Former president Nixon found himself the target of hundreds of hostile demonstrators who beat on his limousine and drowned out portions of his speech at sedate Oxford University today as he pressed his campaign to take on the role of elder statesman.
Addressing members of the Oxford Union, the university's venerable debating society that regularly plays host to prime ministers and visiting dignitaries, Nixon projected the image of a statesman pleased, he said, to be speaking to "the last generation of the 20th century."
"So long as I have a breath in my body, I am going to talk about the great issues that affect the world," Nixon declared.
But though he was warmly received by the 800 members who had crowded into the Oxford Union's meeting house, Nixon was confronted by crowds of angry demonstrators -- estimated at from 200 to 500 -- both before and after his talk.
"Those outside," he joked to the Union audience, "make me feel very much at home."
A group of students, who banded together to from a "Committee to Resist the Efforts of the Ex-President" -- CREEP -- said they had organized quickly after what they thought was an undeservedly warm reception for Nixon in France two days ago.
"It is an insult to Oxford for him to come here," said CREEP leader Piers Ashworth, "and a lot of us are strongly opposed."
The protesters, many of them Americans, carried signs saying "Nixon bugs me" and "free speech... for every ten wiretaps." One student was draped in several hundred feet of recording tape.
When Nixon's limousine slowed to turn into the narrow street leading to the Union, demonstrators shouted, "Stonewall Nixon," and "Nixon is dead." One student jumped atop the trunk, others banged the car with their sings.
Nixon, sitting alone in the back seat, smiled and waved, until, an egg smashed against the window in front of his face.
The taunting and booing continued as Nixon made his way into the building, and persisted throughout the hour and a half he was there. At times it was so loud it drowned out Nixon's words inside.
At first, the shouting was random, with slow claps and chants such as "two-four-six-eight, who f up with Watergate." It then developed into more of a dialogue with the former president.
When Nixon inside said that "my political life is over; no one can be elected to the office of the president more than twice," a great cheer went up outside.
Similarly, Nixon stated that he would continue to speak out publicly where he thought it useful, "but if I can't help," he finished, "then I'll shut up." Vociferous approbation from outside could be heard through the Union's brick walls and mullioned windows.
Applause inside, however, was equally vigorous at other times and Nixon demonstrated his proven skill at eliciting it.
Answering questions on the proper use of presidential power, Nixon disterrorist ring of the Palestinian Fatah closed that while he was president a organization operating in the United States was broken up by "wiretaps and break-ins" he had authorized by the "much-maligned FBI." incident, which he said took place
He gave no further details of the near the time of the 1972 Munich Olympics, when Palestinian terrorists killed several members of the Israeli team.
In answer to a question about the 1970 invasion of Cambodia, Nixon said he was "doing what Gen. Eisenhower did when he invaded France in 1944 to destroy the German Army... I wish I'd done it sooner."
Watergate was an issue Nixon deftly skirted several times. One time he admitted that he "would not be listened to as much... because of the failures of my administration." Another time he said "I failed to handle a little thing, and that colors everything else."
One questioner asked whether he had a promise of a pardon from Gerald Ford when Nixon chose him for the vice presidency.
"If I had thought for a moment that Gerald Ford would have accepted the job on that condition, I would not have picked him," he said.
"We never discussed it," Nixon said. "He's not that kind of man and neither am I."
One delicate moment came when a student asked whether Nixon agreed that of all the qualities a man in government can possess, honor is the most important. In the sudden, tense silence in the meeting hall, the demonstrators outside were heard, clearly shouting "No more Nixon."
The former president paused, then said quietly, "I believe you are implying Watergate. If not, I will imply it." Many people, he said, "thought I had not handled it properly. They were right. I screwed it up and I paid the price."
Nixon appeared happiest when able to wax over the achievements of his administration, particularly the personal associations with other world leaders.
Frequently he referred to his success in building relationships with the Soviet Union and China.
"I am still anticommunist," he said. I like the Chinese, I like the Russians, I like the Romanians. I just don't like communism."
The audience gave Nixon an enthusiastic, two-minute standing ovation when he ended his visit by stating with passion, "You will be here in the year 2000. If you grow up in a world of peace, I'll take the judgment of history. I'll take a lot of it."
But when Nixon left the union, he again faced the jeers of the crowd outside.
Hundreds of thumbtacks were thrown under his tires and his car was mobbed as cordons of police tried with only partial success to contain about 400 protesters. The helmets of several police officers were knocked off in the scuffle and 10 persons were arrested.