THE BLOG

Let the Punishment Fit the Crime

03/20/2013 03:26 pm ET | Updated May 20, 2013

I'm having a hard time controlling my anger right now, but it must pale in comparison to the outrage that the families and loved ones of the 22,000 Americans who lost their lives during the Nixon administration's treacherous conduct of the U.S. war in Vietnam from 1968-73 must be experiencing. As revealed by the BBC Magazine this weekend -- and borne out by tape recordings of White House conversations made during Lyndon Johnson's presidency -- Richard Nixon clandestinely torpedoed the Vietnam Peace Talks of 1968 for fear it would cost him the presidency. The result was that our costly and unnecessary disaster in Vietnam went on for nearly five more years and the deaths of far too many Americans and Vietnamese.

I could have been one of Nixon's likely casualties. Losing my student deferment after I graduated from college in May 1969, I was in Vietnam by the fall of 1970. Lucky for me, the Army gave me the job of information specialist (journalist), meaning I had a relatively "safe" job in the rear. But I was still in Vietnam and still in the Army -- and there was still a war going on and guys like me were still being killed.

More than 22,000 of them.

And they didn't have to die, they didn't have to go -- they probably wouldn't have been anywhere near Vietnam if it weren't for Nixon's subterfuge.

As the Johnson White House tapes show, Nixon orchestrated a clandestine back channel involving one of his senior campaign advisers (Anna Chennault) whose job it was to persuade the South Vietnamese government to withdraw from the talks and refuse to deal with LBJ. In the process, the South Vietnamese leaders were assured that if Nixon were elected, they would get a much better deal.

As a result, when the North Vietnamese offered major concessions in October 1968, which augured well for meaningful peace talks, the South Vietnamese pulled out.

In one call to Senator Richard Russell (the tape is included in the BBC article), LBJ says:

We have found that our friend, the Republican nominee, our California friend, has been playing on the outskirts with our enemies and our friends both, he has been doing it through rather subterranean sources. Mrs. Chennault is warning the South Vietnamese not to get pulled into this Johnson move.

LBJ is by no means a saint, either, as the tapes reveal that he and the FBI were engaged in illegal taping and surveillance. In the end, even though he thought that Nixon's subterfuge amounted to treason, LBJ did nothing.

And the rest, as they say, is history -- Nixon won the 1968 presidential election by less than 1 percent of the popular vote and, once in office, increased the air war, expanded the ground war into neighboring Laos and Cambodia, and caused the deaths of an additional 22,000 American soldiers. The "peace" agreement he eventually signed in 1973 was similar to the one that was within LBJ's grasp in 1968.

Section 3 of Article III of the United States Constitution says in part: "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort... The penalty for treason is death."

I don't just want to turn Nixon over in his grave, I want to exhume his duplicitous carcass, put him on trial for treason and then put him to death. It won't bring back the 22,000 he sent to die, but it can serve as a reminder that treason is treason, and that, as the British are wont to say, the punishment should fit the crime.