Fueled By Fear, How Richard Nixon Became 'One Man Against The World'

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tags: Richard Nixon, Nixon



Tim Weiner, a Pultizer Prize-winning New York Timesreporter, is the author of four other books about national security, including "Enemies: A History Of The FBI."

Richard Nixon's presidency has always been one surrounded by questions and controversy: Why did he wiretap his own aides and diplomats? Why did he escalate the war in Vietnam? Why did he lie about his war plans to his secretary of defense and secretary of state? What were the Watergate burglars searching for, and why did Nixon tape conversations that included incriminating evidence?

Tens of thousands of files from the Nixon White House, National Security Council, CIA, FBI, State Department and Pentagon were declassified between 2007 and 2014. Hundreds of hours of Nixon's tapes were made public in 2013 and 2014. After having pored over these documents, Tim Weiner provides answers to these and other questions in his book One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon.

Nixon was consumed by fear, Weiner tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. That fear "turned into anger and that anger turned into self-destruction and every hour of these new tapes and these released transcripts adds to the record of a man committing political suicide day-by-day," he says.

Nixon was waging fights both at home and abroad. "In Vietnam, he had a weapon — B-52 bombers," Weiner says. "At home, he had bugs, break-ins, black bag jobs and burglaries. The two wars became one: Vietnam morphed into Watergate. He said so himself — Nixon did — that Vietnam found its successor in Watergate."

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On Nixon's problem with alcohol

It was October 1973. ... There's a raging war in the Middle East between the Syrians and the Egyptians on the one side and the Israelis on the other, known as the Yom Kippur War. It escalates. The Israelis aren't winning. The Soviets want to interpose, together with the United States, U.S. and Soviet forces in the Middle East to stop the war and then, they say: "If you won't do it, we will go in there alone." The United States discovers that the Soviets are shipping nuclear warheads to Egypt.

Nixon, as had been his habit, drank too much, was terribly deprived of sleep, he was a ravaging insomniac, and he went days on end drinking himself to sleep during these days of crisis. There's a meeting in the White House situation room, it's Oct. 24th, 1973. Henry Kissinger is there, Adm. Tom Moorer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are there, secretary of defense, the head of the CIA. The president was not there, and they say to one another: "What are we going to do here? The Soviets think we have no functioning president."

In the absence of a functioning president, these five men, unelected, led by Henry Kissinger, decide to raise the global nuclear alert level to one-step short of imminent nuclear war, alert the 82nd Airborne Division and recall 75 B-52 nuclear bombers to make it look like we are ready to go to World War III. But at the end of this meeting, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Moorer writes, "If the Soviets put 10,000 troops into Egypt, what do we do?" The answer is, "We might've done nothing," because we did not have a functioning president.

The president was drunk. The president was in the family residence at the White House — had drunk himself to sleep, and was by all evidence, not in his right mind at that moment. He had said that day to Henry Kissinger, that his enemies and I quote: "They want to kill the president. I may physically die." There are real threats along with these roiling fears because that same day, Oct. 24th, the House for the first time since 1868, has opened formal proceedings to impeach the president of the United States.




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