Watergate was bad, but that was not Nixon’s greatest crime

I have been watching Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s excellent documentary on The Vietnam War. While tough to watch at times, the ten part series has been very informative, as it takes us through a variety of perspectives on this tragic war – American soldiers, Viet Cong soldiers, North Vietnamese soldiers, South Vietnamese soldiers and citizens, American parents and relatives of soldiers, draft dodgers, protestors, Presidents, military leaders, experts, etc.

What has been frustrating, JFK, LBJ and Nixon all were not very forthcoming with the American people or press on the Vietnam issues. They knew early on this was an unwinnable war and that we had partnered with a corrupt leadership in South Vietnam. And, as many American soldiers attested, we were fighting a very effective opponent in guerilla warfare. These leaders also led on the American people to believe we were winning the war, when that was not the case.

The two Presidents that frustrate me the most on these issues are LBJ and Nixon. For all the good LBJ did domestically, he went down a poor path that said we must stave off communism at all costs. As a result, he escalated the war. But, Nixon did something that was unforgivable that is actually worse than what he did with the Watergate break-in and cover-up that led to his resignation and jailing of over twenty of his staff members.

If it were not for Watergate, the Nixon Presidency would have been mostly remembered for its positives – opening up China, establishing better relationships with the Soviet Union and enacting the Environmental Protection Agency, balanced by the negatives of his widening of the Vietnam War and his iron thumb on protestors. So, what was worse than Watergate?

Richard Nixon committed treason and twenty thousand more Americans died and even more were injured. Nixon called the President of South Vietnam five days before the 1968 election against Hubert Humphrey to ask him to hold off on going to Paris peace talks that had been progressing and he would his influence on North Vietnam to get better terms. The encouraging news of the peace talks had brought Humphrey closer to Nixon in the election polls and Nixon felt the need to derail the peace talks for his benefit.

How do we know this? The CIA bugged the South Vietnamese President and recorded the conversation between him and Nixon (see below link). LBJ listened to the recording and called the most senior Republican Senator and a friend and they both spoke of Nixon’s treason, repeatedly using that term. LBJ decided not to act (does this sound familiar), but did get a call from Nixon where he noted to LBJ he had heard these rumors and they were not true. That was a lie, but LBJ did not call him on it. Maybe LBJ felt it would lead to his own lies on how well the war was going or maybe he felt like Obama did last year that it would look politically motivated.

The result of this treasonous act is the peace talks stalled and the war went on for four more years. Many more Americans died needlessly. To be frank, American deaths which occurred before then were needless as well, as we knew we could not win. Some folks may contend I am making this up or using inflammatory language. But, the word “treason” was used by the President of the United States and the lead Republican Senator to define what Nixon did. Intervening with a foreign entity to override our policy is far more than poor form. It is criminal. And, American people died or were injured.


8 thoughts on “Watergate was bad, but that was not Nixon’s greatest crime

  1. Note to Readers: If you have not watched The Vietnam War series it can be tough to watch. There are many surprises. I had heard about the Nixon treason story, but hearing the tape and then hearing him lie to LBJ is powerful.

    Another surprise is the numbers of American soldiers who said we were fighting on the wrong side. The North Vietnamese were fighting for their country with women, children and the elderly actively involved in the effort.

    The other troubling part is the number of civilians killed. A reason is Lead commander General Westmoreland’s key measure was enemy killed, not pushing the enemy back. So, when civilians were killed they were added to the enemy combatant death count.

  2. Dear Keith,
    Our government has a history of lying to us about war time issues. This fact contributes to Americans’ distrust. We were lied to bigly, in the Vietnam War. We were lied to about the Iraq War. We were lied to about NSA activities.

    This is why our Congress has 15% -19% approval rating. The current president and US congressional republicans have been lying to us about their healthcare plans and their tax cut proposals..

    President Nixon lied to us cost soldiers and others, their lives; he did it to win. This sounds no different from DDT.


    • Gronda, there are similarities between the two. A key difference is Nixon, in spite of his crimes, actually accomplished a few major things. Trump just wants to tear institutions down to make money and eliminate roadblocks to such. Both lie, but Nixon was more paranoid than egotistical. Trump can barely get his head into the room. Keith

      • PS – Both may have committed treason, which has yet to be determined. Also, let’s hope Trump does not follow Nixon’s lead and call out the national guard on college students. Yet, he just might.

    • Many thanks. I feel for the people that were made to fight for a changing mission without a plan. And, I feel for all of those civilians killed, maimed and uprooted. The last episode of what happened years later was healing for all. Keith

  3. It is hard to watch but I feel that it is my duty as a citizen to watch it. Even though I lived through it, I was pretty young. I am amazed at how much I didn’t know or don’t remember. I do remember, though, the grizzly nightly newscasts. I also remember walking with my mom in several protest marches.

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