Monday, October 7, 2013

The Arrogance of Power 3

For my blog post today about Anthony Summers' The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon, I will use as my starting-point something that Summers says on page 3:

"Some of the untruths Nixon told as president mattered little.  There was the claim, convenient when meeting a group of athletes, that he had met his wife at a football game.  By all other accounts, including his own, he met her when both auditioned for parts in a play.  There was his assertion, useful when addressing French reporters, that he had 'majored in French.'  In fact his college major had been history.  There was his written instruction to his staff----an unusually careless lapse----to find some chopsticks, and any chopsticks would suffice, to display in an exhibit commemorating his breakthrough visit to China.  He did so in the knowledge that the authentic ivory chopsticks, used at dinner with Mao Zedong, had not been preserved.  'That doesn't make any difference,' he wrote.  'We undoubtedly have some chopsticks, ivory or otherwise.'"

One of the sources that Summers cites on Nixon's statement that he met his wife at a football game is the Public Papers of the President, 1969-1974, citing a speech that Nixon gave to the National Football Foundation on December 9, 1969.  But, as Summers notes, Nixon claimed on page 23 of his memoirs to have met Pat at an audition for a play.  On Nixon's claim before French reporters that he majored in French, Summers cites Ted Szulc's The Illusion of Peace, Foreign Policy in the Nixon Years, page 766.  For the fact that Nixon majored in history, Summers refers to page 123 of Roger Morris' Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician.  For the chopsticks story, Summers cites page 383 of a book that Bruce Oudes edited, From the President, Richard Nixon's Secret Files.

(UPDATE: On Nixon majoring in French, Fawn Brodie in Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character also says that Nixon lied about that.  But Brodie on page 107 lists the classes that Nixon took at Whittier, and he took six French classes.  I don't know if that counts as a major, but it's quite a few French classes!)

I'm not sure why this kind of lying bothers me so much.  It's not as if I haven't read charges about Nixon lying, prior to reading this passage in Summers' book.  Perhaps, in those other cases, I was able to say that Nixon did not remember everything he said or did and thus conveyed inaccuracies, or I was so busy comparing different accounts that it did not sink in that Nixon could be lying.  In the cases that Summers cites on page 3, however, they appear to be to be deliberate falsehoods: Nixon says something that he knows to be false.  And maybe I was also disturbed that Nixon was lying about his own personal story, which I have come to cherish (somewhat) over the course of my Year (or More) of Nixon.

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