Monday, October 31, 2011

A Cancer Close To The Presidency: The Watergate Scandal

I am coauthor of an updated version of the college American history textbook, currently titled “American Dreams and Reality: A Retelling of the American Story.” Here, I describe the unraveling of Richard Nixon’s administration and Gerald Ford’s rise to the Vice Presidency.

The cluster of scandals that became known by the shorthand phrase “Watergate” started well before the morning of June 17, 1960, when Washington, D.C. police arrested five men employed by Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President after they broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters located in the Watergate Hotel (just one mile from the White House.) As already noted, by the time of the break-in, Nixon’s campaign had engaged in extensive “dirty tricks” targeting the Muskie campaign. Nixon had already violated the law by authorizing illegal wiretaps to determine who had leaked the information on American bombing in Cambodia and Laos and had formed the “Plumbers Unit.” It was the White House Plumbers Unit that broke into the Watergate Hotel in order to repair bugging devices planted there during an earlier break-in.

The Plumbers Unit included several bizarre characters including the former FBI agent and one-time assistant district attorney G. Gordon Liddy who once conquered a fear of fire by holding his hand in the flame of a candle until the skin of his palm reportedly burned black. Nixon wanted the Plumbers to reveal what he thought was a criminal relationship between Democratic National Chair Lawrence O’Brien and the reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes, who also had contributed money to Nixon. Discovering those theoretical links was the original purpose of bugging O’Brien’s Washington headquarters.

When police nabbed the five Watergate burglars, the Plumbers – including former CIA agent Bernard Barker and James W. McCord (a security coordinator for the Republican National Committee and CREEP) -- wore business suits and carried the bugging equipment and $2,300 in cash in a series of $100 bills with sequential serial numbers. Sensing something unusual about this break-in, newly hired Washington Post police reporter Bob Woodward attended the burglars’ arraignment and was startled to hear McCord tell the judge about his former job at the CIA. Woodward also discovered that the burglars carried address books that listed the name and phone number of Howard Hunt, another former CIA agent and a Nixon White House consultant. Woodward called Hunt’s number and asked what he had to do with the burglars. “Good God,” Hunt exclaimed before he hung up.

White House Press Secretary Ron Zeigler dismissed the incident as a “third rate” burglary. Woodward and another Washington Post reporter, Carl Bernstein, turned Watergate into a full-time beat. The pair of investigative journalists demonstrated that the Nixon campaign had created an illegal $350,000 election “slush fund” in which money from donors was “laundered” through Mexican bank accounts to conceal the source of the money. The money was then used to pay for dirty tricks. Woodward and Bernstein proved a connection between the break-in and the president’s re-election campaign, but still Watergate had no effect on the 1972 election.

The scandal grabbed the public’s attention in January 1973 when a Washington jury convicted the Watergate burglars, Howard Hunt and Liddy, of conspiracy and burglary charges. Threatened with a long prison term, McCord began to provide the court details about the Plumbers and other illegal White House operations. The Senate empanelled a Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities chaired by the colorful, story-telling, longtime segregationist North Carolina Sen. Sam Ervin. The Watergate suspects began to talk to investigators. White House Counsel John Dean warned Nixon on March 21, 1973 that, “We have a cancer within, close to the presidency, that's growing. It's growing daily. It's compounding. It grows geometrically now, because it compounds itself.”

“STONEWALL IT”

Speaking with the president, Dean laid out the financial demands from the Watergate burglars. “Hunt is now demanding another $72,000 for his own personal expenses; $50,000 to pay his attorney’s fees . . . wanted it by the close of business yesterday,” Dean said. The White House lawyer hoped to alert Nixon to the dangers of the White House submitting to blackmail. Instead, Nixon asked, ‘How much money do you need?” Hoping to scare the president off from committing bribery, Dean said, “I would say that these people are going to cost a million dollars over the next two years.” Nixon didn’t blanch. “We could get that . . . If you need the money, you could get the money. I know where it could be gotten.”

The president eventually authorized his legal advisor to raise $75,000 in “hush money” to ensure Hunt would remain silent about criminal acts and White House involvement. Nixon told other aides on March 22, “I want you all to stonewall it, let them plead the Fifth Amendment, cover up, anything else.” Unknown to Dean and others, Nixon had been secretly audiotaping his Oval Office conversations. Convinced that he was making history, Nixon had requested systematic taping of his conversations so he could retrieve every word he uttered in the Oval Office. The secret taping indeed preserved his place in history, but not in the way Nixon imagined. The recordings had just caught the president ordering an aide to bribe witnesses in a criminal case.

Federal Judge John Sirica pressured McCord to cooperate with investigators and McCord accused Dean and others of ordering a cover-up to conceal the White House connection to Watergate. Dean, in turn, implicated more White House officials including top Nixon lieutenants Haldeman and Ehrlichman. On April 30, 1973, Nixon went on television to address the widening Watergate scandal and to announce the resignation of Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Dean. Nixon privately told staffers that he thought his administration was doomed and hinted darkly at suicide. The day of Haldeman and Ehrlichman’s resignations, he looked at press secretary Zeigler and said, “It’s all over, Ron, do you know that?” He told another aide preparing his public statement on the departures, “Maybe I should resign . . If you think so just put it in.”

Sadly for the country, the drama dragged on for more than another year. Hoping he could convince the public that he wanted to get to the bottom of the matter, Nixon appointed Archibald Cox as special prosecutor to investigate the Watergate matter. That summer, Ervin’s committee held televised hearings. Commercial networks broadcast five hours of the hearings each day. About 85 percent of the American public told pollsters that they watched some part of the hearings. Even Republican senators began to criticize the president, with moderate Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee famously asking, “What did the president know and when did he know it?” A turning point came in July 1973 when former White House staffer Alexander Butterfield revealed the existence of the White House tapes.

An unrelated scandal involving Vice President Spiro Agnew further tarred the administration. Agnew had been the administration’s conservative lightning rod, making fiery speeches attacking the supposedly liberal media, war protestors and black radicals. But now he faced charges that while Baltimore County executive and governor of Maryland he had accepted $147,500 in bribes, sometimes delivered to the governor’s mansion in brown paper bags, from businesses seeking state contracts. He continued to accept the bribes when he assumed the vice presidency. He had also failed to report the illegal income on his tax forms. Shortly after pledging in a speech that he would not “resign if indicted,” Agnew stepped down on October 10, 1973, after pleading no contest to one count of tax evasion.

For the first time ever, the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1967 and adopted in the wake of President Kennedy’s assassination, required a president to appoint and the Senate and House to confirm a replacement vice president. (Previously, if a vice president vacated the office through death, sucession to the presidency or some other reason, the office remained open until the next presidential election.) Nixon sought a non-controversial replacement and selected House Minority Leader Gerald Ford of Grand Rapids, Michigan, to serve as the next vice president. Bland but pleasant and not heavily ideological, Ford struck many as a feasible president and he was approved by the Senate 92-3 and the House by a 387-35 margin. Democrats would not have wanted to place Agnew in the White House through impeaching Nixon, but Ford’s appointment emboldened the Democrats’ investigation of presidential wrongdoing.



Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

“Nothing More To Say After That”: Aftermath of the Vietnam War

I am coauthor of an updated version of the college American history textbook, currently titled “American Dreams and Reality: A Retelling of the American Story.” Here, I describe the tragic aftermath of the American war in Southeast Asia.

Under the peace terms ending the Vietnam War, the Americans agreed to remove all troops, including military advisers, from South Vietnam. The U.S., South Vietnam, and the North also agreed to exchange prisoners of war. North Vietnamese troops could maintain their positions in South Vietnam, as could Vietcong guerillas.

In essence, the truce was a surrender document, not much different from what President Richard Nixon could have gotten from Hanoi when he first took office in 1969. In all, 58,193 Americans died in Vietnam, almost 21,000 under Nixon’s watch, as well as close to 2 million Vietnamese. At least 150,000 soldiers and medical personnel suffered injuries. The United States spent $138 billion in military aid plus $8.5 billion in economic aid, a total of about $743 billion in 2011 dollars.

Foreign Policy Advisor Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, the chief North Vietnamese negotiator, received Nobel Peace Prizes for the truce in 1973, in spite of Kissinger’s involvement in invasions of Cambodia and Laos and his likely involvement in the Chile coup the same year. The comedian and musical satirist Tom Lehrer supposedly retired from performing upon hearing the news. "It was at that moment that satire died," Lehrer reportedly said. "There was nothing more to say after that." Kissinger and Le Duc Tho’s Peace Prize became even more ironic since the Vietnam War didn’t actually end until two years later.

The Democratic Party-dominated Congress in November 1973 passed the War Powers Act, overriding Nixon’s veto. Congressional leaders knew that the free hand given several consecutive administrations, culminating in the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, had resulted in the Vietnam quagmire. Alarmed particularly by Nixon’s unauthorized invasion of Cambodia and bombing campaigns there, members of the House and Senate sought to reassert their voice in military policy. Under the War Powers Act, the president has to notify the Congress within 48 hours of any military deployment where battle conditions prevail or are likely to prevail. If the Congress does not sign off on the military action, the president has to withdraw troops within 60 days.

The Hanoi government clearly saw the peace agreement as merely a pause in the action. Fighting between the North Vietnamese and Vietcong and South Vietnam began almost immediately after the American departure. North Vietnam launched a new full-scale offensive in 1975. By then, North Vietnam boasted the fifth largest military in the world. It anticipated that the final phase of the war would take two years, but final victory came in only 55 days.

Coordinated attacks across the country began on March 10. Just three days later, hoping to consolidate his forces in the Southern third of the country, Thieu ordered a withdrawal from the northernmost provinces and the Central Highlands. This triggered a panic as South Vietnamese soldiers, police and other government officials fled in droves, struggling to flee on clogged roads and arriving as refugees in Saigon, which became virtually the last government stronghold by April 1975.

Gerald Ford, who assumed the American presidency when Nixon was forced to resign August 9, 1974, had already declared that no American combat soldiers would rescue the South this time. He authorized “Operation Frequent Wind,” which eventually evacuated more than 7,000 American personnel and 150,000 South Vietnamese officials and family members who feared retribution from the North Vietnamese government. As thousands of locals fought their way into the American embassy compound, American television crews filmed some South Vietnamese being pushed away from overcrowded helicopters or grabbing the skids and holding on as the crafts took off from the embassy roof. The morning of April 30 the last American personnel, 10 Marines, departed and North Vietnamese forces poured into Saigon which they quickly renamed “Ho Chi Minh City” after the late Communist leader.

The collapse of Saigon marked the start of a mass Vietnamese diaspora. For months before the fall of the Thieu government, South Vietnamese had heard rumors of a planned bloodbath in which the victorious communists would commit mass murder against the political opponents. Some fled by foot to nearby countries. Thousands who came to be known as “boat people,” those who had worked for or supported the South Vietnamese government or served in its military or its intelligence services, put together rickety sea craft. They sailed until they met friendly vessels and were placed in refugee camps and tent cities across east Asia. Some eventually reached the United States.

About a quarter million Vietnamese-born refugees made it to the United States between 1975 and 1980, settling in large numbers in states like California and Texas. Reminders of a lost war, the refugees often received a harsh reception in the United States. At a refugee center near Fort Chafee, Arkansas, white protestors waved signs calling the newcomers “Gooks” and telling the Vietnamese to “Go Home.” In 1981, armed Klansman led by Vietnam War veteran Louis Beam harassed the new Vietnamese community, burned crosses, hanged effigies and torched boats owned by Vietnamese fishermen near Galveston, Texas. A Gallup Poll taken in 1975 showed that Americans opposed admitting the refugees by a margin of 54 percent to 36 percent. The House of Representatives rejected a bill that would have provided $327 million in aid to the refugees. “Those sons of bitches,” President Gerald Ford said when he heard about the vote.

In the nearly four decades since the war ended, 40,000 Vietnamese have died or have been injured by landmines and unexploded bombs left behind in Southeast Asia. About 12 to 18 percent of the bombs dropped during the war didn’t explode, only to blow up when discovered by farmers, children, and others who, if they survived, were left with missing limbs.

Meanwhile, digging up the explosives cost Vietnam about $1,000 each and disturbing the soil exposed the local population to the cancer-causing defoliant Agent Orange. During the 1960s,until a 1970 lab study demonstrated that Agent Orange caused birth defects in animals, American planes dropped 12 million gallons of the chemical compound, a cancer-causing defoliant created by Dow Chemical, on the Vietnamese countryside to strip trees as a means of exposing communist fighters. The heaviest spraying took place during “Operation Ranch Hand” between 1967 and 1969. Up to one million Vietnamese children have suffered birth defects as a side effect of the chemical, with another half-million injured during the initial chemical drops. Since then, cancer rates in Vietnam exploded and soldiers and servicemen from the United States, Australia and other countries that fought there have reported skin rashes; cancers of the skin, lung, brain and prostate; non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and unusual rates of handicaps in their children.

THE KILLING FIELDS

There was no more tragic aftermath to the Vietnam War than the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. During the Operation Menu bombing campaign that began in 1969, Cambodian President Lon Nol noted a sharp increase in the number of communist guerillas operating in his country. At the same time, Lon Nol’s government proved ineffective, corrupt and cruel. Cambodia’s economy began to collapse, which added to the Khmer Rouge’s momentum. Food prices escalated wildly. Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia created 700,000 refugees by the end of 1970. Eventually 540,000 tons of bombs fell on the tiny country and the number of refugees by the end of 1971 reached a staggering two million people out of a total population of about seven million. “Pol Pot’s Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) . . . used the bombing’s devastation and massacre of civilians as recruitment propaganda and as an excuse for its brutal, radical policies and its purge of moderate communists,” noted historian Ben Kiernan.

By March 1973, American bombing raids encompassed the entire country, with 3,000 civilians dying in just three weeks. One evening a mass funeral procession unknowingly walked into a bombing target area, and hundreds were killed. One villager told an interviewer in April, “The bombers may kill some communists, but they kill everyone else too.” Armed by the North Vietnamese, the Khmer Rouge became a tightly-disciplined, dedicated and ruthless fighting force. Lon Nol’s troops, by contrast, consisted of demoralized, frightened draftees. The government implemented a draft law in 1973. “Cinema queues were a favorite hunting ground: army trucks would rush up in the evening and drag young customers away at gunpoint,” journalist William Shawcross observed. “Army life began as it ended – in squalor. The boys were packed off for inadequate training . . [and faced] . . . ‘primitive living conditions . . . ’”

On April 17, 1975, the remnant of Lon Nol’s forces collapsed. The Khmer Rogue marched into Phnom Penh and took effective control of the nation they renamed Democratic Kampuchea. Pol Pot declared the start of “Year Zero.” Cambodia would be rebuilt from the ground up and become an almost entirely agricultural society in which all private ownership was banned and the family abolished. The Khmer Rouge closed down newspapers and television stations, prohibited the use of money, and shuttered schools. Small children as well as adults became part of a mass agricultural work force. The regime also expelled foreigners. Pol Pot ordered all of the 2 million persons living in Phnom Penh to evacuate. Soldiers went through hospitals, shot patients too weak or ill to move, and forced the rest to join a mass march to the countryside. “And so, in the heat of day, a most dreadful parade began,” Shawcross wrote.

. . . Men with no legs bumped down stairs and levered themselves on skinny arms along the street; blind boys laid their hands on the shoulders of crippled guides; soldiers with one foot and no crutches dragged themselves away; parents carried their wounded children in plastic bags that oozed blood . . .

About 20,000 died in the forced march, those falling shot by soldiers. In mass agricultural camps, men and women lived separately and ate meals communally. Children were separated from parents and casual conversation was suppressed and some were executed for laughing. Workdays, beginning at 4 a.m., lasted 18 hours, followed by mandatory lectures on communism. Overwork, combined with paltry food rations (amounting to 90 grams of rice a day) caused starvation and death from exhaustion. The Khmer Rouge murdered any civilians they caught eating the food they were harvesting.

About 2 million Cambodians died during less than four years of rule by the Khmer Rouge. Democratic Kampuchea became, as the North Vietnamese regime described it, “a land of blood and tears, hell on earth.” The Khmer Rouge remained in power until a series of Cambodian border raids provoked Vietnam to invade on December 25, 1978. The Vietnamese took control of Phnom Penh in January 1979, set up a puppet government, and the Khmer Rouge lost control of the majority of the country, continuing a guerilla war against the new government from remote outposts mostly in the western part of the country for 17 years. The Vietnamese withdrew in 1990. The Khmer Rouge collapsed in 1997-1998, with Pol Pot placed under arrest by his own forces. He died in April 1998, 23 years after launching his brief, nightmarish reign.



Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Richard Nixon, the Pentagon Papers and the Christmas Bombing

I am coauthor of an updated version of the college American history textbook, currently titled “American Dreams and Reality: A Retelling of the American Story.” Here, I describe how the release of the Pentagon Papers, a Defense Department review of Vietnam War policy since the 1940s, led to the Watergate Scandal and the horrible devastation wrought by President Richard Nixon's "Christmas Bombing" campaign in 1972.

President Richard Nixon deeply believed in secrecy and felt threatened whenever White House discussions became public knowledge. This extended even to public knowledge about debates within previous administrations. His volcanic temper exploded, therefore, with The New York Times’ 1971 publication of what came to be known as “The Pentagon Papers,” a huge collection of government memos on Vietnam from the period just after World War II to the Kennedy and Johnson administrations that had been archived and analyzed by the Defense Department under the order of former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara in 1967. The documents spanned 47 volumes, complete with 3,000 pages of commentary by unnamed government historians. The papers revealed that several Democratic and Republican administrations had intentionally misled the American public about the military’s success in Vietnam and the stability and strength of the United States’ ally South Vietnam.

Worried, as Karnow suggested, that “any disclosure of squabbles and duplicity within the government – even the Johnson administration – might damage the public’s faith in his own leadership,” the Nixon administration rushed to the federal courts to halt publication of the documents after the Times published three installments. The Justice Department won a temporary retraining order to stop further publication by the Times and the Washington Post, which had begun to publish its own series. On June 30, 1971, the United States Supreme Court lifted the order, holding that freedom of the press stood paramount over administration concerns about secrecy.

Nixon was not done with the matter. “I want to know who is behind this, and I want the most complete investigation that can be conducted,” Nixon shouted. “ . . . I don’t want excuses. I want results. I want it done, whatever the costs.” Nixon’s secret investigation revealed the source of the leak, Daniel Ellsberg, a Pentagon official during the McNamara era. Egil “Bud” Krogh, a White House assistant, sought to damage the reputation of Ellsberg and prevent further press leaks. “Anyone who opposes us, we’ll destroy,” Krogh said. “As a matter of fact, anyone who doesn’t support us, we’ll destroy.” The team Krogh assembled to “plug” leaks became known as the “White House Plumbers.” The Plumbers, which included White House Special Counsel Charles Colson, former CIA Agent E. Howard Hunt, and retired FBI agent G. Gordon Liddy, would play a key role in Watergate.

They compiled a White House “enemies list” of 200 names, including celebrities such as liberal actor Gregory Peck, star of the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird, Super Bowl-winning New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath, reporter Daniel Schorr of CBS News and print journalist Stanley Karnow. The Plumbers put Ellsberg under surveillance and in one of their many illegal acts, burglarized the office of his psychiatrist hoping to find damaging evidence about his mental health. A grand jury had indicted Ellsberg for theft of the Pentagon Papers and he went on trial in January 1973, but all charges were dropped on May 11 after news broke about the Plumbers’ burglary. During the summer of 1974, a jury convicted White House aides Ehrlichman and G. Gordon Liddy of violating the psychiatrist’s civil rights and sent the pair to federal prison.

THE CHRISTMAS BOMBING

Vietnam peace talks started in Paris in 1968 during the Johnson administration, although after the first eight months of talks, the only issue the Americans and the North Vietnamese had agreed upon was the shape of the conference table. A key sticking point for the peace talks became North Vietnam’s insistence that South Vietnam’s President Nguyen Van Thieu resign, an issue on which Nixon would not budge.

By the start of 1972, the President could correctly point out that he had withdrawn more than 400,000 troops from Southeast Asia. Now, combat deaths were down to about 10 a week. Kissinger was secretly negotiating with the government committee that had run North Vietnam since Ho’s death. Yet, the war was going to take one more bloody turn that year.

The North Vietnamese launched their “Easter Offensive” on March 30, with more than 120,000 North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong soldiers initially overwhelming South Vietnamese forces in the northern provinces, the Central Highlands and the area just north of the capital, Saigon. “Equipped with Soviet artillery, rockets and tanks,” the North Vietnamese made big gains. The Americans, on the other hand, had only 6,000 combat soldiers left of the 70,000 remaining in Vietnam. South Vietnam had a million armed soldiers, but they were stretched to the breaking point.

North Vietnam was beating the South Vietnamese forces badly because, as Nixon observed in his diary, “the enemy is willing to sacrifice in order to win, while the South Vietnamese simply aren’t willing to pay that much of a price in order to avoid losing.” Karnow estimates that the North Vietnamese suffered 50,000 dead during the campaign and about the same number of wounded. In the end, the North Vietnamese did not deal their enemies a final defeat or permanently gain much territory, but they killed Nixon’s willingness to stretch out the game much longer in the hope that Vietnamization would work and leave a durable regime in Saigon.

Politically unable to re-introduce combat troops, Nixon pounded North Vietnam and communist positions in South Vietnam with bombs, American B-52s flying about 50,000 sorties south of the demilitarized zone that separated the two countries. The bombing in the North was sustained and brutal, with 125,000 tons of bombs dropped there, and hospitals, schools, and other civilian targets destroyed along with military objectives like roads, bridges, and oil facilities. Hanoi, the North Vietnamese capital, suffered much of the damage. Americans also bombed Haiphong Harbor, a key supply depot for the communists, and placed a naval blockade on the North, creating food shortages and other hardships. By the time “Operation Linebacker” ended in October, North Vietnam had suffered 100,000 casualties. By the end of 1972, the Americans couldn’t “win” with air power alone, and the North Vietnamese couldn’t protect themselves from bombers. Hanoi signaled it was ready to talk again.

The combat in 1972, however, produced one more searing image from the war. On June 8, South Vietnamese pilots accidentally dropped napalm on a South Vietnam village and Nick Ut photographed a young woman, Kim Phuc, who had torn off her burning clothes and was running down a road near Trang Bang screaming as the chemicals burned her flesh. The napalm burned her skin at almost 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Phuc, who eventually defected to Canada, underwent 17 surgeries to overcome her injuries. Ut won a Pulitzer Prize for his photo, another scarring image from a long, divisive war. As it was published around the world, even more Americans questioned the sanity of continuing the conflict.

One last act remained in the almost 30-year drama. Talks between Kissinger and the North Vietnamese representative to the peace talks, Le Duc Tho, resumed on August 1. Kissinger told the American public that peace “was at hand” just before the November election showdown with McGovern, but the talks stalled again. Nixon responded with the so-called “Christmas Bombing” in December, in which U.S. planes dropped more ordnance than in the first two years of the Nixon administration. A Vietnamese physician, Nguyen Luan, later recalled how, after a bomb hit one hospital, he had to amputate the limbs of patients so he could remove them from the rubble. The North Vietnamese shot down 26 American aircraft. By now, both sides were exhausted. The North Vietnamese no longer demanded the removal of South Vietnamese President Thieu. All remaining differences between Le Duc Tho and Kissinger were resolved and a truce was signed January 27, 1973 that allowed Nixon to declare, “We have finally achieved peace with honor.”



Michael Phillips has authored the following:


White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Collapsing in the Field": Americans in the Finals Days of the Vietnam War

I am coauthor of an updated version of the college American history textbook, currently titled “American Dreams and Reality: A Retelling of the American Story.” Here, I describe the collapse of morale among American soldiers and Marines in Vietnam in the final days of the war.

President Richard Nixon Nixon announced an American withdrawal from Cambodia on June 30, 1970, and by then dropped reference to the communist headquarters, which had proven to be largely a myth. Vietnamization was already clearly failing. In 1971, the United States played a support role as it directed a South Vietnamese invasion of neighboring Laos. Again, the justification was the presence of a North Vietnamese supply line – the so-called Ho Chi Minh Trail - in a nearby neutral nation. This operation ended in disaster as the South Vietnamese army performed poorly. South Vietnamese officers in charge of the operation proved to be incapable.

“The government’s top officers had been tutored by the Americans for ten or fifteen years, yet they had learned little,” journalist Stanley Karnow observed. “. . . [T]hey represented a regime that rewarded fidelity rather than competence. [President] Thieu, like his predecessors, lived in constant dread of a coup d'état. He wanted loyalty above all else, and his military subordinates conformed, realizing that promotions were won in Saigon, not in battle. And vital to this was the avoidance of risk, even at the price of defeat.”

Regardless of the readiness of their South Vietnamese allies, the number of American personnel in South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos dropped from approximately 536,100 in 1968 to 156,800. American combat deaths dropped from 20,600 in 1968 (Johnson’s last year directing the war effort) to 1,380 in 1971. “The simple truth is that Nixon’s strategy in this period amounted to a managed retreat,” historian William Bundy argues. Vietnamization had an unintended consequence, however. It badly demoralized the soldiers remaining in combat who had no desire to be the last to die in a cause the Nixon administration had essentially given up on. Morale also declined as draftees made up an ever-larger percentage of troops in the field. In 1965, only 21 percent of the combat troops in Vietnam were drafted. After 1970, draftees made up about 70 percent of the combat force. (Nixon and the Congress acted to end the draft in 1973.)

In the early 1970s, many military officers worried that the armed services in Southeast Asia were in a state of mutiny. A new word, “fragging,” had entered the military vocabulary. Fragging referred specifically to the murder of commanding officers in combat, usually when the officer made an unpopular decision, was inept, demeaning to soldiers, or put his men unnecessarily in harm’s way. The term comes from the small percussion fragmentation hand grenades often used in such homicides. In one such incident,

Private Gary Hendricks had been ordered to stand guard at night near the Da Nang Airbase. Sgt. Richard Tate discovered Hendricks asleep while on duty and “gave the private a tongue lashing, but took no further action,” according to historian Peter Brush. Around midnight the following day, Hendricks threw a fragmentation grenade into a bunker occupied by Sergeant Tate. “The grenade landed on Tate's stomach and the subsequent blast blew his legs off, killing the father of three from Asheville, North Carolina, who had only three weeks left on his tour of duty,” said Brush. Hendricks confessed to the murder, and was convicted by general court-martial. His death sentence was reduced to life in prison. Hendrick’s case was but one of 209 fragging incidents resulting in 34 deaths in 1970. By July1972, Army officials believed 551 fraggings had killed 86 and injured more than 700.

By the last years of the Vietnam War, the military command uncovered numerous cases of “bounty hunting” in which soldiers raised money to pay someone to murder an unpopular and/or dangerous officer. Soldiers also began to openly defy orders. In 1971 in Laos, a captain ordered two platoons to charge into withering enemy fire. The soldiers said no. “A lieutenant colonel pleaded, then ordered,” Perlstein wrote. “Fifty-three still refused. They also refused to give their names. No disciplinary action was taken. The brass also feared that the mutiny would spread brigade-wide.

The American army was collapsing in the field. ‘I just work hard at surviving so I can go home and protest the killing,’ explained one GI. At Fort Bliss, soldiers were calling commanding officers by their first names, who in turn passed anyone through basic training who promised he wouldn’t go absent without leave (AWOLs went up fivefold between 1966 and 1971) . . . In Vietnam, soldiers wrote semi-seditious slogans on their helmet headliners (“The unwilling, led by the unqualified, doing the unnecessary, for the ungrateful . . .) and, caught in infractions, responded, ‘What are you going to do about it, send me to ’Nam?’

Drug use spiraled among soldiers, according to one official report. The American command in Saigon estimated that 65,000 soldiers operating in the theater were “on drugs” in 1970. An American helicopter pilot, Fred Hickey, reported that entire units –- from privates to the commanding officers – were “doing heroin.” The Vietnamese legal system also turned a blind eye to drug dealers and users, which promoted its use by soldiers stationed there. South Vietnamese soldiers smoked marijuana openly. Even South Vietnamese Air Force Colonel Nguyen Cao Ky, the last vice president of South Vietnam, routinely shipped opium from Laos to Saigon as a side profession.

Part of the attraction of drug use was that narcotics were so cheap for the Americans. “For ten dollars you could get a vial of pure heroin the size of a cigarette butt, and you could get liquid opium, speed, acid, anything you wanted,” Hickey said. “You could trade a box of Tide for a carton of prepacked, prerolled marijuana cigarettes soaked in opium.” In 1967, morphine sold at $5.00 per vial. Alcohol, however, posed a much bigger threat to military readiness. "I think alcohol is a much more dangerous drug than marijuana," said Army Major Joel Kaplan of the 98th Medical Detachment. As one Air Force officer observed, "When you get up there in those early hours, you want the klunk you're flying with to be able to snap to. He's a lot more likely to be fresh if he smoked grass the night before than if he was juiced."

Unit cohesion collapsed as American units turned not only on their officers, but also on each other. Hickey told Stanley Karnow that in his unit, GIs split into factions, “the red necks from Texas and the Deep South who hated the California and New York liberals, and vice versa . . . The blacks were moving into their black power thing, and they got militant . . . Everybody seemed to be at everybody else’s throat. You had to speak softly, mind your own businss, sleep with a weapon at all times, and only trust your closest buddies, nobody else. I had a knife attached to my boot.”

Meanwhile, an ever-larger number of soldiers returning home became harsh critics of the war, with Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), formed in 1967, eventually claiming 25,000 members. The group staged the ‘Winter Soldier Investigation” in January 1971. The WSI served as a mock war crimes trial, in which members of the group described human rights violations they had witnessed while in Vietnam.

On April 23, the VVAW staged another protest, including almost 1,000 veterans, in which they tossed their medals and combat ribbons on the U.S. Capitol steps. The most prominent members of the VVAW, future Massachusetts senator and presidential candidate John Kerry, spoke for many who had battled in Vietnam during two hours of testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 22. The war violated American principles, Kerry argued, and it was immoral to ask for further sacrifice for a cause entirely in vain. “We are asking Americans to think about . . . how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam?” Kerry asked. “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”



Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"Tin Soldiers and Nixon's Coming": Kent State and the American Invasion of Cambodia

I am coauthor of an updated version of the college American history textbook, currently titled “American Dreams and Reality: A Retelling of the American Story.” Here, I describe the tortured path Richard Nixon took towards a withdrawal from Vietnam, the American invasion of Cambodia and the deaths of four students during subsequent protests at Kent State in Ohio May 4, 1970.

President Richard Nixon’s detente with the Soviets and diplomatic opening to the Chinese had less impact on the Vietnam War than he hoped. The Russians wanted the war to end. “[T]he Soviet Union was fed up with the war,” journalist Stanley Karnow wrote in Vietnam: A History. “Its massive aid program to North Vietnam, a region outside its true realm of interest, was draining its domestic economy.” The Chinese, at the same time, were worried about the massive buildup of Soviet troops along its border and sought a closer relationship with the Americans as a protection against Russian aggression. The Beijing government knew support of North Vietnam would complicate that objective.

Yet, the worries of the Russians and the Chinese were of no concern to North Vietnam. The North Vietnamese saw themselves as fighting a war of national independence, not as serving as pawns for communist super-states. The relationship between North Vietnam and Russia strained badly as the Kremlin increasingly urged a settlement. The Vietnamese, furthermore, had a difficult and often hostile relationship with China stretching back centuries.

Nixon had no grand scheme to cut this Gordian knot. As with détente and the opening to China, Nixon and Kissinger improvised. Nixon said repeatedly that he was seeking “peace with honor.” To the outside world this meant that the United States would not withdraw until it had guaranteed the survival of a non-communist South Vietnam. To Nixon’s inner circle, this meant getting out of Vietnam without making Nixon appear like he was “the first president of the United States to lose a war.” By the time he was sworn in as president, Nixon believed that a clear military victory in Vietnam was impossible but hoped he could leave behind a stable, adequately strong South Vietnam as American forces withdrew.

He hoped to achieve this through what the White House called “Vietnamization,” simply another application of the “Nixon Doctrine.” Nixon hoped to replace American soldiers in Vietnam with South Vietnamese troops heavily armed with U.S.-provided weaponry.

At the same time, Nixon tried to frighten the North Vietnamese into accepting American terms utilizing what he called “the madman theory.” As Nixon told Haldeman, “I want the North Vietnamese to believe that I’ve reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war.

We’ll just slip the word to them that, ‘for God’s sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about Communists. We can’t restrain him when he’s angry – he has his hand on the nuclear button’ and [North Vietnamese leader] Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.

By April 30, 1969, the number of American military personnel in Southeast Asia reached a record 543,000. Troop levels would drop from this peak for the rest of the war. American hopes for an end to the war briefly perked up when Ho died on September 2, 1969, but the communist leader’s successors instead vowed to continue the struggle until “there is not a single aggressor in the country.”


OPERATION MENU

Within weeks of the president’s 1969 inauguration, generals convinced Nixon to launch an intensive bombing campaign aimed at destroying North Vietnamese “sanctuaries,” supply routes and weapons depots the communists had created in neighboring, neutral Cambodia. Nixon kept the bombing campaign, dubbed “Operation Menu” secret from the public and even the Congress. From its launch in February 1969 until 1973, Operation Menu resulted in 3,600 missions dropping 500,000 tons of bombs on eastern Cambodia. Bombers also attacked communist positions in Laos as well. The Cambodian government led by Prince Norodom Sihanouk had been fighting a low-intensity war with communist forces that called themselves the “Khmer Rouge.” (The Khmers are Cambodia’s largest ethnic group while “Rouge” is French for “red,” the symbolic color of the international communist movement.)

The Khmer Rouge represented one of the most fanatical communist forces in the world. Their leader, Soloth Sar, went by the nom de guerre “Pol Pot.” Winning a scholarship, he briefly studied at a university in Paris, where he became a Marxist before dropping out and returning to his homeland. By 1962 Pol Pot rose to the leadership of the Cambodian Communist Party. He advocated the liquidation of the wealthy and the small Cambodian middle class as a means of purifying society from corrupt capitalism. His plans for Cambodia’s future included the mass evacuation of cities, the population forcibly relocated to the countryside where they would toil on communal farms. He also planned the mass murder of those who attended college and who were therefore “bourgeois,” ethnic cleansing of Cambodian minorities, and the abolition of all religion, including Buddhism and Islam.

In the early 1960s, Pol Pot waged a guerilla war against the Sihanouk regime but the Khmer Rogue won little territory and captured the hearts of few Cambodians. Prince Sihanouk could see the strength of the North Vietnamese Army and sought to avoid confrontation with these forces by avoiding an alliance with the United States. He allowed the North Vietnamese to use his territory to supply troops and provide hiding places outside the grasp of the United States military.

American planes began to follow and strafe Vietcong and North Vietnamese soldiers as they crossed into Cambodia, but sometimes they hit civilians. By 1966, Sihanouk claimed that “hundreds of our people” had been killed in American attacks. As American bombers caused approximately 150,000 deaths of mostly unarmed peasants during Operation Menu, from March 1969 to May 1970, the Khmer Rouge enjoyed more support and began to control more territory. The Khmer Rouge won increased popularity when America began Operation Menu. “[T]he carpet bombing of Cambodia’s countryside by American B-52s,” wrote historian Ben Kiernan. “ . . . was probably the most important single factor in Pol Pot’s rise.”

Nixon aides like Bob Haldeman always said that if there had been no Vietnam War, there would have been no Watergate scandal. In May 1969, the New York Times revealed the bombing campaign in Laos and Cambodia. Angered and wanting to know who revealed the secret military operation to the press, Nixon ordered FBI wiretaps of four reporters and 13 government officials. Without court authorization, these illegal wiretaps started the Nixon White House pattern of lawbreaking and violations of civil liberties, which would continue and expand until Watergate forced Nixon’s resignation in August 1974.

THE MORATORIUM

Nixon’s war plans depended on his ability to convince the Vietnamese that the American public was as resolute about the war as the communists. As historian Ronald H. Spector said, Nixon had most of the public with him regarding Vietnam early in his presidency. A May 1969 Harris poll revealed that only 9 percent of the American public would approve a peace settlement that left the door open to an eventual communist victory. “Like Johnson and Nixon,” Spector wrote, “the majority of Americans in 1968 and 1969 wanted to ‘get out” but ‘didn’t want to lose.’”

This didn’t prevent between 1 million and 2 million Americans from participating in the so-called “Moratorium,” simultaneous protests against the Vietnam War, on October 15, 1969. About 100,000 protestors participated in Boston Commons alone. Another 250,000 participated in events staged in Washington, D.C. Supporters of the protests wore black armbands and paid respect to servicemen who had died in the war. Future president Bill Clinton, on a Rhodes scholarship, helped organize a demonstration of 1,000 people who picketed in front of the American embassy in London. Protestors in Newton, Kansas, rang a bell every four seconds with each toll representing a fallen soldier while a funeral procession unfolded in Milwaukee. In Houston, the names of the war dead were read out, one reader pausing and choking up when he came upon the name of a friend.

Furious that the Moratorium protests might make him look weak to the North Vietnamese, Nixon dispatched his tart-tongued Vice President Spiro Agnew to smear the mass movement as the work of traitors. Nevertheless, as Time magazine put it, the middle class presence at the day’s events gave “new respectability and popularity” to the anti-war movement. Nixon dismissed the protests, insisting that, “Under no circumstances will I be affected.”

“AN AGE OF ANARCHY”

Irritated by Prince Sihanouk’s neutrality, the Americans supported Cambodian Gen. Lon Nol when he overthrew the Sihanouk government in 1970 and launched a more aggressive war against the Khmer Rouge forces. The Americans provided Nol with more weapons, but did not respect him enough to consult him before the United States launched an invasion of Cambodia in March. The American public was informed of the invasion on April 30, 1970. Nixon claimed that a super “headquarters for the entire Communist military operation in South Vietnam” lay in the Cambodian jungles and that destroying that base was a key to American victory. Anticipating a new round of protests, Nixon in a televised address delivered a call to arms aimed at his supporters in the continuing strife within America:

We live in an age of anarchy. We see mindless attacks on all the great institutions which have been created by free civilizations in the last five hundred years . . . If when the chips are down, the world’s most powerful nation, the United States of America, acts like a pitiful helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world . . . I would rather be a one-term President and do what I believe is right than to be a two-term President at the cost of seeing America become a second-rate power and to see this nation accept the first defeat in its proud 190-year history . . It is not our power but our will and character that is being tested tonight.

After the speech, telegrams sent to the White House praising the president outnumbered those criticizing him by a 6-1 margin. While visiting the Pentagon, Nixon said of anti-war protestors, “You see these bums, you know, blowing up the campuses. Listen, the boys that are on college campuses today are the luckiest people in the world, going to the greatest universities, and here they are, burning up the books, storming around about this issue . . . you name it. Get rid of the war and there will be another [issue.]” On May 2, The New York Times informed the public of a secret bombing campaign that had begun in North Vietnam, the first such bombings in the North since Johnson had suspended the attacks in 1968. The bombing, and the invasion of Cambodia, angered senators and members of the House who believed that the president, by not consulting with the legislative branch before taking military actions, was essentially suspending the part of the Constitution that gave the power to declare war exclusively to the Congress.


FOUR DEAD IN OHIO

Shortly after Nixon announced that U.S. forces had invaded Cambodia, anti-war protests opened at Kent State University in Ohio. On May 2, 1970, the students broke some windows, handed out handbills and chanted “Down with the ROTC! Down with the ROTC!” (ROTC stands for Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, a training program for future military officers conducted at American college and university campuses, and which became a target for demonstrators during the Vietnam era.) The protestors set fire to the ROTC building and burned an American flag. Students then tried to set fire to the campus library.

On May 2, Ohio Gov. James Rhodes ordered state National Guard units to the campus and pledged to use “every force possible” to quell the disorder. Members of the National Guard removed their name patches when some activists began to look up their last names in the city directory and made threatening phone calls to family members. On May 3, the Guardsmen used tear gas to disperse a crowd in front of the university president’s residence. Guardsmen gored two students with the sharp edges of their bayonets while the protestors hurled rocks at the troops.

Close to noon on May 4, Guardsmen faced a hail of rocks thrown by the protestors. They fired canisters of tear gas and advanced on a crowd of angry students. “As students pushed into a building for cover, the troops accidentally marched into a fence and found themselves closed off from retreat and surrounded on three sides by students,” Perlstein wrote. “The Guardsmen feared they were out of tear gas and panicked as the protestors threw rocks and chanted, ‘Pigs off campus! Pigs off campus!’” At around 12:24 p.m. several of the troops dropped to one knee and fired in the direction of a group of students “in a parking lot beyond the fence,” firing 67 rounds in 13 seconds. Thirteen students, “mostly bystanders,” fell, with one paralyzed and four (Allison Krause, William Schroeder, Jeff Miller and Sandra Lee Scheuer) killed. Two of the deceased were 19 years old; the other two were 20. Many of the victims were not in any way involved with the protests and were simply walking to class when struck by bullets.

Later that week, governors dispatched National Guard units to 21 colleges and universities in 16 states while, to prevent protests, 448 campuses closed. Demonstrations took place at more than 1,100 schools with an estimated 2 million students going on strike. On May 14 at Jackson State College in Mississippi, an historically black college, two African American students died during an uprising when police fired into a dormitory. The Jackson incident received considerably less press coverage than the Kent State incident. Many in Nixon’s “Silent Majority” loudly cheered the action of the National Guard at Kent State and the crackdowns elsewhere and insisted the students, even if they were bystanders, deserved what happened to them. “It was a valuable object lesson to homegrown advocates of anarchy and revolution, regardless of age,” wrote one reader to Time. A Gallup poll indicated that 58 percent of Americans blamed the students for their deaths.

Angry that Mayor John Lindsay of New York lowered flags at half-staff in honor of the Kent State dead, 200 construction workers, so-called hardhats, charged into an anti-war rally, beating the protestors with fists, pipes and hammers. Many of the blue-collar workers shouted, “Kill the Commie bastards” and “Love it [America] or leave it.” It was later revealed that the New York City police knew the assault would happen and chose to stand by and let it unfold. A few weeks later, thousands of hardhats staged a patriotic rally in support of the war that reached New York’s financial district. Stockbrokers saluted the construction workers, showering them in ticker tape.

Nixon invited a group of building trades leaders to the White House where the president thanked them and received a hardhat labeled “Commander in Chief.” Hardhat violence broke out in spite of the fact that about 50 percent of blue collar workers by 1970 favored a withdrawal from Vietnam. The protesting hardhats saw the students as spoiled and privileged elites and resented what they saw as the students’ disrespect for God, the flag and country. Such gloating over the deaths of four young people repelled other Americans, whose children were attending colleges. The father of one of the Kent State casualties told reporters, “My child was not a bum.” A picture of a 14-year-old girl, Mary Ann Vecchio, kneeling beside the body of a dead student and lifting her arms as if in prayer, won a Pulitzer Prize for the photographer John Filo. Printed in newspapers around the world, the picture became an iconic image of America at war with itself and inspired the rock star Neil Young to pen the song “Ohio.”

Tin soldiers and Nixon's coming/
We're finally on our own/
This summer I hear the drumming/
Four dead in Ohio/

Gotta get down to it/
Soldiers are gunning us down/
Should have been done long ago/
What if you knew her/
And found her dead on the ground?/
How can you run when you know?

“The song was banned from Ohio playlists at the urging of Governor Rhodes,”author Rick Perlstein wrote, “That helped send it shooting up the hit parade: one more scene in the new American civil war.” In October, a grand jury cleared the Guardsmen involved in the shooting, though it indicted students for arson and other offenses prior to the massacre. If Nixon’s political objective had been to divide and conquer the country, by this point it appeared he had won.



Michael Phillips has authored the following:


White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Nixon and "Ping Pong Diplomacy"

I am coauthor of an updated version of the college American history textbook, currently titled “American Dreams and Reality: A Retelling of the American Story.” Here, I describe how table tennis played a role in Nixon's diplomacy towards the People's Republic of China.

National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and President Richard Nixon sought to reduce the overwhelming pressure on the American military by easing tensions with the Soviet Union, a chief supplier of weapons to North Vietnam. Nixon’s pursuit of warmer relations with Moscow came to be known by the French term détente. Nixon and Kissinger quickly exploited a dangerous conflict that developed in the communist world in 1969. The Soviets and the Chinese almost came to war, exchanging gunfire along the Ussari River that separated the two nations near Vladivostok in far East Asia. The Soviets responded to the incident by increasing their military presence there from 70,000 to 240,000 soldiers. Soviet leaders became convinced that China represented a serious threat to its security. At one point the Soviet Defense Ministry compared Chinese leader Mao Zedong to Adolf Hitler. The Nixon White House sought to play both nations off of each other.

The White House realized that if the U.S. cultivated a friendlier relationship with China, the Soviet Union – suffering from consumer shortages and feeling the economic strain of the long Cold War – would feel threatened on two fronts. The Kremlin might become more attentive to American foreign policy concerns, such as pressuring the North Vietnamese to make peace. The American president also saw China as an ascending power. As was often the case, Nixon’s racial views shaped his attitudes towards policy. After his presidency, Nixon told journalist Richard Reeves that he believed that the “yellow” Asians were genetically superior to “Caucasians” in terms of intellect. According to Reeves, Nixon said that the Chinese and the Japanese would dominate the world by the middle of the twenty-first century. On top of his hope that a better American relationship with China would force the Soviets to negotiate, he also believed that aligning at least partly with the Chinese state would place America on the side of history.


PING PONG DIPLOMACY
AND DÉTENTE

Since the triumph of the communists in the 1949 Chinese Revolution, the United States had never recognized the Beijing regime as the legitimate Chinese government and had successful prevented the People’s Republic’s admission to the United Nations. The breakaway Nationalist regime in Taiwan still held China’s seat in the UN. This put the United States at odds with the rest of the Western alliance, and the People’s Republic took China’s seat at the UN on October 25, 1971, over U.S. objections.

Even with this dispute, on December 8, 1970, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai (the second most powerful man in the country) sent Nixon a letter through Pakistani diplomats to discuss the future American relationship to Taiwan. Beginning in 1971, Kissinger opened up a secret diplomatic dialogue with Zhou. Kissinger faked an illness so he could without detection spend a week in China in July of that year to negotiate a new phase in American-Chinese relations.

The first sign of a thaw in Sino-American relations came on April 6 of that year when, at the end of the World Table Tennis Championships in Japan, the American team captain received an invitation by the Chinese captain to play a week of exhibition matches in Beijing. The invitation came from Chinese Communist Party leader Mao. The American team was the first official U.S. delegation in the country since the 1950s. The matches got worldwide press coverage and, in a friendly gesture, the Chinese deliberately did not use their best players, allowing for closer results (Chinese men and women’s teams both won, nevertheless.) Nixon’s men stopped calling the Beijing government ‘Communist China” and began to use the nation’s official name, “The People’s Republic of China.”

Kissinger arranged for a-week long visit in China by President Nixon, from February 21 to 28, 1972, the first appearance by an American leader in that nation since the 1949 revolution. The visit greatly enhanced Nixon’s standing with the American public. Never one for understatement, Nixon described the visit as “the week that changed the world.” In fact, it was just a start for fuller relations between the United States and China. The United States established full diplomatic relations with China under President Jimmy Carter on January 1, 1979 and recognized Taiwan as part of a single nation, even though Americans continued to give aid to the anti-communist regime on the island.

The opening to China, as Nixon and Kissinger expected, inspired the Soviets to move toward détente. Nixon visited Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow in May 1972, striking a deal that allowed the Soviets, suffering from inefficient farming, to buy American wheat and leading to the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I). The United States and the USSR agreed to cap the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles either side could install. Under SALT, both the Americans and the Russians pledged to not develop new anti-ballistic missiles, which could have provoked an expensive arms race.



Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.