II Machismo in Washington

I see by the New York papers that the Bronx, like Vietnam, is plagued by civil war. I feel for Congressman Biaggi, who has been trying to bring its rival gangs together. There was something more than faintly familiar in the New York Times account on April 22 of his peace efforts. One gang leader, Ted Gonzalez of the Seven Immortals, avowed that his gang’s intentions were utterly peaceful, unlike its rival the Black Spades. “The Spades just want to fight while we want to make peace,” he told Biaggi. “But I tell you, if fight we must, then we’re prepared for a rumble too. No one’s going to tread on our turf.” This manly readiness to stand up against aggression, to face up to the test of will at whatever cost—this sounds like those who rallied to support Nixon’s bombing of Haiphong in the Senate a few days earlier.

If we fail to stand up to the aggressor in Vietnam, Thurmond of South Carolina told the Senate during the bombing debate on April 19, “our nation will be regarded with justification as a paper tiger.” “The invasion of Vietnam,” Dole of Kansas said, “is a test of our national will.” “Should we accept Hanoi’s terms now and surrender,” Tower of Texas declared, “the President would have to crawl on his belly to Moscow in May.” “The President,” averred Allott of Colorado, “will not be intimidated….” And Goldwater promised that the actions taken by Nixon “will overcome the weakkneed, jelly-backed attitude of Members* of this body and citizens of this country who think you can end a war overnight by snapping your fingers….” These Senators and the Bronx’s Seven Immortals have machismo in common.

A related maxim of statesmanly behavior was reported by Terence Smith in the New York Times April 23. The day after the bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong the President ran into an old friend as he was leaving a luncheon on Capitol Hill. When the friend asked about the bombings, Mr. Nixon punched him affectionately on the shoulder and said, “When they jump on you, you have to let them have it.”

The small boy mentality is also visible in military pronouncements. Orr Kelly, the Washington Star’s Pentagon reporter, was given a “background briefing” on the tactics being pursued in the new bombings of the North. “US Following ‘Classic’ Script in Escalation,” said the headline over his story of April 23. The military in the Johnson-McNamara years claimed that the bombing of the North failed because the escalation was too gradual. The theory now being applied by the Pentagon, Mr. Kelly was told, “calls for rapidly increasing pressure on the enemy until he gives up.” The theory is certainly classic in its simplicity. The rationale, Mr. Kelly’s Pentagon informant explained, in an unconsciously revealing simile, “is much like the tactics of two boys fighting”:

If one boy gets the other in an arm lock, he can probably get his adversary to say “uncle”…

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