The Nixon Interview (Part 2)
Nixon leaned forward and raised his voice, his eyes flashing angrily. "Don't tell me that you've forgotten our deal already?"
"Bet that's exactly what you said to Ford," I muttered.
He didn't seem to hear that. "Pardon me?"
"No, that is what you said to Fo&mdash" I caught myself.
"Our deal," I said with a sigh, "was that you would reveal the truth and nothing but the truth, and I would write it down, publish it, and take credit for it, and in return, I'd become rich and famous, and you'd cut a few eons off your time in Purgatory."
"Right. And you stuck with it barely a week."
"Mr. President!" I protested. "I'm not Daffyd ab Hugh! I can't put out ten-thousand words of bloggage daily. I have a life!"
Nixon scowled. "Go ahead. Rub it in."
"Besides," I said, "I'm a humorist. A lightweight one at that. People get confused when I try to do serious. They can never tell whether I actually am serious, or if I'm just doing some sort of weird black humor in very poor taste."
"There's not much difference," he said. "Remember Santayana: 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.' And then add Marx: 'History always repeats itself; the first time as tragedy, and the second as farce.'"
I nodded. "So which is it this time, tragedy or farce?"
He scowled again. "I'm not sure yet." Abruptly, he looked up at me and changed the subject. "Why didn't you run that piece I gave you last year? You know, the one about those soldiers I met on The Road?"
I shuddered as another cold chill ran up my spine. "I can barely stand to read it myself," I said. "People aren't ready to know that much about the afterlife. It's too sad; too tragic."
"You're damned right it's tragic!" Nixon thundered. "Every time a young person gets cut down in the prime of life, it's tragic! And I speak with some authority when I say that every time it happens to an American soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine, the President of the United States had better damned well ask himself, what the hell am I doing?
"He should forget his pride. Forget electoral politics. Forget domestic political triangulation and strategery. Every night, before he goes to bed, the President of the United States should look at himself in the mirror and ask one question: did what I did today serve right? Not, 'The Right.' Did I do good today? Did my words and actions serve the everlasting glory of the ever-loving God? And if the answer to this question is not a resounding Yes!, he should damned well drag his sorry ass back down to the Oval Office and make things right!"
"I see," I said. "And that's why you decided to bomb Cambodia."
Nixon's eyes turned cold and steely. "Let me say this about that. I did not take a sudden whim to expand the war into Cambodia and Laos in 1970. You've read The CIA and The Cult of Intelligence. You've read Codename Mule. You've even read The Ugly American, which contains a lot more truth than anyone in the State Department likes to admit. We were up to our armpits in that part of the world ever since the OSS started giving the Japs trouble in 1942. Ho Chi Minh was our guy, until Truman tried to buy off de Gaulle by telling the French they could have Indochina back. The CIA started running their private war against the Pathet Lao in 1957. Fifty-seven.
"Ike tried to shut it down. Right up until his last day in office, he was trying to get the CIA under control. But they just went behind his back to their old friends in the other party, and in '61, Kennedy gave the CIA a blank check. There were American 'advisors' looking through their gunsights at North Vietnamese regulars in northern Laos in 1962, and you know it, and I know it, and the American people should know it, but they're too busy worrying about who's going to be the next American Idol!"
Nixon abruptly realized that his jowls were quivering with rage, and with some effort, he regained his composure.
"No, the Cambodian incursion wasn't the start of anything. It was a gamble, a Hail-Mary pass to try to finish off Kennedy and Johnson's mistake before it went into triple overtime. The Hail-Mary pass is always a desperation play. If it works, you're the hero, but nine times out of ten it fails, and then you're the goat. Ba-a-a-ah."
He leaned back in his chair, stroked his chin, and nodded sagely. "No, if I'd really wanted to strike a blow for freedom and democracy, I would never have bombed Cambodia.
"I would have bombed Yale."
Continued in Part 3