In "Six Crises," Richard Nixon's 1962 book of 459 self-serving pages, the news is supplied that in fact there had been a "seventh major crisis of my life." Students of Nixon lore will remember it. The seventh crisis was writing the book about the first six. Number seven, said Nixon the author, was "by far the most difficult [crisis] from the standpoint of the mental discipline involved."
Another book crisis has arrived: "No More Vietnams." The mental discipline that was difficult for Nixon in 1962 is still too much for him. "No More Vietnams" shows a spleen at work, not a mind. Nixon is venting, not writing. Old scores, which never age too much for Nixon, are settled. Platitudes are presented as the wisdom of the elder statesman.
Nixon's passion for slipperiness starts with the dedication: "To those who served." Such tenderness for the Vietnam veterans from the former commander-in-chief sends the reader searching for Nixon's views on how those veterans have been treated by the politicians who ordered them to war. Nixon doesn't squander a syllable on the veterans: not a word on Agent Orange victims, nothing on the 10- year effort by psychologically wounded veterans to get money from Congress for counseling and readjustment centers, and silence on the silence of the war makers who abandoned the many veterans who still suffer the aftershocks of Vietnam.
Nixon does have one reference to a soldier. He reminisces how during Christmas holidays each year he would phone the families of the slain. "I vividly recall a conversation I had shortly before Christmas in 1971 with a widow whose only son had been killed in action. I could sense a loneliness and sadness in her voice and was deeply moved when she told me at the end of our talk that she went to mass every day and always said a rosary for me and my family."
Nixon must have thought it fitting that the widows were praying for him. It was his psychological wounds, not those of the veterans, that he talks about: "What distinguished the war in Vietnam was the trauma we suffered on the home front. . . . It turned senators and congressmen who had been my friends for over 20 years into bitter adversaries when I was President."
Shunning was one pain. The media were another. The war "turned many in the news media who previously prided themselves on being objective into viciously biased critics of the American war effort. . . . Reporters considered it their duty to try to oppose government policy by whatever means were available. The Vietnam War started the tradition of 'adversary journalism' that still poisons our national political climate today."
Such outbursts display an obsessed streetfighter with a mouth frothing at life itself. Actually, Nixon is not much of a fighter at all, only a blind puncher who rarely connects. On the media, he is too intellectually lazy to take the time to write a chapter on their failures and successes in Vietnam that offers precise criticisms about specific articles and reporters. He had an opportunity to add something new. Nixon lazily let it pass. To reform the media, insights are needed, not insults.
Such an expectation may be beyond Nixon's character. The media are only a few of those who take a zapping. At the top of the list is Ho Chi Minh: "A brilliant fraud who spent his life pretending to be exactly the opposite of what he really was." That, from Nixon. He blames -- still again -- the peace movement for prolonging the war.
Congress may be the worst of all. It has damaged America by passing the War Powers Act, because now, according to Nixon, it is "impossible for a President to act swiftly and secretly in a crisis." The shame of Congress is that it won't allow a president to be a king or a dictator.
Nixon laments the Foreign Assistance Act, with its niggling human- rights requirements for governments that take American aid. The Boland Amendment of 1982 led the way to "the disastrous" decision by Congress to cut off money to the Nicaraguan contras.
To Nixon, these laws are so much wimpishness. They prevent the kind of killing that real men and real presidents should be left to do: "These measures require a president to wage war under Marquis of Queensbury rules in a world where good manners are potentially fatal hindrances."
"No More Vietnams" is a call for no more laws, no more media, no more peace movement. The book has one asset: an alert to the nation that it needs no more Nixons.