How Prolonging a War Helped Richard Nixon Become President

In today’s New York Times, author John A. Farrell offers new proof that 1968 presidential candidate Richard Nixon sabotaged efforts to end the Vietnam War, hoping that prolonging the fighting would help him win the November 5 election.

Farrell writes:

Richard M. Nixon always denied it: to David Frost, to historians and to Lyndon B. Johnson, who had the strongest suspicions and the most cause for outrage at his successor’s rumored treachery. To them all, Nixon insisted that he had not sabotaged Johnson’s 1968 peace initiative to bring the war in Vietnam to an early conclusion. “My God. I would never do anything to encourage” South Vietnam “not to come to the table,” Nixon told Johnson, in a conversation captured on the White House taping system.

Now we know Nixon lied.

The end of Farrell’s Times story:

In a conversation with the Republican senator Everett Dirksen, the minority leader, Johnson lashed out at Nixon. “I’m reading their hand, Everett,” Johnson told his old friend. “This is treason.”

“I know,” Dirksen said mournfully.

Johnson’s closest aides urged him to unmask Nixon’s actions. But on a Nov. 4 conference call, they concluded that they could not go public because, among other factors, they lacked the “absolute proof,” as Defense Secretary Clark Clifford put it, of Nixon’s direct involvement.

Nixon was elected president the next day.

Farrell, while researching his upcoming book, Richard Nixon: The Life, found internal White House notes that seem to clearly show Nixon’s treachery. The peace talks were delayed; Nixon narrowly won the 1968 presidential election with 301 electoral votes. The popular vote: Nixon 31,783,783; Humphrey 31,271,839; George Wallace 9,901,118.

Here’s a recent post on this site  that adds background to Farrell’s findings. It includes a description of a September 1969 cover story in the Washingtonian about Anna Chennault, who helped Nixon stall the peace talks. The lede of that story:

Anna Chennault says someday she’ll write a book about Vietnam. Maybe then we’ll find out whether or not this exotic Oriental beauty really did try to stall the peace talks in Paris long enough to give Richard Nixon the Presidency.

Also included in the post is background from Norman Sherman, who was Vice President Humphrey’s press secretary in 1968. From a May 2014 Washingtonian story:

Humphrey, although he knew what was happening, would not say anything about Chennault’s activities because the information was based on intelligence sources. Had Johnson informed him, given Humphrey a heads-up, we might have been able to speak out just enough to make a difference. But we heard nothing. I begged Humphrey to let me tell all of this to the press. I was certain that Americans of both parties would be outraged at what was a treasonous act by Nixon and that we would get the final boost we needed. I told him that if it rebounded against us, he could fire me as the unauthorized leaker.

In 1975, when the Vietnam War finally ended, 58,315 U.S. service members had been killed and 153,303 had been wounded.
Full disclosure: I started in journalism in 1960. In 1968, while on a one-year Congressional Fellowship, I was assigned to the Senate office of Vice President Humphrey, working with Norman Sherman. I then returned to journalism, joining the staff of the Washingtonian in January 1969.



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