L.A. Times-As President Richard Nixon was negotiating an end to U.S. military involvement in Vietnam in January 1973, he faced a political obstacle: The South Vietnamese president was reluctant to sign a proposed peace treaty that he feared would doom his government, leaving it vulnerable to communist takeover.
Nixon’s response was to threaten President Nguyen Van Thieu with a halt to the U.S. aid on which South Vietnam depended. The support of U.S. congressional leaders would hinge on Thieu initialing the agreement immediately, Nixon instructed diplomat Henry Kissinger to tell Thieu.
“Is that going too far?” Nixon asked Kissinger on Jan. 20, 1973. “In other words, I don’t know whether the threat goes too far or not, but I’d do any damn thing, that is, or to cut off his head if necessary.”
The conversation between Nixon and Kissinger is part of 154 hours of Nixon tapes released this morning by the National Archives and Records Administration, along with thousands of archival documents. Nixon’s voice in the tapes is often a mumble with an occasional burst of profanity breaking through.
The tapes reflect secretly recorded conversations between Nixon and his associates during January and February 1973. During that period, Nixon was working to negotiate an end to the Vietnam War and contending with the aftermath of the Watergate break-in that would drive him from office the following year.
Nixon also discusses the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, Roe versus Wade, and its effect on the America family.
Tuesday’s release marks the third release of Nixon tapes since the National Archives assumed control of the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda two years ago, and the 13th release since 1980. This brings the total number of publicly available tapes from the Nixon White House to 2,371 hours. There are still 700 hours of material that the National Archives is processing, and expects to release in coming years.
Even as Nixon was contending with decisions of historic consequence in early 1973, the tapes reveal, he was seeking ways to shore up the Republican Party. On Feb. 23, 1973, he placed a call to George H.W. Bush, then the Republican National Committee chairman.
The call was “nothing of great importance,” Nixon said, but he wanted to inform Bush of what he witnessed during his recent visit to the South Carolina state legislature.
“I noticed a couple of very attractive women, both of them Republicans, in the legislature,” Nixon tells Bush. “I want you to be sure to emphasize to our people, God, let’s look for some… Understand, I don’t do it because I’m for women, but I’m doing it because I think maybe a woman might win someplace where a man might not… So have you got that in mind?”
“I’ll certainly keep it in mind,” Bush replies.
“Boy, they were good lookin’ and bright,” Nixon continues. And he had been informed, further, that “they’re two of the best members of the House.”
“Well, that’s terrific,” Bush says.
— Christopher Goffard