   Unemployment would --  ).

            There was only a breakfast briefing left on the morning of the 19th, on the progress of the Vietnam War, to be delivered by CINCPAC (Commander-in-Chief, US Forces, Pacific), before business in Hawaii would be concluded.   CINCPAC was Admiral John McCain, of whom Kissinger wrote, “This doughty, crusty officer could have passed in demeanor, appearance, pugnacity, and manner of speech for Popeye the Sailor Man.”[18]    Reporters and junior officers in Honolulu had another name for him: “the Big Red Arrow Man, because of his enthusiastic use of large-scale maps whose sweeping arrows illustrated the latest Communist advance”[19]   -- now, in the direction of Vietnam’s neutral neighbor Cambodia.   Locally, these Doomsday briefings were “laughably infamous”, and even an outsider like Nixon should have been skeptical on this particular morning, when “McCain’s Claws” reached out across the map, enveloping half of Cambodia and straining for Malaysia and Thailand.[20]     

            But if his briefing was as fatuous as it was scarifying, the setting was awe-inspiring: the cavernous chamber had been the command center for the Navy’s last great war,[21] against the Japanese Imperial Navy, a quarter of a century earlier, the haunt of giants like Nimitz and Halsey whose like the service had never seen again.   And the audience was susceptible.   Richard Nixon had risen to prominence on a tidal wave of  witch-hunting driven in large part by the question “Who lost China?” (i.e., to the communists).   With his programmed withdrawals of troops from Vietnam, promised during his campaign, could he ever be accused of losing Indochina?    So while a military source in Cambodia was assuring British journalist T.D. Allman that there was no Communist advance[22], Nixon obviously (from subsequent events) left the cavern solemnly convinced otherwise.    (How loudly is the historian entitled to lament that the meticulous journal-keeper Haldeman had not been there!)    The President did not discuss the briefing on the flight back to California, rather reviewing how the ceremonials for the astronauts had been handled, and then withdrawing to work on his postponed speech on the Vietnam troop withdrawals.   But now he was “uncertain” about whether to go ahead with it;[23]  reporters on the plane described him as “very tense”.[24]     And the plane was carrying a dangerous payload; McCain was also headed for San Clemente, to repeat his apocalyptic briefing for Kissinger.

            The next morning, Nixon rose early and “charged into the office and announced we’d leave for D.C. tonite right after the TV at 6:15.”   When the cameras rolled that evening, Haldeman  was pleased with his chief’s smooth delivery.   “Good speech – best reading he’s done.  No great dramatic appeal.”[25]    But Haldeman of all people should have known that when Nixon spoke on matters of great moment to him, his delivery was anything but smooth.   He had actually made this address in an almost perfunctory manner, as if a eulogy for someone he hadn’t known very well.   On the plane back to Washington, he didn’t even mention the speech by way of critique.   He told Haldeman he wanted to set up a  “back channel” so that he could issue orders directly to the military, without going through the Secretary of Defense --  “not going to let [Melvin] Laird kill this by pulling out too fast…  P. will take over war in Cambodia & take resp. …hit all the sanctuaries…”  and perhaps, most ominously of all, “be prepared for mobilization of opposition.”[26]   

            Thus the question that arose two weeks later – “What happened between Monday, April 20th, when Nixon told the nation he saw a  just peace in sight and announced the withdrawal of 150,000 troops, and the following Monday, when he decided to enlarge the war?”[27]   -- appears to have been honestly off the mark.   And the justification that Nixon gave David Frost seven years later, that “between April 20th and April 30th, the North Vietnamese… launched a massive buildup”[28]  -- was patently specious.   The President had already decided to invade Cambodia on the 20th,  possibly on the 19th.   And the Joint Chiefs of Staff immediately cabled the high command in Vietnam (called MACV, or Military Advisory Command, Vietnam, to advertise the official position that each of the half million men in the theater was an “advisor”) to request “a detailed alternate plan for attacking sanctuary areas in Cambodia.”[29]    The only decisions left to the President now concerned how to remove the obstacles he felt sure would appear in the path he was already determined to take.

            He was a changed man.   Gone was the lassitude, the despondency, the feeling that the greatness of his leadership could be questioned.   A clue to the nature of the force revitalizing him can be found in an incident on April 19, 1969, when Nixon, Haldeman, and Kissinger met to discuss possible retaliation for the shooting down of a US spy plane over North Korea, and/or proceeding with the next phase of the secret bombing raids even then being carried out against Cambodia.   They assessed the desirability of  these acts of undeclared war not in tactical or strategic terms, but as a moral tonic for a degenerate American people.   “P.  well recognizes K’s thesis that a really strong overt act on the part of P is essential to galvanize people into overcoming slothfulness and detachment arising from general moral decay.”[30]   Seen from this perspective, the question of whether the communists were really overrunning Cambodia was irrelevant.

            Although they had set a grueling pace on the trip to Hawaii and back again –Haldeman did not get to bed until 2:15 a.m. on the 21st – the President was up at 6:00 a.m. and in his office by seven to meet with DCI [Director of Central Intelligence] Richard Helms.   “Helm’s briefing showed that the North Vietnamese were attacking all over the country and that Phnom Penh could not long withstand this assault”[31], that “if the President doesn’t act, a domino is going to fall…Evidently, this is what Nixon wanted to hear.[32]   

            Helms knew better.   CIA sources had told Frost that there never had been any such danger.   Why would Helms misrepresent the situation?   An armed invasion would finalize the CIA occupation of Cambodia, begun when it had ousted its neutral head of state, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, in March, after infiltrating Sihanouk’s personal entourage[33]  and luring away the support of political and business elites with promises of privatizing state assets and lavish infusions of foreign aid money.[34]    The invasion would further clear the way for the Agency’s corporate constituents such as Union Oil of California (whose CEO Cy Rubel was the first of the California oil billionaires to recruit Ronald Reagan for public office) to grab “concessions for all onshore and much offshore Cambodian oil.”[35]   Most important, the invasion would enable the CIA to anchor its traffic in the Laotian heroin trade.  “Once Cambodia opened up, unlimited supplies of narcotics could be flown from southern Laos to the Cambodian capital” and shipped in bulk down the Mekong River.[36]

            Helms would have been loathe to oppose the invasion even without such powerful considerations in its favor, because he knew Nixon had already decided to go ahead with it.   If he knew anything, it was that the Agency was already suspect (and thus under the budget axe) in the eyes of the President, who suspected it of having helped John Kennedy win the election of 1960.   The DCI had already had to soft-pedal reports by his evaluators that in the main source of supply for the communists in South Vietnam lay down the Ho Chi Minh Trail from Laos.   Nixon, for reasons already belabored, preferred to believe the Defense Intelligence Agency’s version that the supplies were coming from Cambodia.[37]     “[S]uch was the fear of the White House within the CIA that Nixon was deprived of the considered opinion of the specialists that the invasion was unwise.”[38]   

            Helms especially downplayed – in fact, did not even mention the existence of – a paper prepared by his own Office of Estimates, “Stock-Taking in Indochina: Longer Term Prospects”.   It predicted that an invasion would have effects on communist operations in Southeast Asia  that would be “neither crippling nor permanent”.   Helms would defend his silence by “arguing later that they’d made up their minds” (i.e., Nixon and Kissinger).   The CIA authors of the paper drafted and circulated a petition deploring their Director’s failure of nerve, “an act of protest unprecedented in the Agency’s history.”[39]  

            The protest went unnoticed.   Nixon knew that the CIA would not openly oppose the invasion, and that was all he cared about.   Congress would be another matter.   As soon as Helms left the Oval Office, the Democratic majority leader of the Senate Mike Mansfield replaced him there.   He had come out against military aid to Cambodia twice that month.  Of his meeting with Nixon now, Haldeman records, “In the afternoon saw Mansfield [half the paragraph blacked out and annotated, “Portion certified TOP SECRET and removed”][40]

            It was reasonable to expect problems from the opposition party in Congress.   But Nixon also had to head off challenges from his own party there and , more strange to say, from his own Cabinet.    A street-fighting, mud-slinging politician by origin, now at the peak of his career he was eager to fill the mantle of statesman.   He had leavened the rightist bias of his cabinet choices with men who by Republican standards could be termed moderates.   Their integrity had cramped his autocratic style already and now his immediate impulse was to check them.   “[N]ew attitude re Cab. officers.   No more therapy – won’t use P. to keep them happy – and if some want to quit, that’s fine.”[41]   “[T]ime has come to go tough on Cab officers & leg leaders.”[42]

            The President was up at 5:00 the next morning, “w/ still little sleep”, dictating the first in a “stream” of memos with which he would bombard Kissinger and the others all day.   “Over and over again, we fail to learn that the Communists never need an excuse to come in,” he warned, as if he were campaigning during the  McCarthy era once again, “They are romping in there and the only government in Cambodia in the last 25 years that had the guts to take a pro-Western and pro-American stand is ready to fall.”   He railed against the “lily-livered Ambassadors from our so-called friends in this world,” and warned that they “had better learn to come along fast” when America made its move.[43]The President “gradually simmered down as the day went on.   As he followed K into the NSC mtg – turned back to me w/ big smile & said K’s really having fun today – he’s playing Bismarck.”[44]   The meeting adjourned, he spent the rest of the day in “long sessions with K” and called DCI Helms back to the White House.

            Up until now he might have been satisfied with letting surrogate troops, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN, the “South Vietnamese”), carry the war into Cambodia, and limiting the number of objectives to the immediate border.   But at this NSC meeting he was unexpectedly upstaged by his brash Vice President Spiro Agnew.   Even more than his president, Agnew had chafed under the influence of moderates in the cabinet, particularly the key men on war and peace.   He liked but discounted Secretary of State William Rogers (“a genuine ideological dove…naively trustful of his fellow man”.   His feelings toward Defense Secretary Melvin Laird were unmixed: “Pragmatic, evasive, with ice water in his veins… the ultimate professional politician.”[45]    Agnew waited in a state of irritated impatience for these two men to raise their expected objectives to the invasion and, when they did, he erupted in counterpoint.   They should not only invade, he announced, they should search out and destroy every last communist in Cambodia, with ARVN and American troops.

            Nixon was visibly stung.   Agnew had already chided him for staying away from his daughter’s college graduation for fear of antiwar demonstrations.[46]

Now he was usurping the role of bold commander-in-chief.   “If Nixon hated anything more than being presented with a plan he had not considered, it was being shown up in a group as being less tough than his advisers.”[47]    He was already timorous of a shadow looming over his Presidency from the West Coast, threatening his next term.   Ronald Reagan had almost won the Republican nomination away from him in 1968.    Recently the ex-actor had told a gathering of rich California growers of his solution for campus unrest: “If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with.  No more appeasement.”[48]   Nixon felt he had to regain the upper hand in the war of propaganda against protestors.   And now Agnew was topping his war plans in recklessness.   An invasion with American troops it would have to be.  That same day the President took a drastic step to re-establish himself as witchfinder-general, an initative to “save SACB – exec. order to expand.”[49]    The SCAB was the Subversive Activities Control Board, an inquisitorial anachronism left over from the McCarthy Red Scare of the 1950s.   Nixon’’s plan, as leaked to the press two weeks later, was to transfer to it the power until then vested only in the office of the US Attorney, to declare any organization in America “subversive”.

“Congressional approval of the order would not be required.”[50]

            Haldeman’s journals – the originals or those published as his Diaries – do not mention a far more sweeping initiative taken that afternoon.   He met in his office with Ehrlichman, Alexander Butterfield (White House liaison with the Secret Service), and junior White House aides Egil Krogh and Thomas Charles Huston.   Huston – a Young Americans for Freedom extremist and newly-discharged Army counterintelligence officer – had in turn been meeting for a year with William Sullivan (the number three man in the FBI), and representatives of the Central Intelligence Agency, searching for ways to circumvent what they saw as J. Edgar Hoover’s legalistic timidity in fighting the New Left.   Now the four of them decided the President must marshal the four giant intelligence services in a new, comprehensive, and coordinated program of national surveillance.[51]


            The next day US Air Force fighter-bombers began attacking targets up to eighteen miles inside Cambodia.   The veteran communist guerrillas on the ground immediately realized a major attack would follow, and began to withdraw into the jungle interior of the country.   While Laird told the US House Appropriations Committee, and Kissinger, the press, that US forces would not intervene in that country, the White House “backchanneled” General Creighton Abrams to draw up the plans for an all-out assault, and Abrams relayed the orders to his own commanders.[52]

            Now Nixon began to get nervous about his own decision.   Staring out the window of his office just before he left for the night, he groused at Haldeman, “Damn Johnson – if he’d just done the right thing we wouldn’t be in this mess now.”   (This might have meant Nixon felt that the war would have been won if Johnson had kept up, or escalated, the bombing.)   The President “realizes he’s treading on the brink of major problems as he escalates the war there.”[53]   Nixon hung on the phone to Kissinger all day, and he called him three more times that evening while “K” was meeting informally with Senator J. William Fulbright (D-Ark), a leading critic of the war, and other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at Fulbright’s home.[54]   (Kissinger never tired of telling Fulbright that he was staying on as national security advisor so he could restrain the unstable Nixon.   He denounced Fulbright to Nixon “as a weak-kneed liberal and establishment opportunist”.)[55]   In his last phone call, just before midnight, Nixon told Kissinger to assemble the NSC for a meeting at the White House at 7:15 a.m.     Kissinger relayed this message to a young assistant, William Watts, while the latter was eating breakfast at the Jockey Club the next morning, adding that, “Our peerless leader has flipped out.”[56]    He asked Watts to attend in his stead, without explanation.   But he would later characterize others in the White House as scrambling “to position themselves so as to deflect onto someone else the public uproar certain to ensue”[57], and this may have been pure projection through hindsight.  In another journal entry that was not published, Haldeman describes Kissinger’s reservations about Phase II of the Cambodian invasion, in which US troops would follow the ARVN across the border.   “K. thinks P. will probably scratch it – although K. feels 55-45 that it’s a good move.”[58]   In another resort to projection, “K. was very worried about last night…   that P. is moving too rashly without really thinking through the consequences,”[59]  as if he, Kissinger, he played no part in generating that motion.

            The meeting that Watts attended bore little resemblance if any to the executive function in a democracy.   Although the US Constitution reserves the power to make war to the Congress, the President never had the slightest intention of advising that body he was about to order the invasion of a neutral country without a declaration of war.   Now he cut his own cabinet officers out of the loop.   The Secretaries of State and Defense were not even invited.   The only attendees beside Watts were DCI Helms, his aide General Robert Cushman, and Admiral Thomas Moorer, the newly acting head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.   When Moorer asked what message he should convey back to his superior, the Secretary, he was ordered “to tell Laird nothing”.[60]   (One of Nixon’s academic admirers would subsequently hail this as a necessary step in consolidating Nixon’s “monarchy”.[61]    Although monarchy was a quaint anachronism by 1970, the euphemism does avoid the nasty connotations of the word “dictatorship”.)   The only apparent purpose of the meeting was to tell those present that the invasion would proceed.

            At its conclusion, the President departed for another weekend at Camp David with “Bebe” Rebozo.   Meanwhile, Watts’ colleagues in Kissinger’s cadre of “show liberals” – Anthony Lake, Roger Morris, and Winston Lord – labored frantically on a position paper which accurately predicted the disasters the invasion would precipitate.   “Ironically their arguments served only to convince Kissinger of the wisdom of Nixon’s course.”[62]    When later that evening they gathered in his office to plead their case, Kissinger called across the hall to Watts inviting him to join K’s “bleeding hearts club”.[63]   Thus contemptuously dismissed even as the meeting began, the young aides did not bother to press their case.   Morris would later admit that the occasion had “warranted screaming”, if screaming would have done any good.[64]

            Still later that evening, Kissinger got a call from Camp David.   Watts picked up on an extension.   Apparently the martinis, a Rebozo specialty, had been flowing freely.   “Nixon was slurring obscenities.”   He said, “Wait a minute.   Bebe has something to say to you.”   Rebozo came on the line and added, “The President wants you to know, Henry, that if this doesn’t work, it’s your ass.”[65]    (If Kissinger was unfazed, it was because he was used getting drunken late night calls from the president, punctuated with sallies like, “Henry, we’ve got to nuke ‘em.”[66]   To him, Nixon’s “drinking was another symptom of a weakness that only extended and rationalized his own power.”[67])

            The next morning, Kissinger remained downtown long enough to cosset a less-than-blind loyalist, “snowing Ehrlichman with more detail than he could handle, leaving him with the impression that the decision had already been made”.   Then he choppered up to Camp David.   He found the President paddling around in the swimming pool, now sober but no less bellicose.   Now Nixon wanted to bomb Hanoi and mine Haiphong harbor as well as invading Cambodia.   He claimed later that he maintained a discreet silence, hoping his chief would forget these aberrant impulses, as he always did on such occasions.   They flew back to the White House together.   That afternoon they joined Attorney General John Mitchell and Rebozo for a cruise on the presidential yacht Sequoia.   There the war planning progressed amid liquid refreshments copious enough that when the yacht passed Mount Vernon and someone suggested they stand at attention, there were those present who could only do so with difficulty.[68]   On returning to the White House, Nixon invited all to yet another screening of the militaristic motion picture epic Patton (which during this crisis period he would view eight times).

            Whether the President was inspired yet again by the film, or his insomnia had by now generated its own momentum, he sat up all night debating the arguments for and against the invasion with himself on a legal pad.   On Sunday morning, he showed his notes to Kissinger.   The latter pulled a nearly identical list from the folder he was carrying.   This clinched the decision for Nixon.    From now on, there would be no more debate (to the extent that there had ever been any).

“Not even if the whole thing goes wrong.   In fact, especially if the whole thing goes wrong.”[69]   When Kissinger discussed this exchange immediately afterward with right-wing columnist Stewart Alsop, he claimed that he had warned the president that the move would “inflame” the campuses – and that Nixon had replied, “Believe me, I’ve considered that danger.”[70]

            The steps he had already taken (notably on the afternoon of the 22nd) and would take in the next few weeks, bear out the well-documented fact that, since he had been sworn in as president, no other consideration had been remotely as important to him.




[1]   For extended discussions of this monumental strategem, see Kirkpatrick Sale, Power Shift: The Rise of the Southern Rim and Its Challenge to the Eastern Establishment (New York; Random House, 1975), and, a generation later, Stephen D. Cummings, The Dixification of America: The American Odyssey into the Conservative Economic Trap (Westport, Conn.; Praeger Publishing Co., 1998).   The latter was one of the last (straight) books published by Praeger before it was absorbed by the Greenwood-Heineman Group.

[2]   New York Times, April 12, 1970, Section E (Editorial): “What Was Clothed Has Been Stripped Naked”; James Reston, “Washington: ‘Bring Us Together’ or ‘Tear Us Apart’, p. 12E; Tom Wicker, “In the Nation: Mr. Nixon’s Bay of Pigs”, p. 13E.

[3]    National Archives/Nixon Presidential Materials (NPM); White House Special Files: Staff Member and Office Files; longhand journals of H.R. Haldeman, Vol. V, April 17 – July 22, 1970; entry of April 12, 1970, p. 137.  ABBREVIATED BELOW AS HALDEMAN (J).

[4]    Ibid., longhand notes of H.R. Haldeman; Box 41, Folder: “April – May 5, 1970.  Part I,” April 12, 1970.


[5]    Haldeman (J), April 13, 1970, p. 139.  (The journal skips even-numbered pages).


[6]    Haldeman (N),  April 13, 1970, “1500 [hrs] cabinet meeting.”

[7]   Richard D. Lyons, “Apollo 13 Blast Laid to Damage Before Launching,” New York Times, May 28, 1970, p. 16.

[8]   Haldeman (J), April 14, 1970, p. 141.


[9]    Haldeman (N), April 14, 1970.

[10]   Haldeman (J), April 15, 1970.

[11]   Joseph B. & Susan Trento, Prescription for Disaster. (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1987), pp. 84,86 & 97.

[12]   Haldeman (J), April 15, 1970.  EMPHASIS ADDED.

[13]   Jim Lovell & Jeffrey Kluger, Lost Moon: The Perilous Journey of Apollo 13. (Boston, New York; Houghton Mifflin, 1994), p. 276.

[14]  Haldeman (N), April 16, 1970, 1215 hrs.

[15]  Haldeman (J), April 16, 1970, p. 145.  EMPHASIS ADDED.

[16]  Haldeman (J), April 17, 1970, p. 5.  (The pagination changes because a new volume, April 17-July 22, starts here.

[17]  Haldeman (J), April 18, 1970.

[18]  Henry Kissinger, The White House Years (Boston; Little, Brown & Company, 1979), p. 480.

[19]  Marilyn Young, The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1990.  (New York; Harper/Collins, 1991), p. 246.

[20]  James S. Olson and Randy Roberts,  Where the Domino Fell (New York; St. Martin’s Press, 1991), p. 234.

[21]  William Bundy, A Tangled Web: The Making of Foreign Policy in the Nixon Presidency  (New York; Hill & Wang/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998), p. 564 (Fn. 20, to Page 152 of the main text).  Aside from this footnote, the book is dispensible.

[22]  Jonathan Grant, “The Regime of Lon Nol,” in Jonathan Grant, Laurence Moss & Jonathan Unger, Cambodia: The Widening War in Indochina  (New York; Washington Square Press, 1970), p. 124.

[23]  Tad Szulc, The Illusion of Peace; Foreign Policy in the Nixon Years  (New York; Viking Press, 1978), p. 249.

[24]  William Shawcross, Sideshow: Nixon, Kissinger, and the Destruction of Cambodia. (New York; Simon & Schuster, 1979), p. 137.

[25]  Haldeman (J), April 20, 1970, p. 11.  EMPHASIS ADDED.


[26]  Haldeman (N), April 20, 1970, “Plane”.  EMPHASIS ADDED.

[27]  “Kent and Cambodia,” (editorial) Commonweal, May 22, 1970, p. 236.

[28]  David Frost, I Gave Them a Sword: Behind the Scenes of the Nixon Interviews (New York; William Morrow & Co., 1978), p. 115.   Frost objected that he had checked this allegation with CIA and NSA analysts, and they had responded that there had been no such buildup.  Nixon promised to provide proof that there had been, but never followed through.

[29]  Lewis Sorley, Thunderbolt: General Creighton Abrams and the Army of his Times   (New York; Simon and Schuster, 1992), pp. 283-284.

[30]   H.R. Haldeman, The Haldeman Diaries  (New York; G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1994), p. 52.   ABBREVIATED BELOW AS HALDEMAN (P). 

[31]   Kissinger, p. 487.

[32]   Szulc, p. 254.   EMPHASIS ADDED.

[33]   Malcolm Caldwell and Lek Tan, Cambodia in the Southeast Asia War.  (New York/London; Monthly Review Press, 1973), p. 294

[34]   Grant, p. ---.   This took the form of a $ 1.6 billion loan from the Asia Development Bank (1970 dollars).

[35]   Douglas Valentine, The Phoenix Program, (New York; William Morrow, 1990), p. 330)

[36]   Alfred McCoy with Cathleen Read and Leonard P. Adams,  The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia,  (New York; Harper & Row, 1972), p. 185

[37]   Anthony Lukas, Nightmare: The Underside of the Nixon Years. (New York; The Viking Press, 1973), p. 27.

[38]   Shawcross, p. 137.

[39]   Thomas Powers, The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA  (New York; Alfred a. Knopf, 1979), pp. 217-218.

[40]   Haldeman (J), April 21, 1970, p. 13.   Redaction appealed and denied.

[41]   Ibid.   This entry is typical of what was censored from the Diaries before they were published; in fact, the National Security Council censored the originals before Haldeman was even allowed to see them again by the Archives.

[42]   Haldeman (N), April 21, 1970.

[43]   Kissinger, p. 1484 (full text of Nixon memorandum, quoted in a footnote to the main text in Chapter 7)

[44]   Haldeman (J), April 22, 1970, p. 15. 

[45]   Spiro Agnew, Go Quietly…Or Else  (New York; William Morrow, 1980), p. 27

[46]   Richard Nixon, The Memoirs of Richard Nixon  (New York; Grosset & Dunlap, 1978), p. 449.

[47]   Kissinger, p. 492.  

[48]   “Reagan and Rhetoric,” The New Republic, November 2, 1970, p. 10; “Reagan’s Bloodbath, Truth and Imagery,”  National Review, May 5, 1970, p. 445; Steven B. Roberts, “Ronald Reagan Is Giving ‘Em Heck,” New York Times  magazine, October 25, 1970, p. 42  -- just a sample of the articles detailing Reagan’s inflammatory crusade.

[49]    Haldeman (N), April 22, 1070, “1145”.  EMPHASIS ADDED

[50]   “Subversive Board Gets New Teeth,” Akron Beacon-Journal, May 8, 1970.

[51]    “National Security, Civil Liberties, and the Collection of Intelligence: a Report on the Huston Plan”, in US Senate, 94th Congress, 2nd Session, Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Government Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities: Book III: Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans.  (Washington; Government Printing Office, April 23, 1976), p. 934; deposition of Thomas Charles Huston, May 23, 1975.

[52]    Szulc, p. 255; John Prados, The Hidden History of the Vietnam War (Chicago; Ivan R. Dee, 1995), p. 238.

[53]    Haldeman (J), April 23, 1970, p. 17.


[54]    Kissinger, p. 495.

[55]    Randall Bennett Woods, Fulbright: A Biography  (Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 576.   Of Kissinger, his own NSC aide Helmut Sonnenfelt said, “Henry does not lie because it is in his interest.  He lies because it is in his nature.”   Daniel Patrick Moynihan, A Dangerous Place (Boston; Atlantic Monthly Press/Little, Brown & Company, 1975), pp. 3 & 9.


[56]    Szulc, pp. 256-257.  

[57]    Kissinger, p. 492.

[58]    Haldeman (J), April 24, 1970, p. 19.

[59]    Haldeman (P), p. 154

[60]    Interview with William Watts, in Shawcross, p. 140.

[61]    Robert W. Tucker, “The American Outlook: Change and Continuity,” in Robert Osgood, et. al., Retreat from Empire: The First Nixon Administration.  (Baltimore; Johns Hopkins, 1973), p. 82.

[62]    John Prados, Keepers of the Keys: A History of the National Security Council.  (New York; William Morrow, 1991), p. p. 296.

[63]    Seymour Hersh, The Price of Power: Kissinger in the White House.   (New York; Summit Books, 1983), p. 188.


[64]    Roger Morris, Uncertain Greatness:  Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy.  (New York; Harper & Row, 1977), p. 174.

[65]    Walter Isaacson, Kissinger: A Biography.  (New York; Simon & Schuster, 1992), p. 262.

[66]    Roger Morris, interview in Tom Wells, The War Within: America’s Battle Over Vietnam.   (Berkeley; University of California, 1994), p. 418.

[67]    Morris, pp. 147-148.

[68]    This paragraph based on Kissinger’s account of the day in White House Years, pp. 498 et. seq.

[69]    Nixon, p. 451.

[70]    Robert Merry, Taking on the World: Joseph and Stewart Alsop – Guardians of the American Century.  (New York; Viking, 1996).   But in his Memoirs, Nixon claims this conversation with Kissinger took place on the morning of the 28th.