The Nixon tapes: Kissinger under the spotlight


By now it’s pretty much old news that Richard Nixon and Archie Bunker had a lot in common. That said, just as the rantings of an old crank in his favorite chair still have the power to amuse, the raw, unfiltered prejudices of a sitting president still have the power to shock .

In other words, the latest round of Nixon tapes were released recently and, according to the front-page report over the weekend in The New York Times, it isn’t pretty:

In a conversation Feb. 13, 1973, with Charles W. Colson, a senior adviser who had just told Nixon that he had always had “a little prejudice,” Nixon said he was not prejudiced but continued, “I’ve just recognized that, you know, all people have certain traits.”

“The Jews have certain traits,” he said. “The Irish have certain — for example, the Irish can’t drink. What you always have to remember with the Irish is they get mean. Virtually every Irish I’ve known gets mean when he drinks. Particularly the real Irish.”

Nixon continued: “The Italians, of course, those people course don’t have their heads screwed on tight. They are wonderful people, but,” and his voice trailed off.

A moment later, Nixon returned to Jews: “The Jews are just a very aggressive and abrasive and obnoxious personality.”

At another point, in a long and wandering conversation with Rose Mary Woods, his personal secretary, that veered from whom to invite to a state dinner to whether Ms. Woods should get her hair done, Nixon offered sharp skepticism at the views of William P. Rogers, his secretary of state, about the future of black Africans.

“Bill Rogers has got — to his credit it’s a decent feeling — but somewhat sort of a blind spot on the black thing because he’s been in New York,” Nixon said. “He says well, ‘They are coming along, and that after all they are going to strengthen our country in the end because they are strong physically and some of them are smart.’ So forth and so on.

“My own view is I think he’s right if you’re talking in terms of 500 years,” he said. “I think it’s wrong if you’re talking in terms of 50 years. What has to happen is they have be, frankly, inbred. And, you just, that’s the only thing that’s going to do it, Rose.”

The story was headlined: "In Tapes, Nixon Rails About Jews and Blacks."

My first question: Nu, what about the Irish and the Italians? Not only did Nixon disparage them, but the Times didn’t even consider it headline worthy. Talk about a double diss.

Back to the Jews: Nixon’s anti-Semitism is clear but old. And no matter how many tapes are released, they never change what will likely be history’s bottom line: When Israel’s back was up against the wall during the Yom Kippur War, the guy came through.

So, I suspect, this time the most interesting nugget comes not from Nixon but his top foreign policy adviser, Henry Kissinger:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

Now that’s a story — especially coming from a German Jewish refugee who could well have ended up in one of Hitler’s gas chambers.

Not sure if the placement was on purpose, but a few sentences later the Times reports on Nixon’s view that Jews were always trying to prove themselves:

Nixon listed many of his top Jewish advisers — among them, Mr. Kissinger and William Safire, who went on to become a columnist at The New York Times — and argued that they shared a common trait of needing to compensate for an inferiority complex.

“What it is, is it’s the insecurity,” he said. “It’s the latent insecurity. Most Jewish people are insecure. And that’s why they have to prove things.”

Already Menachem Rosensaft, vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, is calling for the Jewish community to come down hard on Kissinger:

Now that Kissinger’s true nature has been exposed, the Jewish community and Jewish institutions must draw the appropriate consequences. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, and the Weizmann Institute should strip him of the honorary doctorates they bestowed on him. Similarly, the American Jewish Committee should demand that he return its American Liberties Medallion, and the ADL should rescind the America’s Democratic Legacy Award with which they honored him.

Sheer intellect, without more, is not enough for statesmanship. Perhaps our fascination with a man whose moral compass turns out to have been non-existent has finally come to an end.

Our own Ron Kampeas is on the story and will be filing a full report.

For now, just a few points:

  1. In early 1973, when Kissinger made the remarks, he and Nixon had reason to worry that the campaign for Soviet Jewry would undermine detente.
  2. At least Kissinger was consistent — he would have said the same about people being slaughtered in any country. In other words, if there is a problem — is it that he wasn’t looking out for the Jews, or that he doesn’t think that fighting genocide is a key U.S. strategic interest?
  3. And then there is Marty Peretz’s argument: Kissinger was burdened with working for an anti-Semitic psychopath, so sometimes he had to say things. (Peretz also credits Kissinger, not Nixon, with sending the arms to Israel, but there is plenty of ammunition for debating that take.)

Here’s Kissinger with Dan Rather at a recent discussion organized by the Israeli Foreign Ministry about Yitzhak Rabin:

UPDATE: Tablet’s Marc Tracy interviews the Forward’s Gal Beckerman, author of "When They Come For Us, We’ll Be Gone," a new, definitive history of the Soviet Jewry  movement:

But back to Kissinger. His duplicity regarding Jackson-Vanik, Beckerman told me, would come to involve hiding a secret letter in which the Soviets backed off from a deal under which they would be waived from Jackson-Vanik in exchange for allowing 60,000 Jews to emigrate. (The jig was up only when the Soviets angrily printed the letter in one of their newspapers.) “To give credit to his political philosophy,” Beckerman said, “Kissinger thought that by not dealing with these moral issues but trying to create a more stable world, everyone would benefit. And that’s what Nixon is saying in his retort to Meir.”

But that is about all the credit Beckerman, who a few years ago published an excellent review about the history and psychology behind Kissinger’s views, can muster. “If anybody was going to understand!” he told me. “Kissinger got out in the ‘30s, and then he went back with the Army after the war to be part of the occupation. When he’s talking about gas chambers, it’s not an abstract concept. He lost family.”

“The amazing part about that quote,” Beckerman added, “is the word ‘maybe.’ It’s ‘maybe a humanitarian concern.’”

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