John Dean goes to Yorba Linda?

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Of­fi­cials at the Nixon Li­brary in Yorba Linda, Calif., have in­vited John Dean to speak there on the 37th an­niver­sary of the Water­gate break-in, slap­ping the faces not only of those sym­pa­thetic to the for­mer pres­i­dent but, more im­por­tant, his­tory it­self.

More than 3 1/2 decades have passed since the break-in trig­gered a vast ar­ray of ac­cu­sa­tions, known col­lec­tively as “Water­gate,” against for­mer Pres­i­dent Richard M. Nixon. Now a re­fresh­ing breeze of de­tach­ment from the heated at­mos­phere of 1973-74 is in the air.

Pub­li­ca­tions on the sub­ject are be­ing scru­ti­nized, and when find­ings are con­tra­dicted by fact, they are be­ing cor­rected, sug­gest­ing a truly schol­arly era for Nixon stud­ies is on the hori­zon. This is a time for aca­demic cel­e­bra­tion, not for re­viv­ing the par­ti­san­ship of the past. His­tory has im­por­tant lessons to teach, but it must be truth­ful and ex­haus­tive if it is to save fu­ture gen­er­a­tions from the dan­gers and traps en­coun­tered by pre­vi­ous ones.

Mr. Nixon’s archives span the en­tire pe­riod of the Cold War, from 1946 to his death in 1994, and are a trea­sure trove of data record­ing in depth and de­tail the strug­gle of free­dom against to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism. They also chron­i­cle his con­sid­er­able role in de­fend­ing and ex­tend­ing in­di­vid­ual lib­erty at home and abroad.

As the for­mer ar­chiv­ist of Mr. Nixon’s pri­vate pa­pers, I wit­nessed the be­gin­nings of this new era of de­tach­ment in re­search. Dur­ing that time, more than 98,000 pri­vate Nixon pa­pers and ma­te­ri­als were fully cat­a­loged, and five books were pub­lished along with nu­mer­ous ar­ti­cles writ­ten by those who stud­ied the orig­i­nal sources at the li­brary. Th­ese gave the pub­lic new in­sights into the man — his naval ser­vice in the South Pa­cific dur­ing World War II, his strong ad­vo­cacy of civil rights — and the first and widely ac­claimed vol­ume of Ir­win Gell­man’s bi­og­ra­phy of the for­mer pres­i­dent.

With this doc­u­men­tary record at hand, it is a won­der Nixon Li­brary of­fi­cials deemed it in the in­ter­est of the pub­lic to pro­mote a man who joined in the fray to dis­honor Mr. Nixon and whose role in Water­gate is un­der scru­tiny for du­plic­ity. Surely li­brary of­fi­cials know the pres­i­dent’s praise­wor­thy con­tri­bu­tions to Ameri- can his­tory.

Mr. Nixon may, in fact, have been the last chief ex­ec­u­tive to for­mu­late and su­per­vise his own for­eign pol­icy be­cause of his ex­ten­sive per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence and ex­per­tise and his close ties to world leaders dat­ing back to 1953. As pres­i­dent, he brought about a pe­riod of de­tente with the Soviet Union, pro­vid­ing an op­por­tu­nity for Soviet Jewry to em­i­grate; he opened the door to China with care to pre­serve Amer­ica’s of­fi­cial ties with Tai­wan; he came to the res­cue of Is­rael when the Soviet Union, be­liev­ing him weak­ened by Water­gate, fos­tered an at­tack on Is­rael on two fronts; and, though it is largely for­got­ten, he con­cluded the Viet­nam War hon­or­ably in Jan­uary 1973 and se­cured the release of Amer­i­can pris­on­ers of war, only to have his op­po­si­tion in Congress snatch de­feat from the mouth of victory by re­fus­ing to fund the force nec­es­sary to en­sure im­ple­men­ta­tion of the peace ac­cords.

This was the first time in Amer­i­can his­tory par­ti­san politi­cians put de­sire for power be­fore wel­fare of coun­try and the free­doms for which that coun­try stood as a bea­con of hope to the world.

Mr. Nixon won a re­sound- ing re-elec­tion victory in 1972. Yet less than 21 months later, he was forced to re­sign. A very vo­cal, hos­tile and de­ter­mined mi­nor­ity, which had op­posed the war for the free­dom of the Viet­namese peo­ple, made him the first vic­tim of the mod­ern “pol­i­tics of per­sonal de­struc­tion.”

But truth can­not be de­stroyed, and thanks to Mr. Nixon’s vo­lu­mi­nous archives, schol­ars with a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the man and his ca­reer-long strug­gle to ad­vance free­dom over tyranny on the one hand, and with con­sid­er­ably more data re­gard­ing the con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tions di­rected against him on the other, may well be­gin to won­der who was the real Machi­avelli in Water­gate — the pres­i­dent or his ac­cusers. If the lat­ter, the lessons of that cri­sis have enor­mous rel­e­vance for us to­day — and for free­domlov­ing peo­ple ev­ery­where and at all times.

This is a time for fact, not a time for ma­li­cious fancy. It is a time for Richard Nixon, not John Dean.

Nixon Li­brary of­fi­cials should have as­sisted the new spirit of ob­jec­tiv­ity by hav­ing Mr. Nixon speak on June 17 through a screen­ing both in the li­brary’s the­ater and on the foun­da­tion’s Web site of his unedited copy of the NixonFrost in­ter­views. At least that de­ci­sion would have cor­rected the fic­tion of a re­cent mo­tion pic­ture.

The ques­tion, though, nags: Why pro­mote John Dean? Why does hos­til­ity to­ward Mr. Nixon con­tinue un­abated on the left?

Whit­taker Cham­bers, whose en­deavor to ex­pose Al­ger Hiss as a com­mu­nist spy in the State Depart­ment Mr. Nixon suc­cess­fully cham­pi­oned when he was in Congress, may have an­swered it best. In a tele­gram sent to Mr. Nixon at the time of the 1952 fund cri­sis, Mr. Cham­bers wrote, “[The] At­tack on you shows how deeply the en­emy fears you as he al­ways fears and seeks to de­stroy a com­bi­na­tion of hon­esty and fight­ing courage. Be proud to be at­tacked for the at­tack­ers are the en­e­mies of all of us. To few re­cent pub­lic fig­ures does this na­tion owe so much as to you. God help us if we ever for­get it.”

Has the pres­i­dent’s own li­brary for­got­ten it?

Su­san Naulty was ar­chiv­ist at the Richard Nixon Li­brary and Birth­place in Whit­tier, Calif., from 1991 to 2003.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.