Newly released diaries kept by Richard Nixon’s chief of staff portray the late President as alternately gleeful and guilt-ridden about provoking confrontations with Vietnam antiwar demonstrators and more scornful of blacks and Jews than had been reported previously.
The diaries secretly kept by the late H.R. Haldeman, one of Nixon’s most trusted White House lieutenants, provide new insights into Nixon’s complex personality. They reveal the darker side of the only U.S. President to resign and also illustrate his humanity, as when Haldeman reported that he wept openly on hearing of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s death and when the deaths of four students by guardsmen at Kent State University upset him.
For four years and three months before his Watergate-related resignation in April, 1973, Haldeman kept by hand, and later dictated on tapes, a daily record that remained a secret to all but his family. Completing a foreword for his diaries shortly before his death in Santa Barbara last November, Haldeman left it up to his wife, Jo, to decide if they should be published.
She subsequently worked out arrangements with G. P. Putnam’s Sons Inc., which is publishing the Haldeman diaries this week. The document is unique because Haldeman’s reporting is contemporaneous, said Nixon biographer Stephen E. Ambrose. “No other presidential chief of staff has gone to such lengths to make a record in anything approaching such detail,” Ambrose said.
The diaries show Nixon torn by conflicting emotions toward young demonstrators protesting the Vietnam War.
In May, 1970, shortly after Nixon widened the war by ordering the bombing of Viet Cong bases in neighboring Cambodia, the four students at Kent State in Ohio were shot and killed by National Guardsmen during a campus demonstration.
“He’s very disturbed,” Haldeman recorded. “Afraid his decision set it off. . . . Issued condolence statement, then kept after me all the rest of the day for more facts. Hoping rioters had provoked the shooting but no real evidence they did.”
In October, 1970, Nixon took joy in taunting demonstrators whom he encountered on a visit to San Jose, Calif. In his diary, Haldeman wrote:
“We wanted some confrontation and there were no hecklers in the hall, so we stalled departure a little so they could zero in outside and they sure did. Before getting in car, P(resident) stood up and gave the V signs, which made them mad. They threw rocks, flags, candles etc. as we drove out, after a terrifying flying wedge of cops opened up the road.”
Nixon’s low view of blacks appears both in his discussion of substantive issues and political opponents.
In an April 28, 1969, discussion of welfare reform with Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman, his domestic affairs adviser, Nixon “emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks,” Haldeman wrote. “The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”
Nixon “pointed out that there has never in history been an adequate black nation and they are the only race of which this is true. Says Africa is hopeless, the worst there is Liberia, which we built,” Haldeman wrote.
Although racial or ethnic slurs occasionally are found on some of Nixon’s White House tape recordings made public previously and while some historians have noted his biases, the Haldeman diaries present by far the most graphic examples of these attitudes.
However, John H. Taylor, director of the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda, Calif., defended Nixon’s statements as a reflection of his frustrations and said that they should be viewed “strictly in a political context.”
On Feb. 26, 1970, Nixon expressed great displeasure with American Jews for planning to boycott a dinner for French President Georges Pompidou in New York. Nixon “really raged again today against United States Jews because of their behavior toward Pompidou,” Haldeman reported. “Has decided to postpone Jewish arms supply for their ‘unconscionable conduct.’ ”
Haldeman also told of a Feb. 1, 1972, meeting between Nixon and evangelist Billy Graham in which “there was considerable discussion of the terrible problem arising from the total Jewish domination of the media and agreement that this was something that would have to be dealt with.”
At one point in his diaries, Haldeman noted that “Graham has the strong feeling that the Bible says that there are satanic Jews and that’s where our problem arises.”
On other topics, Haldeman comments on the well-known feud between Nixon National Security Adviser Henry A. Kissinger and Secretary of State William P. Rogers. “Actually, most of the fault in all of this is chargeable to Henry because of his almost psychopathic concern with everything that Rogers does,” Haldeman wrote. “He acts like a little kid.”
Biographer Ambrose, who has read the Haldeman diaries, spoke in a television interview Monday of “the extraordinarily bad relationship” between Kissinger and Rogers that Haldeman records. “We hadn’t any idea of the extent of it. Every day Kissinger comes to Haldeman and says you’ve got to fire Rogers or I’m quitting, I’m going to resign.”
Some of the Haldeman diary entries as well as audio recordings of Nixon were the subject of two programs on ABC’s “Nightline” television program on Monday and Tuesday.
A diary entry by Haldeman on June 18, 1972, the day after the Watergate break-in, bolsters evidence that Nixon had no advance knowledge of the burglary of Democratic National Committee headquarters. “So far the P is not aware of all this,” Haldeman wrote.
Two days later Haldeman wrote that White House thinking was “that we’ve got to hope the FBI doesn’t go beyond what’s necessary in developing evidence and that we can keep a lid on that.”
In the spring of 1973, Haldeman and Erhlichman resigned in an attempt to shield the President from the growing Watergate scandal.
On April 29, 1973, as Nixon tried to convince the two to step down, Haldeman said that Nixon “went through his whole pitch about how he’s really the guilty one. He said he’s thought it all through and that he was the one that started (White House aide Charles) Colson on his projects, he was the one who told (White House counsel John) Dean to cover up, he was the one who made (John N.) Mitchell attorney general, and later his campaign manager and so on.”
Haldeman’s diaries also paint Nixon as two-faced with political opponents like Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).
On July 21, 1969, shortly after a car Kennedy was driving plunged off a bridge on Martha’s Vineyard and a woman passenger drowned, Haldeman wrote that Nixon “wants to set up and activate dirty tricks” against the senator.
But several days later, on Aug. 4, 1969, Nixon invited Kennedy into his office and “told him he understood how tough it was etc.,” Haldeman reported.
However, a year later, Nixon “came up with a plan” for the White House to hire a private detective to follow Kennedy in Paris and take photographs of him with various women, in hopes it would damage him politically, Haldeman said.