Nixon for Christmas
On books, Winston Churchill wrote “Let them be your friends; let them, at any rate, be your acquaintances.” And so it came to pass on the 25th of December, 2004, that I was introduced, at least in book form, to my good friend, the 37th President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon.
Age 24, and already a Veteran on three foreign wars, I had recently returned home from a 12 month tour of Iraq. By year’s end, I had found myself in what is most often the real quagmire for many returning warriors, the soul crushing awkwardness of civilian life.
Christmas 2004, was devoid of any joy. Having buried my two closest friends within 18 months of each other, I had not only lost my strongest allies, I had also lost my business partners. Adrift without backup, the youthful bravado and confidence of men in their early 20’s seemed to have been stripped from me, and replaced with a prevailing sense of fear, loathing, and loneliness.
As Will Durant wrote of the depression and inertia of 19th century Europe following the end of the Napoleonic wars, “never had life seemed so meaningless, or so mean”.
After dinner that evening, scotch in hand, I gravitated to the book shelf in my Grandparent’s home in Garland Texas. Books had been a sense of comfort and stability through my years in the military. In Iraq alone I devoured over 100 volumes of history and biography.
A major theme that ran, and still runs through the history of the second half of the 20th century, is that Richard Nixon was a devious crook, a spiteful racist and warmonger, and if it hadn’t been for the brave members of the leftwing press that brought him down, Nixon would have certainly become a lawless emperor.
So, it was with great surprise when I glanced to see the spine of the 1991 memoir In the Arena by Richard Nixon on the shelf of my blue dog Democrat Grandfather, Jack Gammel.
Jack, like me, had been a Colonel’s driver at Ft. Bragg N.C. He had also taken part in preparing the parade field for the visit of President Kennedy in 1961, the day JFK officially awarded U.S. Army Special Forces with permission to dawn their green beret.
My Grandfather was, as I would later describe him while speaking at his funeral the following spring, a “timeless old school man of the world”. He was also one of the last mentors and friends I counted on, and his wisdom and opinions mattered greatly to me.
I knew that Jack was disgusted by the neo conservatism of George W. Bush and he absolutely hated the decision to invade Iraq. “Has to be the dumbest damn thing any President has ever done” he had told me. And while watching the 2004 Republican convention together that past summer, Jack had bemoaned “Where do they find so many sons of bitches that can lie for such long periods of time on stage?”
Standing there thumbing through the pages, I glanced over at Jack with a half smile and asked, you actually own a book by Nixon, and you display it?
Oh, Nixon was a great President he said. You’re a history guy, take that home with you and read it.
Puzzled, I looked back at the book, and then to Jack, history is not at all kind to him I said.
Laughing a little, Jack asked if I knew what Henry Ford had said about history?
I told him that I did not.
He said it was “mostly bunk”
I thanked him for the book and promised to let him know what I thought.
That night, hooked by the opening chapter detailing Nixon’s last night in the Whitehouse, and his stream of consciousness farewell speech the following morning, I consumed it in one sitting.
It wasn’t a boring memoir, but a set of principles, covering a vast range of subjects, with chapters titled, struggle, reading, memory, friends, enemies, risks.
I never got the chance to discuss the book again with Jack. Three months to the day he had given me In the Arena, he would pass away suddenly at his desk.
I learned how to speak in public by delivering eulogies at funerals, and Jack’s was my third in less than two years.
Since the spring of 2005, I have not had a grandfather to turn to for wisdom or guidance. Looking back, it seems that out of necessity I turned to Nixon.
I started to read biographies and watch interviews archived on CSPAN and youtube of RN post Watergate, fascinated how a human being could endure so much vilification and continue to function, let alone write six books between 1974 and 1994(the year he died).
I also found the highly inaccurate but supremely entertaining Greek tragedy styled movie Nixon, by director Oliver Stone. Nixon, played by Anthony Hopkins, is shown as both a deeply flawed and a deeply moving character.
There is a scene in the film where a meeting is taking place between President Nixon and the director of the C.I.A., Nixon is asked if he appreciates flowers? “No, they make me sick and they smell like death, I had two brothers die young”, he says.
I too felt, and still feel, that I had two brothers die young, and that fact among many others further cemented my adoration for the man the press demonized as “Tricky Dick”
The truth is, Nixon was a statesman of unparalleled ability. Achieving what no other President before him could have done. He opened China, thus striking a new balance of power between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. Nixon ended the war in Vietnam, gave us a volunteer military, ending the draft. He signed the Strategic Arms limitation Treaty or S.A.L.T. with the Soviet Union. He oversaw the desegregation of schools in the South. And while under siege by the media during his final days in office, he ordered the airlift and military supplies that saved Israel from invasion.
We now live in an era where the crimes of Watergate, (which was basically an unsuccessful snooping operation on the Democratic HQ in 1972) is now carried out on a scale 10’s of thousands of times every microsecond by warrantless data searches by the NSA and others, only not yet used for political purposes.
Nixon’s downfall was nothing more than a journalistic coup d’etat
Henry Ford was right, history is bunk.
Nixon prided himself on how he handled a crisis. On the advice of JFK, he wrote a book called Six Crisis, detailing his recollection of the great challenges he faced prior to 1962.
My subconscious, in times of crisis will often turn to Nixon. But according to the “dream bible” dreaming of Nixon may symbolize “corrupt power and control”
Nothing could be further from the truth. In 2011 suffering from my own personal crisis, in the aftermath of losing a child, divorce, and bankruptcy, I dreamt vividly of meeting Nixon in a grocery store in the late 1970’s. Nixon, spoke to me with kind words of encouragement, and ended with an admonishment to “Never give up, no matter what, be strong my boy” .
I got off the couch and got back to the gym where I started training for the powerlfting world championships in 2012. That same year, on August 9, the anniversary of Nixon’s final day and speech as President, I had my favorite line of the speech tattooed on my right forearm. “Only if you’ve been in the deepest valley can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain”
I changed ‘if’ to when.
I took first place at World’s in November and immediately set my sights on running for U.S. Congress in 2013. Along the way, I hosted a radio show, and taking Nixon’s advice, I never dulled any of my appearances or speeches with alcohol or medication. It was absolutely terrifying, and absolutely worth it.
Even through defeat and setbacks Nixon is with me, as I strive to be like RN’s description of his hero Teddy Roosevelt, whom he said was “strong, tempestuous, sometimes wrong, sometimes right, but he was a man”.
I will also forever be grateful to Jack for the introduction and gift that Christmas night all those years ago.
I read a story recently about a letter sent to a young Donald J. Trump in 1987 from Nixon, whose wife Pat, had seen the mogul on a talk show discussing politics. Nixon having a keen eye for talent, wrote the following “She (meaning Pat) predicts that whenever you decide to run for office you will be a winner”
“He always wanted me to run for office” Trump said of Nixon.
The letter is reportedly going to hang in the Oval office of President Trump.
It seems that Richard Nixon, is the gift that just keeps on giving.
Merry Christmas Everyone!