Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Arrogance of Power 6

I finished Anthony Summers' The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon.  In this post, I'll talk about something interesting that Summers mentions on pages 62-63, then I will offer my overall impressions of Summers' book.

After Richard Nixon graduated from Duke Law School, he went to New York City to look for a job as an attorney, and he was interviewed by a panel that included John Foster Dulles, who would later be President Dwight Eisenhower's Secretary of State.  Nixon didn't get the job, but he would return to New York in 1945, after his time as a Navy officer.  According to Summers, Nixon would say that he dealt with naval contracts during that time, whereas his wife, Pat, stated that Nixon was working at the Bureau of Aeronautics.  David Wise, who wrote about intelligence, deemed those years in Nixon's life to be a mystery.

But John Loftus, whom wikipedia calls as an "American author, former US government prosecutor and former Army intelligence officer", and whom Summers states was "a former prosecutor with the Justice Department unit investigating Nazi war crimes", claims that Nixon during that time was reviewing Nazi documents that had been captured.  According to Summers, Loftus appeals to interviews with "retired intelligence officers" (Summer's words) in arguing that "Allen Dulles...told [Nixon] to keep quiet about what he had seen and, in return, arranged to finance the young man's first congressional campaign, against Jerry Voorhis" (Loftus' words).  Allen Dulles was the brother of John Foster Dulles and would later be head of the CIA.  Summers refers to pages 221 and 557 of a book by Loftus and Mark Aarons, The Secret War Against the Jews.

What exactly did Dulles want Nixon to keep a secret?  Summers states: "According to some chroniclers, the Dulles brothers had links to the Nazis dating back to pre-war business contacts.  Loftus, who had access to contemporary records, claims Allen Dulles maintained such contacts even during the war and that proof of the ties lies in captured German documents, still classified to this day."  Nixon's opponent in the 1946 congressional race, Jerry Voorhis, would say that someone from a "large New York financial house" (Voorhis' words) came to California and urged that Voorhis be ousted.  Summers appears to wonder: Could this have related somehow to Allen Dulles?

One would have to check Loftus' book to see what documentation he provides for his claims.  The reason that I'm highlighting this passage is that it exemplifies why I enjoyed Summers' book.  For one, it contained stories and speculations about Nixon that I did not find in other books that I read for My Year (or More) of Nixon.  Second, I liked the sense of intrigue, especially when it was discussing what many would probably regard as a rather mundane time in Richard Nixon's life.  Nixon at one time was negotiating contracts (see here), but could he have been doing other things soon after his time in the Navy----interesting things?

Now for my overall impressions of Summers' book.  The book is definitely worth reading.  As I have said, the book says things about Nixon that I did not read in other books about him.  For instance, Summers argues that a Chinese lady named Marianna Liu may have been romantically linked to Nixon during Nixon's marriage to Pat.  Summers does not seem to think that the two of them slept together, but just that they had some sort of romantic connection.  (I should also note that Don Fulsom, who argues in Nixon's Darkest Secrets that Nixon may have had somewhat of a homosexual relationship with his friend, Bebe Rebozo, stops short of suggesting that Nixon and Bebe actually slept together.  As far as alleged physical contact between Richard Nixon and Bebe Rebozo goes, the furthest it seemed to have gone was them holding hands under a table, according to one eyewitness, and Nixon putting his arm around Bebe.)

The book is very negative about Richard Nixon.  The only positive thing about Nixon that I remember from Summers' book is that Nixon stood against racism in his younger years, and as President increased funding on civil rights enforcement, but Summers also goes into some of the racist things that Nixon said.  Overall, the book argues that Nixon was a liar, was corrupt, broke the law on numerous occasions, was physically abusive to his wife Pat, was involved in a plot to overthrow Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and was drunk and high, sometimes during significant events during his Presidency, when vital issues were at stake.  On some things, Summers presents a rather complex picture of Richard Nixon.  For example, Summers basically implies in one passage of his book that Nixon as President was lazy, yet elsewhere (if my memory serves me correctly) he depicts Nixon as working hard.  When a book makes negative claims about a figure, seeing the author's documentation is important.  In terms of documentation, I'd say that Summers does fairly all-right.  He cites eyewitnesses, but there is also hearsay in his book: he refers to someone saying something that someone else said.  Hearsay is not admissible in a court of law, but I have a hard time thoroughly dismissing its reliability.  Summers also cites secondary sources.

Summers argues that Nixon could have been physically abusive to his wife, Pat.  Overall, Summers relies on hearsay: Seymour Hersh's investigative reporting, in which Hersh claimed to have talked with a source that said Pat was taken to an emergency room, and a doctor who corroborated that this was so; a friend of a former Los Angeles reporter, Bill Van Patten, who related to the friend that Nixon beat Pat; what Governor Pat Brown and Brown aide Frank Cullen heard; and the claim by John Sears, who was an aide to Nixon and would later be campaign manager to Ronald Reagan, that Nixon's family lawyer told him (meaning Sears) that Nixon hit Pat.  Summers also argues that Nixon was the type of person who would do something like that---- one who was aggressive, had a temper that could manifest itself in violence, got drunk, blamed others, and had difficulty dealing with stress.  Later in the book, on page 464, Summers refers to an Executive Protection Service officer who claimed that agents one time rushed to Pat near the end of Nixon's Presidency because Nixon had hit her.  This is an actual eyewitness, and yet his claim has been questioned.  John Taylor, who worked for Nixon after Nixon's Presidency, states the following in his post here:

"Summers' principal source was a former uniformed Secret Service agent who would rarely if ever have been in the White House family quarters. I learned about him after one of Nixon's former pilots overheard the man bragging in a bar about his coming star turn with a British TV crew that was promoting the Summers book. The man's allegations were probably known to Watergate reporter Bob Woodward, who had a family connection with the source, and Pulitzer Prize winner (and thoroughgoing Nixon critic) Seymour Hersh. Neither reporter published the charge."

When is an eyewitness reliable?  Summers refers in one place to an eyewitness whom he does not consider reliable, mentioning criminal activity by the eyewitness.  Yet, I seriously doubt that every eyewitness whom Summers cites was pure, especially some of the ones who claimed that Nixon had ties with the mafia, or was a leader in a plot to kill Fidel Castro.  Summers in his notes in the back mentions times when eyewitnesses contradict each other----one may say that Nixon was drunk at such-and-such an event, whereas another says the opposite----and Summers more than once tries to navigate his way through conflicting accounts.  Moreover, while Summers refers to the eyewitness testimony of John Ehrlichman, Conrad Black made clear that, when considering what Ehrlichman said, we should remember that Ehrlichman was bitter against Nixon after leaving the Nixon White House.  Some say that we should rely primarily on documents, and Summers does do that, at times.  I wouldn't toss out consideration of eyewitness testimony, but perhaps there should be clearly stated criteria for determining what is true and what is false: corroboration, looking at motive, etc.

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