Richard Nixon

The 1968 Election: A Turning Point in History

That summer, Mick Jagger sang,

“Everywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy,
‘Cause summer’s here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy
Hey, said my name is called Disturbance;
I’ll shout and scream, I’ll kill the King, I’ll rail at all his servants”

While Jagger reflected what was happening in the streets, it was much more than that. In the US, the country was tearing apart at the seams. The world, too, seemed to be on the brink. Prague, Mexico City, and Chicago all became focal points of that summer. While Revolution seemed to be within a breath, law and order seemed to be absent. It was year when everything seemed to happen. And to top it all off, the US was having an election. It would be a year unlike any other.

It began to unravel in January 31. The North Vietnamese launched the Tet offensive breaking an agreed upon truce. 70,000 North Vietnamese troops took part in attacks all across the country of South Vietnam. It was military disaster but a psychological victory for the North. They proved they determined the order of battle. They proved that President Johnson and General Westmoreland were lying to the public about who was in control in the war. By taking the battle from the jungle to the city, Johnson and Westmoreland had some explaining to do. The public would not be receptive. Ironically, two days after the offensive began, Richard Nixon, declared his presidential candidacy and entered the New Hampshire primary.

Early on in the campaign, it became evident that Vietnam was the major issue. When Peter Arnett quoted a US major that “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,” the Johnson administration came under attack for its handling of the war. Adding fuel to the fire came later in February when Walter Cronkite reported on his recent trip to Vietnam. Entitled, “Who, What, When, Where, Why?”, the report was a stinging condemnation of the US in Vietnam. Cronkite’s special contradicted official statements by Johnson and Westmoreland on the progress of the war. Cronkite said near the end, that the US “…not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.” Johnson knew that in losing Cronkite, he had lost the middle of the country.

Two weeks later…
On March 12, the New Hampshire primary showed how American felt about Tet. Senator Eugene McCarthy almost defeated incumbent President, Lyndon Johnson. Four days later, Senator Robert Kennedy entered the 1968 Presidential race. Johnson was to have his hands full if his campaign was to continue. It would not. Johnson would drop out on March 31.

Four days later, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The largest manhunt began for his killer but not before riots swept most American cities. Robert Kennedy gave one of the most emotional speeches amid the chaos. He was appearing more and more presidential.

Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black — considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible — you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.

We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization — black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.

For those of you who are black and are tempted to fill with — be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.

But we have to make an effort in the United States. We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times.

My favorite poem, my — my favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote:

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom
through the awful grace of God.

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King — yeah, it’s true — but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love — a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.

We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We’ve had difficult times in the past, but we — and we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it’s not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.

And let’s dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.

Thank you very much.

Later that months, the anti-war movement began to throttle up. Occupation of five buildings lasted for seven days later when police stormed the buildings and removed the protesters. Other riots and sit ins began at campuses all across the country. It was not sure if the country would make it to election day.

On June 4, the California Primary saw Robert Kennedy win big. Addressing a large crowd of supporters at the Ambassador Hotel in San Francisco at 12:13AM on the morning of the fifth, Kennedy was shot by Sirhan Sirhan. Sirhan claimed he shot Kennedy for his pro-Israeli sentiments. Kennedy, only 42 died on June sixth. The election was getting more and more surreal.

On August 8, the Republicans nominated Richard Milhouse Nixon to be their presidential candidate. The next day Nixon chose Spiro Agnew. Nixon said he had a secret plan to end the war but would not reveal what it was. Nixon, said he spoke for a “silent majority” who wanted to restore law and order to the country in chaos. Nixon would later refuse to take part in the debates. He would, however, offer up this campaign commercial.

Nixon was not the only “law and order” candidate. “Dixiecrat” George Wallace ran as his 3rd party candidate that fall.

The former Alabama Governor represented a strong portion of the South that felt the Democratic party had strayed too far from its principles on Vietnam and Civil Rights.

On August 20, 200,000 Soviet troops stormed in to Prague ending the “Prague Spring,” and began “normalization” procedures to return the country under Soviet rule. No response came from the Johnson people. The revolution there had been crushed.

On August 26, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley opened the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. It would be the most tumultuous convention in American History. Yippies and riots occurred in the streets, fighting took place on the convention floor, all the while the convention tried to nominate Hubert Humphrey for president. Chicago police took action against the large crowd of protestors, beating some unconscious. Over 100 protesters were sent to the emergency room. Mayor Daley said of the actions by his police, “The policeman isn’t there to create disorder, the policeman is there to preserve disorder.” The leaders of the antiwar movement and the protesters, the Chicago 8 (later renamed the Chicago 7), were charged with crimes relating to the riots.

In October, nights before the Olympics began, police attacked protesters in Tlatelolco Square. It was estimated 500 demonstrators were killed. The government of Mexico silenced any news. At Games, 32 African nations boycotted because of South Africa’s participation. On the 18th, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, shocked the world by performing the Black Power salute during the “Star-Spangled Banner” at their medal ceremony for the 200 meters. Smith said,

“If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.”

On October 31, President Johnson announced a halt to US bombing in North Vietnam. The action gave Humphrey a boost in the polls. It was not enough. Nixon won the electoral college handily a few days later. Dominating the center of the country while Humphrey was strong in the Northeast and Wallace in the deep South, Nixon ran away with the victory.

The 1968 election was steeped in events of the year and in fact, took a backseat to the events of the day. When it was all said and done, the country had spoken its mind. It craved for law and order, some sense of normalcy in a year of chaos. Reflecting back, many leaders of the antiwar movement failed to rally behind any viable candidate. Fractured and disruptive themselves, no consensus could be reached on whom to put forth after the death of Bobby Kennedy. Humphrey was too close to Johnson for them. In reality, Humphrey was more distant from Johnson than he lead on. However, Humphrey was not about to denounce the man to whom he was Vice-President. The failure to support Humphrey was one of the great tragedies of the year. Nixon would not end the war. It would continue on for almost five more years. Although his secret plan of Vietnamization was announced early in 1969, it would not take effect for years as Nixon tried to stop the Ho Chi Minh Trail by secretly invading Cambodia.

For a time that summer, many wondered if America was going to collapse and implode. It did not. The antiwar movement would continue throughout Nixon’s first term. The issues to be resolved never were. But 1968 did mark a turning point. The election, while historical, was not the key event. The key event was the US was no longer seen as the bastion of liberty in the world. Between the assassinations, the riots, the Tet Offensive, and the election, freedom was lost. The world would never see us the same way after that summer. It would take a long time for the US to get itself back together and restore its place in the world.


The US vs. John Lennon: Paranoia Strikes Deep

I still remember the morning like it was yesterday. It happened to be thirty years ago. I was 17 and I came out into the living room and sat stunned staring at the television. The night before, December 8, 1980, John Lennon was gunned down in front of his Dakota residence in New York City at 10:50 p.m. As a child, I always wanted to be like John Lennon. The first albums I bought with my own money were the Beatles’ red and blue greatest hits records. My first pair of glasses were round, just like John. Everything I did was like John. I learned to play guitar, to play Beatles songs, specifically John’s. I wore my hair long, dressed like him. The only thing missing was an English accent.

John’s death stunned me at 17. After moving several times at that age, I had more musician friends than real ones. But at 17 you begin to find out more about your idols and role models than when you were a child. You begin to discover they aren’t perfect. I found it hard to like John’s solo work. Except for two albums (Imagine and Plastic Ono Band), I thought most of his records apart from the Beatles were not very good. But still, I looked up to him. Instant Karma is still one of my favorite songs of all time.

As I got older, I began to see John Lennon more historically, not musically. I began to look at how he fit within the context of his times. Was he a revolutionary? Was he another great figure who will be remembered in history books? This story will begin in 1966. John Lennon attended a gallery opening of a series of works by Yoko Ono. Many people believe Yoko changed John. I do not agree with that statement. The times changed John more than Yoko. John had always been conscious of events happening around the world before he met Yoko. He made comments of the political (We’re bigger than Jesus), he even made an anti-war movie with Richard Lester called “How I Won the War”. To say Yoko is responsible for changing John is ludicrous. John now did things with Yoko. A lot of Beatles fans did not like it.

Their marriage was farcical. It even became the basis for the song, The Ballad of John and Yoko.

Standing in the dock at Southampton,
Trying to get to Holland or France.
The man in the mac said, you’ve got to turn back.
You know they didn’t even give us a chance.
Christ you know it aint easy,
You know how hard it can be.
The way things are going
They’re going to crucify me.
Finally made the plane into Paris,
Honey mooning down by the Seine.
Peter Brown called to say,
You can make it O.K.,
You can get married in Gibraltar, near Spain.
Christ you know it aint easy,
You know how hard it can be.
The way things are going
They’re going to crucify me.
Drove from Paris to the Amsterdam Hilton,
Talking in our beds for a week.
The newspapers said, say what you doing in bed?
I said, were only trying to get us some peace.
Christ you know it aint easy,
You know how hard it can be.
The way things are going
They’re going to crucify me.

The resulting “Bed-In” was done to raise awareness about peace. Plastered across the window at the Amsterdam Hilton was a banner that said “Bed Peace”. However, these events were non-violent. Everything John did was non-violent. With the Beatles,John had penned some great anti-war songs including All You Need is Love and Revolution. No one in Britain ever saw John as a threat to the crown. They may not have liked him, but to think of him as a subversive, never. Lennon was well aware of his public persona and he used it to his advantage. Long before there was Brangelina, there were John and Yoko.

Rubin, Ono, Lennon, and Hoffman

Things changed when John and Yoko moved to the United States in the early 70s. The FBI began compiling a file on Lennon soon after his arrival. Lennon, meanwhile, began to associate with the counterculture movement more and more. Jerry Rubin and Abby Hoffman began a short friendship with John and Yoko. After a benefit for one John Sinclair in Michigan resulted in Sinclair’s release from prison, President Nixon began to take notice.

Thus, the case of The US vs. John Lennon began. Nixon, the king of paranoia, began to use Lennon’s associations with Rubin, Hoffman, and Sinclair. From 1971 to 1975, the FBI and the US Government tried to deport John Lennon. Nixon feared that Lennon’s subversiveness and drive for peace would cost Nixon the reelection in 1972. It did not stop Lennon from campaigning for peace or chastising Nixon. Lennon once declared that Nixon should “Declare Peace!” Lennon added it would help Nixon get reelected.

Many musicians and fellow artists came to the aid of John and Yoko during this time including Bob Dylan. The case got so bizarre that the FBI was worried about a parrot who said “Right On!” after every time someone said something. Using informant Julie Maynard, the FBI and CIA portrayed Lennon to be a revolutionary bent on overthrowing the US government, specifically, Richard Nixon. At one point, John and Yoko declared their own country, Nutopia, and sought political asylum in the US – they were joking, but no one saw it that way.

It was all for naught. While the two sides butted heads, and lawyers were involved in proceeding after proceeding, Nixon was reelected and resigned within two years. John Lennon, he was still here. When the court case finally reached a climax in 1975, the judge threw out the case and apologized for Nixon’s paranoia political behavior. Soon after, John got his green card and was in the US to stay. In 2006, an excellent documentary of the proceeding came to light. The US vs. John Lennon is a great documentary about the times of John Lennon in the early 1970s, but more importantly, the pervasiveness of the fear and paranoia of those in power. From the 1968 Democratic through the trial, America came off as a country on the verge of chaos.

In the end, John Lennon was a part of his times. I see him now more for his human frailties than his rock star Beatle status. He evolved into a man who wanted peace. He was not afraid to use his fame to raise awareness. For that, Nixon tried to deport him and failed. Sure, Lennon hung out with revolutionaries and drug addicts. But he never picked up a gun in anger. He never once tried to fight the war himself. All he did was to want a little peace and quiet. Like his idols before him, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, he wanted to bring about a revolution through peace and love.

Daniel Ellsberg and The Pentagon Papers

Long before WikiLeaks released the largest amount of classified documents in American History, Daniel Ellsberg shocked the nation in 1971 by releasing what has become known as “The Pentagon Papers”. There is a huge difference between the two events. I doubt if any change in foreign policy comes from WikiLeaks. The only damaging piece of evidence coming out from WikiLeaks was that the Pakistani troops were aiding the Taliban in Pakistan. The Pentagon Papers on the other hand, brought out the worst in a President, an ultimately, brought down the President and changed the US’s role in Vietnam.

Daniel Ellsberg was born in Chicago in 1931. He grew in Michigan and went to Harvard, graduating with a B.S. in economics in 1952. In 1954, Ellsberg left to join the Marines. He would stay in the Marines until 1957. After an honorable discharge, Ellsberg resumed graduate studies at Harvard. He also began working for the Rand Corporation and received his Ph.D. in economics in 1962. His dissertation was on a paradox in decision making now known as the Ellsberg paradox.

Between 1964 and 1967, Ellsberg worked for the Defense Department and the State Department and even served one tour in Vietnam. When he returned home, Ellsberg went back to work for the Rand Corporation. Ellsberg was commissioned (along with two other people) by then Defense Secretary Robert McNamara to compile a top-secret history of the War in Vietnam. At the time, Ellsberg had top-secret clearance.

Throughout 1969 and 1970, Ellsberg lived a double, sometimes, triple life. He worked for Rand, he worked on the top-secret history, and he began attending anti-war rallies. In 1970, Ellsberg began to try to get the top-secret history published. He approached newspapers and senators. No one was biting. He began to copy more and more of the report. On June 13, 1971, the New York Times began to publish what became known as “The Pentagon Papers”.

Ellsberg became public enemy number one in the eyes of the Nixon Administration. Even though most of the documents were about Johnson’s attempts to get into war and the mismanagement thereafter, Nixon was still outraged. “Tricky Dick” went into full effect even having his “plumbers” break into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office. The Nixon administration tried to lock up Ellsberg and throw away the key, but by the time the case went to trial, Watergate was the story of the day. Ellsberg was to be tried under the Espionage Act of 1917, and he was, but the Judge threw out most of the evidence of the prosecution because it had been illegally obtained. Judge Byrne dismissed all charges against Ellsberg.

Ellsberg, who was working at the Defense Department on the night of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, said in an interview on NPR:

Years later when I revealed some of those same cables and documents that I had in my safe that night, August 4th, 1964, when I revealed them in the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, Senator Wayne Morse who’s been one of the two senators who voted against the Tonkin Gulf resolution told me, if you had given me, on the foreign relations committee, those documents which were now out in 1971.

If you’d given me those documents, at the time, in 1964, the Tonkin Gulf Resolution would never have gotten out of committee. And if they had brought it to the floor, it would have lost. And he was telling me that I, by telling the truth to Congress, as was my constitutional responsibility to do, I could have averted that war and 50,000 American lives and several million Vietnamese – so that’s a heavy burden to bear.

The Papers did help to change America’s perceptions about its government in the 1970s. America became more and more apathetic. Nixon would resign, but not before turning over control of the war to South Vietnam. The papers shed light on the role of the Johnson administration and its handling of the press. It changed how America viewed its secrets. “The War Logs” as they are no being called are not rattling anyone’s sabers. The only thing that might change today would be security protocols. That’s a shame.

In 2009, an Oscar nominated documentary was released about the Pentagon Papers. Here is a nice interview with the director of “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers”.

Here is a short interview with Ellsberg about what he call Vietnamistan (Afghanistan)

The Halloween Massacre

On August 9. 1974, my friend Dean Harrison celebrated his tenth birthday. That same day, Richard Nixon resigned. Gerald Ford took over the Presidency and the Republican Party would never be the same.  No longer a moderate force in American Politics, the party of Eisenhower shifted from the center to the right. In the fall of 1975, Gerald Ford cemented his stamp on the party in what has become known as the Halloween Massacre.

When Ford took over, most of Nixon’s staff that were not in jail remained on the job. Ford put his own stamp on his administration by firing Henry Kissinger as the National Security Adviser, William Colby as the CIA Director, and James Schlesinger as Secretary of Defense. In were Brent Scowcroft as the NSA, George HW Bush as head of the CIA, and Ford’s Chief of Staff, Donald Rumsfeld, would take over at Defense. Ford’s actions took the nation by surprise.

To many Americans, his actions seemed abrupt, not to say panicky. Instead of strength and certainty, he conveyed the impression that he was bumbling and dominated by political motives. 1

Those political motives would be Ford’s possible re-election in 1976. At the same time, it was also announced that Ford’s Vice-President, Nelson Rockefeller, would not be on the ticket should Ford win the nomination in 1976 (which Ford did). The moderates had been purged.

While today one might see the machinations of the massacre as being done by Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, at the time Ford took all the credit.

Ford insisted that he only wanted to field “my own team” in the crucial area of national security; he invoked the word team 16 times during a 33-minute televised press conference, four times in a single sentence. He exulted, “I did it totally on my own. It was my decision. I fitted the pieces together, and they fitted excellently … These are my guys.” 2

Also coming into the limelight replacing Rumsfeld as Ford’s Chief of Staff was one Dick Cheney. At the time, the purge was seen as a risky maneuver, but in hindsight it was a momentous shift in the thought process of the Republican Party. “Gone” was governing from the center and “in” was governing from the right. The conservatives wasted no time.

Rumsfeld and Cheney quickly gained control of the White House staff, edging out Ford’s old aides. From this base, they waged bureaucratic war on Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger, a colossus of foreign policy, who occupied the posts of both secretary of state and national security advisor. Rumsfeld and Cheney were the right wing of the Ford administration, opposed to the policy of détente with the Soviet Union, and they operated by stealthy internal maneuver. The Secret Service gave Cheney the code name “Backseat.” 3

It is interesting that even in 1975, Cheney’s and Rumsfeld ‘s tactics were still the same as they would be in the Bush administration some twenty five plus years later. Outed in recent books, Bush at War, State of Denial, Plan of Attck, Fiasco, and Gamble, the machinations of the two now have brought down the party that has put America on the brink, both financially and by stretching our military thin by fighting two wars at once.

In the coming years the party will try to rebuild after the crushing defeat of McCain by Obama in 2008. The party is fractured and doing so in public. This fallout could take years as the status quo of the conservative wing avoids changing in any fashion to move to the center. In fact it is going public by condoning, even rationalizing, its mistakes of the last 8 years which led to them being voted out. Be it on talk shows or the radio, the party is sinking in public forums from the defeat. It is odd that one of the people who helped to build the conservative Republican Party of today is trying to hold it together against all the forces of nature and the  changing demographics and goals of America. Abortion, Gay Marriage, National Security, and other stalwart issues of the Republican party are not on the mind of most Americans. What is on their collective mind is the economy, energy independence, education, cheaper health care, dwindling savings, and the environment.

The first words of Frank’s Herbert’s Dune proclaim:Every revolution carries within it the seeds of its own destruction”. What Ford created by bringing the conservatives forward in 1975 ultimately may doom the party and the Republicans could go the way of the Whigs. For if the Republican Party cannot come up with new ideas, even their old ideas will soon be forgotten.

1 – “Ford’s Costly Purge”. Time Magazine. November 17, 1975.
2. Ibid
2  – Blumenthal, Sidney. “The Long March of Dick Cheney”. History News Network. November 28, 2005.