Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Jonathan Aitken's Nixon: A Life 12

On page 520 of Nixon: A Life, Jonathan Aitken talks about an incident that occurred in the final days of Richard Nixon's Presidency:

"Nixon might have been more hurt had he known how another senior figure in his administration, the Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, was behaving in the final days.  In what would surely win first prize in a competition for the wildest over-reaction of Watergate, Schlesinger somehow got the thought into his head that Nixon was planning a military coup to avert his own resignation.  This weird notion caused Schlesinger to issue an order to the Joint Chiefs of Staff that no alert or major movement of US forces would take place without his countersignature as Defense Secretary.  Somewhat to the embarrassment of the Joint Chiefs, the Schlesinger Protectorate, created by this order, lasted for three days.  'Incredible' was Nixon's reaction when he later learned about it."

The reason that this stood out to me is that Anthony Summers discusses the same event on pages 478-481 of his anti-Nixon biography, The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon.  Only Summers depicts the event differently from Aitken.  Aitken wonders how in the world Schlesinger could have gotten the idea that Nixon would plan a military coup, but Summers goes into that.  According to Summers, there was concern among a number of people in the government about what might happen if Nixon were not willing to let go of power, based on what some considered to be paranoid ramblings on Nixon's part.  Schlesinger acted in response to this, according to Summers, and Summers quotes the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Brown, as saying, "I think the secretary had a responsibility to raise these sorts of matters."

Summers closes his telling of this story with, "Mercifully, nothing untoward happened."

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