From the City of Lies


Mr. Nixon, who has his nightmares while he is wide awake, cannot sleep at four o’clock the morning of Saturday, May 9; telephones and arouses Helen Thomas, the United Press’s White House correspondent, to talk about her predecessor, who committed suicide a month ago; leaves her at last in peace to lurch off to the Lincoln Memorial and a conversation with the young waiting, as he puts it, “to shout your slogans in the Ellipse.”

Joan Polletier, a Syracuse University student, remembers the encounter: “Here we come from a university that’s completely uptight, on strike, and, when we told him where we are from, he talked about the football team, and when someone said he was from California, he talked about surfing.” (The New York Times, May 10.)

What was it he had said to the Negro trooper in Vietnam? Something to the effect that “I guess you miss those collard greens.”

Memories keep intruding like uneasy ghosts—memories of Six Crises,1 that curious confession which Mr. Nixon disguised as a memoir of prideful occasions and which went largely unattended in 1962 because then he had little place in history except as a national disaster that no one thought could ever happen.

“When a man has been through even a minor crisis,” Mr. Nixon reflected then, “he learns not to worry when his muscles tense up, his breathing comes faster, his nerves tingle, his stomach churns, his temper becomes short, his nights are sleepless. He recognizes such symptoms as the natural and healthy signs that his system is keyed up for battle. Far from worrying when this happens, he should worry when it does not.”

There had been the moment, during the pursuit of Alger Hiss, when he “…began to notice the inevitable symptoms of tension. I was ‘mean’ to live with at home and with my friends. I was quick-tempered with members of my staff. I lost interest in eating and skipped meals without even being aware of it. Getting to sleep became more and more difficult.

“I suppose that some might say I was ‘nervous,’ but I knew these were simply the evidences of preparing for battle. There is, of course, a fine line to be observed. One must always be keyed up for battle but he must not be jittery. He is jittery only when he worries about the natural symptoms of stress.”

So Mr. Nixon is most confident about himself when there stir in his interior those symptoms which can only alarm every sober person around him.

We are ruled then by a night mind of this sort. Its exegesis and explanation to the concerned are a major chore of Henry Kissinger, Mr. Nixon’s assistant for National Security Affairs. Kissinger is supposed to have said recently that every war has its casualties and that he is resigned to being a casualty of this one; but he seems to bear his martyrdom with marked equanimity. The day after Mr. Nixon moved into Cambodia,…

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