Historians write that President Richard Nixon believed that putting distance between himself and other people was necessary for him to govern; yet on May 9, 1970, he told his valet, Manolo, "to get your clothes on and we will go down to the Lincoln Memorial,” to talk to Vietnam War protesters. “Well, I got dressed and at approximately 4:35, we left the White House and drove to the Lincoln Memorial. I have never seen the Secret Service quite so petrified with apprehension,” explained former President Richard in recently released tapes from “The Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.” The museum released a series of recordings, including dictation from President Nixon to his chief staff, H.R. Haldeman, describing his version of that night's events when he left the White House without protection and showed-up unannounced in the midst of thousands of protesters who literally hated the president, and demanded his impeachment for carrying on with the war in Vietnam.
Image President Barack Obama dropping by an Occupy Wall Street protest?
What former President Richard Nixon did in secret more than 40 years ago – when he snuck out of the White House at 4:35 a.m. to meet with protesters in Washington, D.C., -- would be unimaginable for President Obama in this day and age of super –tight security; at a time of a War on Terror.
To place the Nixon visit in context, one has to understand that the American involvement in Vietnam was widely unpopular; although historians note how “Nixon initially escalated the war in Vietnam.”
Nixon was the 37th president of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. He is the only president to resign the office. Nixon suffered a debilitating stroke on April 18, 1994, and died four days later at the age of 81.
According to a Nov. 25 PBS report, “the recently released audio recordings tell us about the former president and the events of one surreal night more than four decades ago.”
“It's hard to imagine an American president in this intensely security-conscious age leaving the White House in the middle of the night to meet protesters on their turf. It happened in May 1970. President Richard Nixon was under intense criticism for widening the Vietnam War to Cambodia. Four Kent State University students had been killed by National Guardsmen just days before. Thousands of young protesters quickly mobilized and headed to Washington, D.C. Around 4:00 a.m. on May 9, Mr. Nixon abruptly decided to surprise a group gathered at the Lincoln Memorial. The Nixon Presidential Library and Museum has released a series of recordings, including dictation from President Nixon to his chief staff, H.R. Haldeman, describing his version of that night's events,” reported PBS Nov. 25, while providing context with an interview with Professor Melvin Small, distinguished professor of history emeritus at Wayne State University.
Small is the author of "The Presidency of Richard Nixon" and "Covering Dissent: The Media and Anti-Vietnam War Movement."
Nixon feared for his life when meeting protesters
Nixon’s tapes from the night when he sneaked out of the White House, real a president who was immensely unpopular who, when meeting with Vietnam War protesters, feared for his life when he realized that the crowd was so huge around him; while stating: "I have never seen the Secret Service quite so petrified with apprehension."
“He (Nixon) was both fearless and, some might say, irresponsible, and not just on this occasion,” explained Professor Small during a Nov. 25 PBS interview, while pointing to a photo of Nixon’s valet Manolo (a Cuban immigrant) walking down to the National Mall while carrying an umbrella over Nixon; while they walked alone with the Secret Service finding them later after the discovery that the president “had sneaked out of the White House.”
In turn, the newly released – once secret Nixon tapes from 1970 – reveal the president turning down “some hot chocolate, but he asks Manolo if he had ever been to the Lincoln Memorial at night and just sort of, what, pals along with him to go down there?”
“Yes, he drags him along,” explains Professor Small while showing photos of Nixon with Manolo surrounded by war protesters on the Washington Mall in the wee hours of the morning.
“It's a little odd, because Nixon had been on the phone. He had made 50 phone calls from about 9:00 until 3:30. He called Henry Kissinger eight times. He was in a very odd situation mentally, I think. The country was falling apart, from his perspective. He later said this was the darkest period of his presidency. Henry Kissinger said Washington and the White House was besieged. There were district buses lined up around the White House for who knows what. The 82nd Airborne was in the basement of the Executive Office Building across the street. This was a very tense and, in many ways, from his professional, dangerous period,” says Professor Small during the Nov. 25 PBS interview.
During the secret visit, Professor Small adds: “Well, he (Nixon) went over and pointed out the memorial to Manolo. And then there were about seven or eight students who were in sleeping bags rubbing their eyes. And there's the president standing there beginning to talk to them. And many of them were absolutely astonished. Now, by this time, some of the Secret Services has caught up and one of his aides, but only one, Bud Krogh.”
Nixon’s own words on what happened during his secret meeting
“And I said I was sorry they had missed it because I had tried to explain in the press conference that my goals in Vietnam were the same as theirs -- to stop the killing, to end the war, to bring peace. Our goal was not to get into Cambodia by what we were doing, but to get out of Vietnam,” explained Nixon on the recently released tapes. “There seemed to be no -- they did not respond. I hoped that their hatred of the war, which I could well understand, would not turn into a bitter hatred of our whole system, our country and everything that it stood for. I said, I know you, that probably most of you think I'm an SOB. But I want you to know that I understand just how you feel.”
At the same time, Professor Small explained a problem.
“The media the next day, the newspapers, went and talked to some of the students. And most of the comments they got, almost all of them said that the president was speaking flippantly, irrelevantly. And, in fact, he did. He tried to engage them on Vietnam, evidently. They didn't listen very much to what he had to say. He said he sympathized with their interest in peace,” he said. “And then, when that didn't work, he said, where do you go to college? And if it was Syracuse, oh, you have got a good football team. Or if it was California, he would talk about surfing to them. He talked about foreign travel. And the next day, the media only had those kinds of comments, which is kind of the reason why Nixon a couple of days later decided to put down his memories of the visit for the historical record.”
Nixon explains his shock at being amongst protesters
“I realized the Secret Service was becoming more and more concerned as they saw the crowd begin to mount and probably feared that some of the more active leaders would get word of my visit and descend upon us,” said Nixon. “By this time, the dawn was upon us. The light began to -- the sun began to -- the first rays of the sun began to show. And they began to climb up over the Washington Monument. And I said I had to go and shook hands with those nearest to me and walked down the steps.”
Later, Professor Small explains that Nixon was hungry but he and Manolo could not return to the White House for breakfast. So Nikon decides he and Manolo will stop by the House of Representatives to try and find someplace open for breakfast.
“He (Nixon) then takes Manolo off to the House of Representatives. I guess Manolo had never been there,” explains Professor Small. “And they get the House opened. There are only a couple of cleaning people in it. He takes a seat in his old representative seat. And he asks Manolo to go up to the speaker's platform and to deliver a short speech. Then they go off to breakfast. He said he hadn't had hash ever since he had been president. They try a famous hash diner. That was closed. So they went off to the Mayflower Hotel and had breakfast. And only after that did he go back to the White House, after this amazing evening, early morning.”
Image source of a demonstrator demanding President Richard Nixon’s impeachment. Later, Nixon explained he was “not a crook” during a televised question and answer session with the press. Nixon said: “People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook. I’ve earned everything I’ve got.” Yet, Watergate proved that both Nixon and other politicians are “crooks” at times; thus, many Americans today do not trust Republicans and other politicians in the wake of this beach of faith that began with Richard Nixon some 40 years ago. Photo courtesy Wikipedia