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Issue 169 June 2013

President Nixon's treason charge

Wheeler: The Final Word

BBC Radio 4

Reviewed by David Beale

Sensational new evidence has emerged that Richard Nixon, former US president, committed treason in securing his election victory at the height of the Vietnam war in 1968. This evidence was presented in a BBC Radio 4 programme, Wheeler: The Final Word, broadcast in Britain on 16 March.

Nixon, well-known as a rabid right-wing Republican, was eventually forced to resign as president in 1974, following the Watergate scandal. This centred on the burglary of the Democratic Partyís national committee headquarters on 17 June 1972. The presidentís staff and top officials were implicated in the break-in and attempted cover-up Ė and a number later prosecuted. It was proved that Nixon had lied about the affair.

In 1968, the about-to-retire president, Lyndon B Johnson, a Democrat, was finally considering the prospects of a negotiated settlement to the war in Vietnam. He had established peace talks in Paris with the government in North Vietnam, which was backed by Maoist China. For the talks to succeed it required the participation of the US-backed government in South Vietnam, which Johnson secured.

But 1968 was also election year. Johnsonís successor as the Democrat candidate was Hubert Humphrey. His rivals were Nixon for the Republicans, and the far-right independent, George Wallace, a notorious racist governor of Alabama. Wallace had advocated a nuclear attack on North Vietnam to end the war!

The Radio 4 programme presented conclusive evidence, from Johnsonís personal archive, showing that Nixon was in secret communication with the South Vietnamese government to persuade it to withdraw from the Paris talks. This runs contrary to Nixonís public statements supporting the peace talks, and his pledges to Johnson as serving US president.

Nixon succeeded in wrecking the peace negotiations. And his cynical strategy is now clear: secretly to sabotage the peace talks, blame Johnson and the Democrats, and pose as a better advocate of a peaceful settlement. It worked. Nixon was narrowly elected US president in November 1968. The reality is that his election was steeped in blood. He maintained US involvement in the war for five more years with the loss of a further 20,000 US soldiers and hundreds of thousands Vietnamese lives.

The respected BBC journalist, Charles Wheeler, believed this to be the case in 1995, but he did not have the full proof before he died in 2008. Subsequently, however, the relevant sections of Johnsonís archives have been released and these include sensational audio tapes of his phone conversations with Nixon and others.

Johnson Ė no left winger, by any means Ė is categorical in accusing Nixon of treason by sabotaging the Paris peace talks. Yet, how did he know what Nixon was doing? He got him and his aides followed and his phones tapped!

The question the programme also pursues is why Johnson or Humphrey did not expose this at the time. Again, Johnsonís phone conversations reveal that he had instructed the notorious head of the FBI, J Edgar Hoover, to tap the phones and watch everything that his political opponents were doing. Johnson believed that people in the US would be shocked if they knew he had authorised such spying activities, which may also have been illegal.

This is a sensational news story by any standards, even for those of us who knew at the time what a crook Nixon was. And it was Vietnamese civilians and soldiers, as well as US troops (not least poor African-Americans), who paid such a dreadful price for the carnage wrought by US imperialism.

It is somewhat shocking that both the British and US press have almost completely ignored this story. An account of it can still be read on the BBC website, which includes some key extracts from Johnsonís audio tapes. (See: The Lyndon Johnson Tapes: Richard Nixon's 'Treason')

It has been estimated that between 800,000 and 3.1 million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians, 200-300,000 Cambodians, 20,000-200,000 Laotians, and over 58,000 US soldiers and personnel died during the war in Vietnam.


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