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Nixon outcussed

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  • Ram Lau
    Those who outcussed Nixon According to the author, Truman, Ike, JFK, and LBJ all outcussed Nixon. I would like to hear what they have said. STEPHEN AMBROSE
    Message 1 of 2 , Jun 29, 2004
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      Those who outcussed Nixon

      According to the author, Truman, Ike, JFK, and LBJ all outcussed
      Nixon. I would like to hear what they have said.



      STEPHEN AMBROSE TAKES ON OLIVER STONE: How the Nixon Movie Stands Up

      An Excerpt from Oliver Stone's USA
      Stephen Ambrose is the author of numerous books, including Nixon,
      Rise to Globalism, Lewis and Clark, and Citizen Soldiers.

      Editor's Note: The following article by Stephen Ambrose appears in a
      new anthology edited by Robert Brent Toplin, Oliver Stone's USA:
      Film, History, and Controversy. The book presents a wide variety of
      views on Stone's work; about a third of the material in the book is
      by Stone himself.

      Oliver Stone wants not only fame and fortune but also respect. To
      achieve it, he went to unprecedented lengths in promoting his movie
      Nixon. Since The Birth of a Nation, Hollywood has found treasure in
      the American past, from war, historical romances, and the lives of
      presidents. To one degree or another, the producers have pretended
      that their movies were based on fact. But never before has a
      producer issued an advance copy of his script, much less one
      including hundreds of footnotes, done in approved graduate-student
      fashion, citing some eighty books, numerous oral histories, tapes of
      Nixon's meetings, and other sources; opening essays by John Dean,
      Daniel Schorr, Alexander Butterfield, Stanley Kutler, Paul Nitze,
      and others, as well as an interview with Stone; and concluding with
      photo-offsets of numerous Watergate documents.

      This scholarly blitz impressed reporters and reviewers, but it is
      fraudulent. Stone's peacock-like display of his scholarship is too
      thin to cover his basic contempt for real scholarship. His devotion
      is to drama, and were he to change Nixon's name to Dixon, Henry
      Kissinger's to Missinger, and label the movie fiction, no one could
      quarrel with him over his scholarship or inventions. But he insists
      that he is more than a dramatist and producer, that he is a
      historian. In this essay, I judge him on that basis.

      Stone claims that he has discovered what the journalists and
      professional historians missed, the truth about Nixon. The film
      opens with a prologue on a black screen:

      This film is an attempt to understand the truth of Richard Nixon....
      It is based on numerous public sources and on an incomplete
      historical record. In consideration of length, events and characters
      have been condensed, and some scenes among protagonists have been
      conjectured.
      The last sentence hides a multitude of lies.
      Oliver Stone wants to participate in the historical debate on the
      character of Richard Nixon without conforming to the canons of
      history. He feels free not merely to conjecture but also to invent
      scenes that never happened, to give one man's words to another, and
      to assign Nixon posts that he never held. He imagines a Nixon who
      took a dark secret to his grave with him, a man whose character,
      while complex, was contemptible.

      If I felt as free as Stone to conjecture, I might conjecture that he
      put forward those padded footnotes confident that few would ever
      read them or check them.
      A man's drinking habits and his language are important expressions
      of his character. Stone makes them central to Nixon's. He has Nixon
      drinking steadily and heavily throughout the film and using foul
      language regularly. He cites Tom Wicker and me as his sources on
      Nixon's drinking habits. In his 1991 biography of Nixon, Wicker
      wrote that he had found only one authentic case of Nixon's being
      drunk -- when he was in Moscow as vice president. In my biography, I
      wrote that H. R. Haldeman told me that he had never seen Nixon
      drunk, and following a couple of paragraphs on the subject of
      Nixon's drinking, I concluded, "Whatever Nixon's problems in life,
      and Lord knows there were many, alcohol was not one of them."'
      Maybe Stone is right about Nixon and booze, and Wicker and I are
      wrong. But he cannot cite us as his sources for a portrayal of Nixon
      popping pills and knocking them back with straight scotch whiskey.
      If I felt as free as Stone to conjecture, I might conjecture that he
      put forward those padded footnotes confident that few would ever
      read them or check them.




      Nor will most viewers realize that they are getting a cruel
      distortion of the language Nixon ordinarily used. In Stone's movie,
      he has Nixon saying "fuck" throughout -- in one scene, eight times.
      In fact, Nixon was a shy Quaker boy who seldom used locker-room
      language. The bulk of the "expletive deleted" words that Nixon
      blocked out on his transcript version of the tapes were "hell"
      and "damn." I have listened many times to the available tapes, some
      sixty hours' worth, recording conversations between Nixon and his
      closest advisers when they were in deep trouble, and I never heard
      him say "fuck." William Safire told me that Nixon sometimes
      said "asshole." He used "son of a bitch" regularly. In general,
      Nixon's language was mild, especially in comparison with that of
      Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson, and John
      F. Kennedy. Stone creates the opposite impression.




      Stone insists that precisely because he ignores the canons of
      history, he gives a sharper, more sensitive portrait of Nixon than
      do the professional historians, chained as they are to the
      documents. The novel All the King's Men and the movie Patton are
      examples of what he means. And certainly there are those (not I) who
      think that Robert Penn Warren got closer to Huey Long's character
      than T. Harry Williams did in his biography and that George C.
      Scott's performance gave a clearer view of George Patton than Martin
      Blumenson's biography.

      By changing Long's name, Warren gave himself the fiction writer's
      freedom to make things up. Nevertheless, he stuck closer to the
      truth than Stone did. Examples of Stone's inventions include Nixon's
      saying about John Kennedy, "We were like brothers, for Christ's
      sake"; Pat Nixon's demanding a divorce; Mao's telling Nixon, "You're
      as evil as I am. ... Others pay to feed the hunger in us. In my
      case, millions of reactionaries. In your case, millions of
      Vietnamese." Can anyone imagine Mao's talking to Nixon like that? In
      fact, yes. Here, as elsewhere, Stone counts on his audience's
      believing that it is possible that Dick and Jack were friends, that
      the Nixon marriage was always on the verge of breaking apart, and
      that Mao would say such things to Nixon.

      The first canon of history is that you cannot put words into
      people's mouths. Stone not only does that, but he regularly takes
      lines he likes from the actual speakers and puts them into the
      mouths of others. Kissinger gets Nixon's line to Mao: "But your
      writings have changed the world, Mr. Chairman." Alexander Haig gets
      Barry Goldwater's line to Nixon: "No one I know feels close to you."
      Nixon gets John Ehrlichman's "twisting in the wind" line. Sometimes
      Stone gets the right man with the right line but gets the timing
      wrong. In 1973, Haig is leading Nixon through a hospital
      corridor. "Clear the path!" Haig shouts. "Clear a path. I'm in
      charge here."

      Perhaps these are peccadilloes. The central piece of fiction in the
      movie is not. It is the creation of a Nixon-Fidel Castro-Kennedy
      connection. Stone has Nixon involved in a CIA assassination plot
      against Castro, which somehow played a part in the Kennedy
      assassination and left Nixon with a terrible secret and guilt about
      Kennedy's death. All this leads to a flash of insight on Nixon's
      part that is the climactic vision of the movie.

      Details are wrong. In the movie, Nixon tells Haldeman, "You open up
      that scab [referring to the CIA and Castro] and you uncover a lot of
      pus." What Nixon said was, "You open that scab [Howard Hunt] there's
      a hell of a lot of things ... this involves the Cubans, Hunt, and a
      lot of hanky-panky."

      In the movie, Nixon tells Haldeman that there was a CIA project to
      kill Castro and insists, "It was our idea. We felt the invasion [Bay
      of Pigs] wouldn't work unless we got rid of Castro. So we asked
      ourselves -- who else wants Castro dead? The Mafia, the money
      people." So they hired the Mafia. Nixon says that Eisenhower
      approved the plan and ordered it put into effect before the 1960
      election.

      Haldeman, astonished, blurts out, "Eisenhower approved that?"

      Nixon replies, "He didn't veto it. I ran the White House side."

      Haldeman later tells Ehrlichman that Nixon's involvement in the
      Castro affair "in some crazy way got turned on Kennedy."

      No, it is not reasonable to assume. We do not have to assume
      anything. Haldeman's handwritten notes on that meeting exist.
      According to Stone, it was during the June 10, 1972, conversation
      with Haldeman (the first meeting of the two men after the Watergate
      burglars were arrested, now infamous because of the eighteen and a
      half minute gap in the tape) that the truth came out. "It seems that
      in all of those Nixon references to the Bay of Pigs, he was actually
      referring to the Kennedy assassination," Stone quotes Haldeman. In
      threatening the CIA with exposure, Nixon was "reminding [Director
      Richard] Helms, not so gently, of the cover-up of the CIA
      assassination attempts -- a CIA operation that may have triggered
      the Kennedy tragedy and which Helms wanted desperately to hide."
      Those words come from Haldeman's memoir The Ends of Power, co-
      written with Joseph DiMona. Haldeman later repudiated the book and
      those words specifically.
      Christopher Wilkinson, one of Stone's co-writers, insists in his
      introduction to the book that the words are nevertheless accurate
      and that Haldeman reached his conclusion on June 10, which was why
      Nixon manually erased the eighteen and a half minutes. Wilkinson
      argues that "it is reasonable to assume that whatever was on the
      eighteen and a half minute gap was substantively different from any
      of the other blatantly incriminating material Nixon exposed."

      No, it is not reasonable to assume. We do not have to assume
      anything. Haldeman's handwritten notes on that meeting exist.
      Although hardly verbatim, they are clear on the subjects discussed.
      Nixon's first order was to sweep the Oval Office for bugs (not his,
      of course). Next he told Haldeman to get to work on public relations
      by accusing the Democrats of crimes of their own -- "hit the
      opposition with their activities," as Haldeman took it down.

      Stone's Bay of Pigs-assassination business is all fantasy. Richard
      Bissel of the CIA did raise the question of assassination with
      Eisenhower, but he was rebuffed. Eisenhower said that political
      assassination was beyond the pale (in 1963, he expressed deep shock
      at Ngo Dinh Diem's murder) and that if the CIA got rid of Fidel
      Castro, Raul Castro would take power, "and that's worse."

      Vice President Nixon never headed any CIA project. Stone calls him
      the "action officer" for the Bay of Pigs and assassination attempts.
      His source is Howard Hunt's memoirs. But no assassination attempt
      was made in the Eisenhower administration. And what Nixon wanted in
      fall 1960 was not Castro's death but a successful invasion and
      overthrow of the regime before the November election -- a so-called
      October surprise.

      This gets us to Nixon's dark references to the Bay of Pigs and the
      CIA. They were about the training of Cuban exiles by the CIA and the
      Bay of Pigs planning going on in the Eisenhower administration in
      1960. After Kennedy became president and the Bay of Pigs landing was
      tried and failed, the Kennedy people put it out that it was all
      Eisenhower's fault because it had been his plan.

      Eisenhower furiously resented this charge. He felt that the CIA and
      Kennedy had bungled the operation and rightly insisted that he had
      never signed off on a plan.

      Nixon was on the extreme outside of all this. When he said in the
      movie, "We protected the CIA from the Bay of Pigs," Stone jumped to
      an unjustified conclusion, but he made his interpretation persuasive
      to the audience by leaving out the last nine words of Nixon's
      sentence: "and a hell of a lot of other things." Nixon was speaking
      generically, not specifically. Stone does not use Nixon's line that
      the CIA plots "have nothing to do with ourselves." The Nixon-Castro-
      Kennedy connection is akin to Stone's fantasy that JFK was about to
      take us out of Vietnam when a conspiracy formed by the military-
      industrial complex assassinated him.

      Beyond giving us his version of Richard Nixon's character, Oliver
      Stone offers an interpretation of who rules America and how the
      system works. This is bold but not wise, more imaginative than
      informative.

      The philosophical insights came to the Stone team of writers in a
      coup d'oeil when they suddenly realized that "for Nixon to have
      become President in 1968, Jack Kennedy had to die, Lyndon Johnson
      had to be forced into retirement, Dr. King had to die, Bobby Kennedy
      had to die, Hubert Humphrey had to be eviscerated in Chicago." Some
      might feel that there was an element of chance in all this, but
      Wilkinson writes:

      It almost seemed that Nixon was being helped, helped by something
      dark, something sinister, something frightening. Some thing. And we
      call it The Beast. The Beast became a metaphor for the darkest
      organic forces in American Cold War politics: the anti-Communist
      crusade, secret intelligence, the defense industry, organized crime,
      big business.
      Plus the CIA. The Beast was within Nixon and controlled him. "You're
      just a mouthpiece for an agenda that is hidden for us," a voter says
      to the movie Nixon during a TV debate -- nicely summing up Stone's
      view of the United States and the world.
      Kennedy, Stone asserts (he has Nixon say it), never knew about the
      assassination plot against Castro, but the CIA kept it going: "It
      had a life of its own. Like a kind of 'beast' that doesn't even know
      it exists. It just eats people when it doesn't need'em anymore." CIA
      director Helms, according to Stone, agreed. In the movie, Helms says
      that the plot was "not an operation as much as an organic
      phenomenon. It grew, it changed shape, it developed insatiable,
      devouring appetites."

      In the climactic scene, Nixon himself realizes that the Beast is in
      charge. He is at the Lincoln Memorial, talking with a nineteen-year-
      old college student. She says, "You don't want the war. We don't
      want the war. The Vietnamese don't want the war. So why does it go
      on?" Nixon is rendered speechless by this statement. She goes
      on, "You can't stop it, can you? Even if you wanted to. Because it's
      not you. It's the system. And the system won't let you stop it."

      Nixon mumbles that more is at stake here than what she wants,
      or "even what I want."

      "Then what's the point?" she asks. "What's the point of being
      President? You're powerless."

      Nixon reels under the power of her insight. Later he tells
      Haldeman: "She understands something it's taken me twenty-five
      fucking years in politics to understand. The CIA, the Mafia, the
      Wall Street bastards."

      "Sir?" Haldeman interjects.

      "The Beast," Nixon explains. "A nineteen-year-old kid. She
      understands the nature of 'the Beast."'

      Toward the end of the movie, Nixon vows to do something about
      it. "Whoever killed Kennedy came from this ... this thing we
      created. This Beast. That's why we can't let this thing go any
      farther."

      Enough. This is sophomoric Marxism circa 1950. The gross
      simplification of how and by whom the United States is run misses
      the complexities of the system and assigns to the unseen and
      scarcely defined Beast an evil intent that accounts for all the evil
      done by the United States and in its name since 1945 (if not before)
      without a single piece of evidence of serious thought or study by
      Stone.

      Does it matter? William Shakespeare took liberties with the
      histories he dramatized, and I do not suppose that we are worse off
      because his vision of Henry IV does not correspond with the facts of
      English history. But the Bard was not depicting contemporaries, and
      he did not have an agenda for social, economic, and political change
      in his country. Stone thinks that the United States is rotten
      because of the sinister forces that rule. He used both Kennedy and
      Nixon to prove it. He wants to change the country and points to the
      Kennedy assassination and the Nixon presidency as proof of the need
      for radical political action. In that sense, it matters greatly that
      he has distorted the past.

      Aside from Stone's puerile conspiracy theses, does he advance the
      debate about Nixon's character, accomplishments, and crimes? In a
      movie in which key events are ignored, central scenes are made up,
      and Nixon uses words he never used, how could he? Nixon may be great
      entertainment, perhaps even great drama -- that is for the movie and
      drama critics and the public to decide. It is not history.
    • greg
      If you find out about those presidents cussing I d like to hear too. I keep pages of historical quotes at www.geocities.com/gregcannon1/history and
      Message 2 of 2 , Jun 29, 2004
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        If you find out about those presidents' cussing I'd like to hear too.
        I keep pages of historical quotes at
        www.geocities.com/gregcannon1/history and
        www.geocities.com/gregcannon1/part2 where I've already got amusing
        quotes from various presidents and other people.
        --- In prezveepsenator@yahoogroups.com, "Ram Lau" <ramlau@y...> wrote:
        > Those who outcussed Nixon
        >
        > According to the author, Truman, Ike, JFK, and LBJ all outcussed
        > Nixon. I would like to hear what they have said.
        >
        >
        >
        > STEPHEN AMBROSE TAKES ON OLIVER STONE: How the Nixon Movie Stands Up
        >
        > An Excerpt from Oliver Stone's USA
        > Stephen Ambrose is the author of numerous books, including Nixon,
        > Rise to Globalism, Lewis and Clark, and Citizen Soldiers.
        >
        > Editor's Note: The following article by Stephen Ambrose appears in a
        > new anthology edited by Robert Brent Toplin, Oliver Stone's USA:
        > Film, History, and Controversy. The book presents a wide variety of
        > views on Stone's work; about a third of the material in the book is
        > by Stone himself.
        >
        > Oliver Stone wants not only fame and fortune but also respect. To
        > achieve it, he went to unprecedented lengths in promoting his movie
        > Nixon. Since The Birth of a Nation, Hollywood has found treasure in
        > the American past, from war, historical romances, and the lives of
        > presidents. To one degree or another, the producers have pretended
        > that their movies were based on fact. But never before has a
        > producer issued an advance copy of his script, much less one
        > including hundreds of footnotes, done in approved graduate-student
        > fashion, citing some eighty books, numerous oral histories, tapes of
        > Nixon's meetings, and other sources; opening essays by John Dean,
        > Daniel Schorr, Alexander Butterfield, Stanley Kutler, Paul Nitze,
        > and others, as well as an interview with Stone; and concluding with
        > photo-offsets of numerous Watergate documents.
        >
        > This scholarly blitz impressed reporters and reviewers, but it is
        > fraudulent. Stone's peacock-like display of his scholarship is too
        > thin to cover his basic contempt for real scholarship. His devotion
        > is to drama, and were he to change Nixon's name to Dixon, Henry
        > Kissinger's to Missinger, and label the movie fiction, no one could
        > quarrel with him over his scholarship or inventions. But he insists
        > that he is more than a dramatist and producer, that he is a
        > historian. In this essay, I judge him on that basis.
        >
        > Stone claims that he has discovered what the journalists and
        > professional historians missed, the truth about Nixon. The film
        > opens with a prologue on a black screen:
        >
        > This film is an attempt to understand the truth of Richard Nixon....
        > It is based on numerous public sources and on an incomplete
        > historical record. In consideration of length, events and characters
        > have been condensed, and some scenes among protagonists have been
        > conjectured.
        > The last sentence hides a multitude of lies.
        > Oliver Stone wants to participate in the historical debate on the
        > character of Richard Nixon without conforming to the canons of
        > history. He feels free not merely to conjecture but also to invent
        > scenes that never happened, to give one man's words to another, and
        > to assign Nixon posts that he never held. He imagines a Nixon who
        > took a dark secret to his grave with him, a man whose character,
        > while complex, was contemptible.
        >
        > If I felt as free as Stone to conjecture, I might conjecture that he
        > put forward those padded footnotes confident that few would ever
        > read them or check them.
        > A man's drinking habits and his language are important expressions
        > of his character. Stone makes them central to Nixon's. He has Nixon
        > drinking steadily and heavily throughout the film and using foul
        > language regularly. He cites Tom Wicker and me as his sources on
        > Nixon's drinking habits. In his 1991 biography of Nixon, Wicker
        > wrote that he had found only one authentic case of Nixon's being
        > drunk -- when he was in Moscow as vice president. In my biography, I
        > wrote that H. R. Haldeman told me that he had never seen Nixon
        > drunk, and following a couple of paragraphs on the subject of
        > Nixon's drinking, I concluded, "Whatever Nixon's problems in life,
        > and Lord knows there were many, alcohol was not one of them."'
        > Maybe Stone is right about Nixon and booze, and Wicker and I are
        > wrong. But he cannot cite us as his sources for a portrayal of Nixon
        > popping pills and knocking them back with straight scotch whiskey.
        > If I felt as free as Stone to conjecture, I might conjecture that he
        > put forward those padded footnotes confident that few would ever
        > read them or check them.
        >
        >
        >
        >
        > Nor will most viewers realize that they are getting a cruel
        > distortion of the language Nixon ordinarily used. In Stone's movie,
        > he has Nixon saying "fuck" throughout -- in one scene, eight times.
        > In fact, Nixon was a shy Quaker boy who seldom used locker-room
        > language. The bulk of the "expletive deleted" words that Nixon
        > blocked out on his transcript version of the tapes were "hell"
        > and "damn." I have listened many times to the available tapes, some
        > sixty hours' worth, recording conversations between Nixon and his
        > closest advisers when they were in deep trouble, and I never heard
        > him say "fuck." William Safire told me that Nixon sometimes
        > said "asshole." He used "son of a bitch" regularly. In general,
        > Nixon's language was mild, especially in comparison with that of
        > Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson, and John
        > F. Kennedy. Stone creates the opposite impression.
        >
        >
        >
        >
        > Stone insists that precisely because he ignores the canons of
        > history, he gives a sharper, more sensitive portrait of Nixon than
        > do the professional historians, chained as they are to the
        > documents. The novel All the King's Men and the movie Patton are
        > examples of what he means. And certainly there are those (not I) who
        > think that Robert Penn Warren got closer to Huey Long's character
        > than T. Harry Williams did in his biography and that George C.
        > Scott's performance gave a clearer view of George Patton than Martin
        > Blumenson's biography.
        >
        > By changing Long's name, Warren gave himself the fiction writer's
        > freedom to make things up. Nevertheless, he stuck closer to the
        > truth than Stone did. Examples of Stone's inventions include Nixon's
        > saying about John Kennedy, "We were like brothers, for Christ's
        > sake"; Pat Nixon's demanding a divorce; Mao's telling Nixon, "You're
        > as evil as I am. ... Others pay to feed the hunger in us. In my
        > case, millions of reactionaries. In your case, millions of
        > Vietnamese." Can anyone imagine Mao's talking to Nixon like that? In
        > fact, yes. Here, as elsewhere, Stone counts on his audience's
        > believing that it is possible that Dick and Jack were friends, that
        > the Nixon marriage was always on the verge of breaking apart, and
        > that Mao would say such things to Nixon.
        >
        > The first canon of history is that you cannot put words into
        > people's mouths. Stone not only does that, but he regularly takes
        > lines he likes from the actual speakers and puts them into the
        > mouths of others. Kissinger gets Nixon's line to Mao: "But your
        > writings have changed the world, Mr. Chairman." Alexander Haig gets
        > Barry Goldwater's line to Nixon: "No one I know feels close to you."
        > Nixon gets John Ehrlichman's "twisting in the wind" line. Sometimes
        > Stone gets the right man with the right line but gets the timing
        > wrong. In 1973, Haig is leading Nixon through a hospital
        > corridor. "Clear the path!" Haig shouts. "Clear a path. I'm in
        > charge here."
        >
        > Perhaps these are peccadilloes. The central piece of fiction in the
        > movie is not. It is the creation of a Nixon-Fidel Castro-Kennedy
        > connection. Stone has Nixon involved in a CIA assassination plot
        > against Castro, which somehow played a part in the Kennedy
        > assassination and left Nixon with a terrible secret and guilt about
        > Kennedy's death. All this leads to a flash of insight on Nixon's
        > part that is the climactic vision of the movie.
        >
        > Details are wrong. In the movie, Nixon tells Haldeman, "You open up
        > that scab [referring to the CIA and Castro] and you uncover a lot of
        > pus." What Nixon said was, "You open that scab [Howard Hunt] there's
        > a hell of a lot of things ... this involves the Cubans, Hunt, and a
        > lot of hanky-panky."
        >
        > In the movie, Nixon tells Haldeman that there was a CIA project to
        > kill Castro and insists, "It was our idea. We felt the invasion [Bay
        > of Pigs] wouldn't work unless we got rid of Castro. So we asked
        > ourselves -- who else wants Castro dead? The Mafia, the money
        > people." So they hired the Mafia. Nixon says that Eisenhower
        > approved the plan and ordered it put into effect before the 1960
        > election.
        >
        > Haldeman, astonished, blurts out, "Eisenhower approved that?"
        >
        > Nixon replies, "He didn't veto it. I ran the White House side."
        >
        > Haldeman later tells Ehrlichman that Nixon's involvement in the
        > Castro affair "in some crazy way got turned on Kennedy."
        >
        > No, it is not reasonable to assume. We do not have to assume
        > anything. Haldeman's handwritten notes on that meeting exist.
        > According to Stone, it was during the June 10, 1972, conversation
        > with Haldeman (the first meeting of the two men after the Watergate
        > burglars were arrested, now infamous because of the eighteen and a
        > half minute gap in the tape) that the truth came out. "It seems that
        > in all of those Nixon references to the Bay of Pigs, he was actually
        > referring to the Kennedy assassination," Stone quotes Haldeman. In
        > threatening the CIA with exposure, Nixon was "reminding [Director
        > Richard] Helms, not so gently, of the cover-up of the CIA
        > assassination attempts -- a CIA operation that may have triggered
        > the Kennedy tragedy and which Helms wanted desperately to hide."
        > Those words come from Haldeman's memoir The Ends of Power, co-
        > written with Joseph DiMona. Haldeman later repudiated the book and
        > those words specifically.
        > Christopher Wilkinson, one of Stone's co-writers, insists in his
        > introduction to the book that the words are nevertheless accurate
        > and that Haldeman reached his conclusion on June 10, which was why
        > Nixon manually erased the eighteen and a half minutes. Wilkinson
        > argues that "it is reasonable to assume that whatever was on the
        > eighteen and a half minute gap was substantively different from any
        > of the other blatantly incriminating material Nixon exposed."
        >
        > No, it is not reasonable to assume. We do not have to assume
        > anything. Haldeman's handwritten notes on that meeting exist.
        > Although hardly verbatim, they are clear on the subjects discussed.
        > Nixon's first order was to sweep the Oval Office for bugs (not his,
        > of course). Next he told Haldeman to get to work on public relations
        > by accusing the Democrats of crimes of their own -- "hit the
        > opposition with their activities," as Haldeman took it down.
        >
        > Stone's Bay of Pigs-assassination business is all fantasy. Richard
        > Bissel of the CIA did raise the question of assassination with
        > Eisenhower, but he was rebuffed. Eisenhower said that political
        > assassination was beyond the pale (in 1963, he expressed deep shock
        > at Ngo Dinh Diem's murder) and that if the CIA got rid of Fidel
        > Castro, Raul Castro would take power, "and that's worse."
        >
        > Vice President Nixon never headed any CIA project. Stone calls him
        > the "action officer" for the Bay of Pigs and assassination attempts.
        > His source is Howard Hunt's memoirs. But no assassination attempt
        > was made in the Eisenhower administration. And what Nixon wanted in
        > fall 1960 was not Castro's death but a successful invasion and
        > overthrow of the regime before the November election -- a so-called
        > October surprise.
        >
        > This gets us to Nixon's dark references to the Bay of Pigs and the
        > CIA. They were about the training of Cuban exiles by the CIA and the
        > Bay of Pigs planning going on in the Eisenhower administration in
        > 1960. After Kennedy became president and the Bay of Pigs landing was
        > tried and failed, the Kennedy people put it out that it was all
        > Eisenhower's fault because it had been his plan.
        >
        > Eisenhower furiously resented this charge. He felt that the CIA and
        > Kennedy had bungled the operation and rightly insisted that he had
        > never signed off on a plan.
        >
        > Nixon was on the extreme outside of all this. When he said in the
        > movie, "We protected the CIA from the Bay of Pigs," Stone jumped to
        > an unjustified conclusion, but he made his interpretation persuasive
        > to the audience by leaving out the last nine words of Nixon's
        > sentence: "and a hell of a lot of other things." Nixon was speaking
        > generically, not specifically. Stone does not use Nixon's line that
        > the CIA plots "have nothing to do with ourselves." The Nixon-Castro-
        > Kennedy connection is akin to Stone's fantasy that JFK was about to
        > take us out of Vietnam when a conspiracy formed by the military-
        > industrial complex assassinated him.
        >
        > Beyond giving us his version of Richard Nixon's character, Oliver
        > Stone offers an interpretation of who rules America and how the
        > system works. This is bold but not wise, more imaginative than
        > informative.
        >
        > The philosophical insights came to the Stone team of writers in a
        > coup d'oeil when they suddenly realized that "for Nixon to have
        > become President in 1968, Jack Kennedy had to die, Lyndon Johnson
        > had to be forced into retirement, Dr. King had to die, Bobby Kennedy
        > had to die, Hubert Humphrey had to be eviscerated in Chicago." Some
        > might feel that there was an element of chance in all this, but
        > Wilkinson writes:
        >
        > It almost seemed that Nixon was being helped, helped by something
        > dark, something sinister, something frightening. Some thing. And we
        > call it The Beast. The Beast became a metaphor for the darkest
        > organic forces in American Cold War politics: the anti-Communist
        > crusade, secret intelligence, the defense industry, organized crime,
        > big business.
        > Plus the CIA. The Beast was within Nixon and controlled him. "You're
        > just a mouthpiece for an agenda that is hidden for us," a voter says
        > to the movie Nixon during a TV debate -- nicely summing up Stone's
        > view of the United States and the world.
        > Kennedy, Stone asserts (he has Nixon say it), never knew about the
        > assassination plot against Castro, but the CIA kept it going: "It
        > had a life of its own. Like a kind of 'beast' that doesn't even know
        > it exists. It just eats people when it doesn't need'em anymore." CIA
        > director Helms, according to Stone, agreed. In the movie, Helms says
        > that the plot was "not an operation as much as an organic
        > phenomenon. It grew, it changed shape, it developed insatiable,
        > devouring appetites."
        >
        > In the climactic scene, Nixon himself realizes that the Beast is in
        > charge. He is at the Lincoln Memorial, talking with a nineteen-year-
        > old college student. She says, "You don't want the war. We don't
        > want the war. The Vietnamese don't want the war. So why does it go
        > on?" Nixon is rendered speechless by this statement. She goes
        > on, "You can't stop it, can you? Even if you wanted to. Because it's
        > not you. It's the system. And the system won't let you stop it."
        >
        > Nixon mumbles that more is at stake here than what she wants,
        > or "even what I want."
        >
        > "Then what's the point?" she asks. "What's the point of being
        > President? You're powerless."
        >
        > Nixon reels under the power of her insight. Later he tells
        > Haldeman: "She understands something it's taken me twenty-five
        > fucking years in politics to understand. The CIA, the Mafia, the
        > Wall Street bastards."
        >
        > "Sir?" Haldeman interjects.
        >
        > "The Beast," Nixon explains. "A nineteen-year-old kid. She
        > understands the nature of 'the Beast."'
        >
        > Toward the end of the movie, Nixon vows to do something about
        > it. "Whoever killed Kennedy came from this ... this thing we
        > created. This Beast. That's why we can't let this thing go any
        > farther."
        >
        > Enough. This is sophomoric Marxism circa 1950. The gross
        > simplification of how and by whom the United States is run misses
        > the complexities of the system and assigns to the unseen and
        > scarcely defined Beast an evil intent that accounts for all the evil
        > done by the United States and in its name since 1945 (if not before)
        > without a single piece of evidence of serious thought or study by
        > Stone.
        >
        > Does it matter? William Shakespeare took liberties with the
        > histories he dramatized, and I do not suppose that we are worse off
        > because his vision of Henry IV does not correspond with the facts of
        > English history. But the Bard was not depicting contemporaries, and
        > he did not have an agenda for social, economic, and political change
        > in his country. Stone thinks that the United States is rotten
        > because of the sinister forces that rule. He used both Kennedy and
        > Nixon to prove it. He wants to change the country and points to the
        > Kennedy assassination and the Nixon presidency as proof of the need
        > for radical political action. In that sense, it matters greatly that
        > he has distorted the past.
        >
        > Aside from Stone's puerile conspiracy theses, does he advance the
        > debate about Nixon's character, accomplishments, and crimes? In a
        > movie in which key events are ignored, central scenes are made up,
        > and Nixon uses words he never used, how could he? Nixon may be great
        > entertainment, perhaps even great drama -- that is for the movie and
        > drama critics and the public to decide. It is not history.
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