Civil Discourse Now

Where the far left and far right overlap for fun and enlightenment

June 17: the 40th Anniversary of the Watergate break-in.

   In 1972 I was chosen as one of two delegates from our high school to attend Hoosier Boys State, an annual event sponsored by the American Legion to inculcate our youths with proper values, and respect for the Constitution. The first day we were there a delegate from a high school near Anderson was tossed out when he asked why we had to march everyplace. The second day, I saw a couple of people, anti-war pamphlets in their hands on state-owned property (Indiana State University) confronted by American Legion people, grabbed, their pamphlets taken from them and dumped in the trash. I learned a lot about the First Amendment .

   While I was there, a minor news story broke. Several people had been arrested after they had broken into Democratic National Headquarters in someplace called The Watergate in Washington, D.C.

   We did not know the full ramifications to follow from the arrest of those five guys. Every June 17 I try to toast the event that brought down Richard Nixon as President of the United States. (Really? If the guy only had burned the tapes immediately after the arrest of the burglars—the tapes were not yet "evidence"—he would have walked.)

   From Watergate we received several things. First, any scandal will have the word "gate" appended to it as a suffix. I always thought that a sign of journalistic lassitude. Second, the Watergate is not only an office building but a hotel and a place with condos and apartments. Third, cash—without limits, ties or paper trails—given to political campaigns can be used for anything. (Nixon: A million dollars? A million dollars is not a problem.) Congress acted in a somewhat responsible manner and enacted legislation for campaign finance reform—after all the grandstanding of the multiple hearings. Every day during the summer of 1973 the Senate Committee met.

   Nixon resigned—yay! We threw a party—and life proceeded.

   Then along came—I know, Nic, you are waiting for this phrase—Citizens United and one positive product of Watergate (unless you got a good deal on a condo there in the aftermath) disappeared.

   As computers replace humans as pilots of fighter jets and drones monitor us from the skies, corporations will toss in bags of cash to buy politicians. We cannot be sure the corporations are owned by people who are not Americans.

   June 17—a date that will live on in some people’s minds—also was the day I first tried Cap’n Crunch cereal. There had to be a connection to Watergate there, someplace.

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Comment by Kurt Lorey on June 28, 2012 at 4:20pm

Not quite.

1) It is, and was, the civilians who promulgated foreign policy (including military interventions). I imagine that the JCS did think it could win on the ground, but Vietnam saw an unprecedented amount of political meddling by all involved. The political meddling set the path for eventual victory, or defeat.

2) Conscription in the US had its opponents since the Civil War. Korea and Vietnam military interventions were hardly "government gone amok". But, that might be an interesting topic for discussion some day (Top Ten Federal Government Gone Amok Moments). One would have to split between each of the separate branches, though. For my part, I believe that the President (Johnson, in particular) failed to garner sufficient support for his foreign policies in South East Asia. That, plus the incessant political meddling, plus a unshackled media with same day coverage technologies caused domestic support to wane. It is more complex than I can relate here, and I am not an expert anyways.

The US picked up in Indochina as soon as the French skedaddled back to Europe. It was inevitable given the popularity of containment as a U.S. foreign policy against the spread of communism.

Nixon hardly ended Vietnam quickly enough. I imagine he meddled himself in 1967 in order to improve his election chances, then dragged his feet until just prior to his 1971 reelection campaign. I don't remember what HHH was planning, but he was hardly more of a warmonger than anyone else. "Hawk" doesn't equate to "always for war", or it didn't back then.

As I said before, we should have never let the French back into Indochina. Same with the Brits in Malaya, Singapore, and Burma. Same with the Dutch in the old East Indies. Would have saved everyone (on both sides) a lot of unnecessary pain.

Comment by Bill Thompson on June 28, 2012 at 11:04am

Mark makes a good point about early US involvement in Vietnam.  IIRC, in the mid-50's France advised the US to stay out of IndoChina (militarily).  But it was quite a diffferent time then, the US in the 50's being such a dominant power, plus we had fought to save South Korea from communism.  My guess is the Korean accomplishment fueled the Vietnam war in two ways:

1) It made the US military think it could save S Vietnam, and a lot of Americans went along with this goal after the Korean win.  Humphrey was a hawk, for example.

2) The Korean war set a precedent that US citizens could be drafted into service and sent to the other side of the world to fight in a war that did not threaten the US in any way. The same could be said of WW1 and WW2, but Korea and Vietnam are the clearest examples of US government power run amok.  In 1966, Muhammed Ali put it best - "I Ain't Got No Quarrel With The VietCong... No VietCong Ever Called Me N*****"

I'm not old enough to remember the 1950's or early 1960's.  JFK started the ball rolling in earnest, then LBJ ramped up to a scale that almost defies understanding now - over half a million troops in a country the size of Missouri.  Given the militaristic mindset of the day, and the problem of the US simply vacating Vietnam, I think Nixon more-or-less ended military involvement as fast as possible.  Not literally as fast as possible, but reasonable given the circumstances.  I doubt Humphrey would have moved more quickly.

Comment by Mark Small on June 28, 2012 at 5:06am

In "Dispatches," his account of one year covering the Vietnam War in "Esquire" magazine, Michael Herr asked when did U.S. involvement begin in Vietnam? I agree with Bill, in part, that LBJ was responsible for escalating a mindless entanglement there. Obviously he was president when the fiasco in Tonkin Gulf (or Bay or Northern Bay) occurred. U.S. involvement was significant long before August, 1964. We provided over 90 percent of the finances for the French, until they had to quit after Dien Bien Phu.

Kurt hits a good point in that regard. Truman, Eisenhower, and JFK were complicit in U.S. military involvement. Details about Tonkin did not come out for years.

Nixon did things that were unusual for U.S. politics. Perhaps, again, we are talking about scale. But remember, also, he intervened, behind the scenes and through Henry Kissinger, to derail the Hanoi peace talks in 1968 to take a campaign "plus" (a possible end to the Vietnam War---a misnomer, perhaps, because "war" never was declared) away from his opponent, Humphrey. Nixon then strung the war out for four more years so, in the end days of the 1972 campaign, he could make a show of ending U.S. involvement there.


Comment by Kurt Lorey on June 28, 2012 at 4:47am

For us, it is Gulf of Tonkin. For the Chinese and Vietnamese, it is Northern Bay. Blending the two isn't making any improvements to accuracy.

The USA should have prevented several European allies from attempting to reinstall the previous status quo in liberated Asia. FDR might have been able to do so had his health not failed him at the end. Unfortunately for Truman, FDR had not really included him in his activities and plans, and Truman was swayed by those who developed the theories of containment and the domino theory. There would have lots less pain for many in several parts of Asia, and hopefully, the USA could have avoided military entanglements, at least in Vietnam.

One might think that these Harvard grads might have understood the deep complexities of Asia better than most, but in the end, the solutions the USA attempted were as simplistic (and in hindsight wrong) as any that might have been developed by anyone else. So much for elitist private school educations.

Comment by Bill Thompson on June 27, 2012 at 4:34pm

Gulf is more common, I had been reading a site at that called it Bay.

iirc the truth about Tonkin was not known until well after the war was over.

People still carry a hatred of Nixon, who didn't do anything that unusual, for US politics.  Yet LBJ is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths from a war he cooked up.

Comment by Kurt Lorey on June 27, 2012 at 4:22pm
I knew about the effects of Watergate within two years, did you understand how we been snookered into increasing our presence in Vietnam by 1966? I didn't. And, it's Gulf of Tonkin, not Tonkin Bay, FWIW.
Comment by Bill Thompson on June 27, 2012 at 2:00pm

Watergate and its aftermath was nothing compared to Tonkin Bay.


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