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New Nixon Documents Show Conflict Over Vietnam

CALVIN WOODWARD | 12/ 2/08 09:24 PM | AP

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U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, archivist Ira Pemstein listens online to the newly released tape recordings from the Nixon White House, on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2008 at the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, Calif. Documents shed new light on just how much the government struggled with growing public unrest over the protracted war in Vietnam. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

WASHINGTON — In Richard Nixon's time, all the president's men fretted about threats on every front: disquiet out on the streets, disloyalty inside the administration and trouble from political opponents who had to be discredited at any cost.

Documents and recordings released Tuesday show Nixon's operatives dishing dirt on the president's critics and public figures, including their marital, mental and drinking problems, and struggling to contain growing public unrest over the war in Vietnam. The president starkly set that tone.

"Never forget," Nixon tells national security adviser Henry Kissinger in a taped Oval Office conversation revealed Tuesday. "The press is the enemy. The establishment is the enemy. The professors are the enemy.

"Professors are the enemy," he repeated. "Write that on a blackboard 100 times and never forget it."

The conversation was on Dec. 14, 1972, four days before the U.S. unleashed a massive bombing campaign on Hanoi and Haiphong aimed at getting North Vietnam to negotiate more seriously in peace talks.

"We're going to bomb them," Nixon told Kissinger and adviser Alexander Haig, green lighting one of the most controversial acts of the war. "We'll take the heat right over the Christmas period, then on January 3, it's Christmas withdrawal."

Kissinger later called the decision to resume bombing the loneliest one Nixon had made thus far. In their Dec. 14 meeting, he is heard telling the president: "We have to convince them that we are not easily pushed around."

The Nixon Library, run by the National Archives, opened nearly 200 hours of White House tape recordings and 90,000 pages of documents in its latest release of material from his administration.

In one memo, Alabama Gov. George Wallace was branded a "psychotic" who could be useful in making trouble for his fellow Democrats. Thomas Eagleton's treatments for mental illness were reported to Nixon's secretary in other correspondence before that disclosure forced him to resign from the 1972 Democratic ticket.

The records show that Nixon kept an exceptionally close eye on anti-war and civil rights protests, even the most benign.

Senior FBI official Mark Felt regularly reported to Nixon and his national security team on events as minor as a high-school cafeteria fight in which seven students were arrested and a peaceful sit-in by 20 college students in Rhode Island.

Felt was up to much bigger things on the sly. He was Deep Throat, feeding revelations to The Washington Post about the Watergate scandal that would ultimately bring Nixon down.

Even as he campaigned toward a landslide re-election in 1972, Nixon felt besieged on multiple fronts.

In an August 1972 memo to his chief counsel Charles Colson, he complained that New York business and financial writers were in the bag for Democratic opponent George McGovern "and are trying to do us in."

That attitude permeated his staff, the documents suggest, as aides looked for ways to take on unfriendly organizations and people.

White House staff assistant John R. Brown III appealed in one memo for "a coordinated Congressional and columnist attack on the question of the Urban Coalition's tax exempt status."

Patrick Buchanan, a special assistant to Nixon and now a conservative commentator, wrote to Nixon's top aide and the attorney general at the time about Wallace, the longtime civil rights opponent who was challenging McGovern for the Democratic nomination.

"From an excellent source in Alabama comes word Governor Wallace is 'getting psychotic,' that he has serious marital problems and that he is 'not what he used to be,' Buchanan wrote in January 1972. He said this could affect "just how much of an embroglio he can create at the Miami Beach convention."

Wallace was shot in May while campaigning in Maryland and spoke at the Democrats' Miami convention from his wheelchair.

Also in Buchanan's files was a letter to Nixon's secretary, Rose Mary Woods, from St. Louis supporter Sam Krupnick, telling Nixon aides that McGovern's running mate had been in and out of a St. Louis mental institution and "was suffering from acute alcoholism. He still has a whiskey voice. He came by it honestly." The letter also addressed allegations about Eagleton's marriage.

Inside the administration, even the government's statistician did not escape political scrutiny.

The knock against him, as related by a December 1971 memo from Colson, was that he stuck to numbers, "applies little imagination to the statistics" and is "a very poor advocate for our point of view."

Suspicions about staff did not die off after the election. Buchanan proposed a "housecleaning" of insufficiently loyal employees.

He described the Latin American office of the Peace Corps as "a hotbed of Kennedy-Shriver types, and said of the Health, Education and Welfare Department: "Those responsible for the concerted and continuing effort to win support for discredited child development 'schemes' should be ferreted out."

Another memo, signed only by "Advanceman," alleges that a top aide to Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau secretly helped protesters stage a demonstration in front of a signing ceremony during Nixon's visit to Ottawa.

A memo to Nixon from his secretary of defense at the time reflects just how much the administration felt and discussed public pressure _ even as it weighed U.S. geopolitical strategy _ in anguished internal debate over war policy.

The seven-page document cautions the president against a proposal from military brass to conduct a high-intensity air and naval campaign against North Vietnam.

Then-Defense Secretary Melvin Laird said such a plan would involve the United States in "expanded costs and risks with no clear resultant military or political benefits."

With peace talks "seemingly stalled in Paris, with combat activity levels reduced in South Vietnam, but with seemingly rising levels of discontent in the United States, we should review the overall situation and determine the best course of action," the defense secretary writes to the president on Oct. 8, 1969.

At the time, the Nixon administration was secretly conducting a massive bombing of Cambodia to destroy sanctuaries for enemy troops.

The material also shows a sensitive side to Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, who apparently needed affirmation in his job as chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1972.

"The key to Bob Dole's effectiveness is his morale and his attitude," Colson told Nixon in a February 1972 memo. "A pat on the back from you tonight when you see him would go a long way toward keeping his spirits up. He is very sensitive to this kind of thing and often asks whether you know what he does. The slightest mention would have a very healthy impact."

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AP writers Gillian Flaccus in Yorba Linda, Calif., and Pete Yost and Natasha Metzler in Washington contributed to this report.

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On the Net:

Nixon Presidential Library and Museum: http://www.nixonlibrary.gov

The National Archives: http://archives.gov/

Analysis and tapes: http://www.nixontapes.org

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