We have got ourselves a moral monster for a President. His Christmas message, as written in the skies over shattered Hanoi, is that he is determined to have his own way, at whatever cost in human suffering. “Strength and resolution command respect…. But weakness and naïve sentimentality breed contempt.” Thus spake our Zarathustra in his radio address of October 29 on America’s need to be ever first in military might, so we can all be Supermen and make little people tremble.
Almost everything Nixon has done since his re-election, whether at home or abroad, in small ways as well as large, fits the portrait of a crafty, suspicious, and vindictive man; isolated and distrustful of those around him, and with that touch of megalomania virtually inescapable when one sits at the buttons which can unleash thermonuclear thunderbolts. Like the Godfather, he is ever watchful of the respect due him, and ready for salutary measures of enforcement where it flags.
Thus when the B-52s were ordered out on December 18, “Administration officials” explained, according to the New York Times next day, that “the principal purpose of the President’s action was to insure that the North Vietnamese leaders would comprehend the extent of his anger.” One felt piously that the “h” in “his” should have been capitalized. He is, as we have been constantly told the bombings were intended to show, not to be “trifled” with.
He is also a gambler, and his foreign policy begins to seem more and more a succession of daring wagers. Ever since the Cambodian invasion, he has been winning. But one day the little white ball is going to end up somewhere else. Hitler, too, beginning with the occupation of the Rhineland, launched a series of gambles and won them all—all, that is, except the last.
The lesson for Americans lies in the price the Germans paid for following their leader as long and as blindly as they did. The real problem, as the coming weeks will make clearer, is not just to disengage America from South-east Asia but from the increasingly one-man rule of Richard Nixon. He can undo with one plunge of his bombers months of slow progress toward détente. He can unite the world against us in hate and fear.
How rapidly the scene has changed since the bombing began! It was only seven days before Nixon ordered the B-52s over Hanoi—but it seems a vanished age—when Senator Edward Kennedy told a Los Angeles audience, “There is more good will in Congress now toward Mr. Nixon than perhaps at any time in his career” and offered Democratic cooperation “in launching a new and effective era of progress….”
A day later, six days before the bombing began, Senator Humphrey, with that cheerful idiocy that has become his hallmark, told a Washington press conference on his return from a fifteen-day trip to Moscow, Warsaw, Bonn, and London that nowhere had he been asked a single question about Vietnam—except by …
This article is available to subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.