The Outrage

excerpted from the book


Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia

by William Shawcross

Simon and Schuster, 1979

The Outrage


COSVN was never discovered. The American troops plowed past its supposed site in the Fish Hook and through the plantations and villages beyond. Commanders were astonished by the lack of opposition as their tanks smashed jagged swathes through the trees and as landing zones for helicopters were blasted clear. Communist troops were hardly to be seen.

The small town of Snuol became the first of scores of Cambodian towns to be destroyed by the war. Until the second squadron of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment arrived at its outskirts on May 3, about two thousand people had lived quietly there, tapping rubber on the trees around. When the cavalry came under fire, their commander, Lieutenant Colonel Grail Brookshire, ordered his tank crews to fire their 90-mm. guns straight into the town and called in airstrikes to discourage further resistance. After twenty-four hours of bombardment, Brookshire judged Snuol safe for his men, and the tanks moved into the center. Only seven bodies could be seen, four of them Cambodian civilians. A small girl lay near the ruins of shops. When Brookshire was asked by reporters why the town had to be destroyed, he replied "We had no choice. We had to take it. This was a hub of North Vietnamese activity."

As they drove past shattered shops soldiers leaped off their tanks to kick down doors that still stood, and they looted the town. Grail Brookshire later recalled the event, laughingly describing himself as "The Butcher of Snuol." But he admonished a reporter, "You guys said my men systematically looted the town. My God, my men couldn't do anything that was systematic."

The destruction of Snuol was repeated in Mimot, a much larger plantation town, the village of Sre Khtum, and dozens of villages and hamlets. The annual monsoon rains turned the red clay to clinging mud, but American and South Vietnamese troops advanced, firing and burning whatever might be of use to a returning enemy, capturing caches of rice, ammunition and arms, driving the residents, Vietnamese and Cambodian, before them. The Americans found it almost impossible to separate friend from foe, and the South Vietnamese made no effort to do so. They plunged into Cambodia raping, looting, burning in retaliation for the murder of Vietnamese in Cambodia the month before. Their behavior persuaded many of those Vietnamese who still lived there that it would not be wise of them to stay, and during the first two weeks of the invasion about fifty thousand of them fled, to sit listlessly under tents in the overcrowded refugee camps of South Vietnam. "We cannot possibly accommodate them," said South Vietnam's Minister for Refugees. Soon the numbers had doubled.

The pattern of the next five years in Cambodian history could be detected in the weeks that followed the invasion. Relationships and attitudes that if not destructive in themselves, were very destructive in combination, were formed almost at once.

On the ground the invasion pushed the battlefields farther westward into the heavily populated villages and rice fields around and beyond the Mekong river. The Lon Nol government proved itself unable to defend the country, and it entered into a dependence upon foreign aid that would eventually choke it. In Peking, Sihanouk was now encouraged by his new sponsors to form a government in exile containing a preponderance of his recent enemies from the Khmer Rouge. In Washington the manner of the invasion-its secrecy and Nixon's rhetoric-excited widespread protest, locked the White House into support of its aims, tended to exclude State and Pentagon more than ever, and pushed the Congress into unprecedented opposition. It was now that Nixon's misapprehensions about government were to have their most destructive impact, at home and abroad, both publicly and in secret.

The morning after the invasion, before its full impact on America was clear, Nixon drove with Kissinger across the Potomac for a briefing at the Pentagon. His remarks in the corridor about "bums blowing up campuses," and "get rid of this war, there'll be another one," were published, and they fired the rage that was beginning to spread among students everywhere. His conduct inside the briefing was even more alarming. The Joint Chiefs were there, as was the Secretary of Defense; they had assembled to inform the Commander in Chief of the progress of the operation. To their consternation, Nixon did not seem interested. Agitated, he cut the briefing short and began an emotional harangue, using what one of those present calls "locker-room language." He repeated over and over again that he was, "going to clean up those sanctuaries," and he declared, "You have to electrify people with bold decisions. Bold decisions make history. Like Teddy Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill-a small event but traumatic, and people took notice." General Westmoreland tried to warn him that the sanctuaries could not really be cleaned up; within a month the monsoon would make the area impassable. (Laird later thanked Westmoreland for trying to introduce a note of realism.) Nixon was unimpressed and threatened to withdraw resources from Europe if they were needed in Indochina. "Let's go blow the hell out of them," he shouted, while the Chiefs, Laird and Kissinger sat mute with embarrassment and concern.

From all over the country Senator George McGovern received about $100,000 in contributions to buy television time to reply to Nixon. And, in Vietnam, Major Hal Knight, who was still burning the true records of the continuing Menu missions, was appalled at the President's assertion that until now the United States had respected Cambodia's neutrality. The invasion and its aftermath increased his disillusionment with the Army and later led to his decision to resign and eventually to reveal the Menu story. For Robert Drinan, a Jesuit priest running for the House of Representatives in the Fourth District of Massachusetts, the invasion was an enormous boon: ''It turned the district around," he said. He won the seat, and when Knight testified before Congress about Menu in July 1973, it was Drinan who, to the consternation of his more cautious colleagues, asserted that the President had been waging an illegal war and introduced an early motion to impeach.

After the invasion a third of American colleges and universities closed or were disrupted as the rejuvenated Vietnam Moratorium Committee called for "immediate massive protests." The President reacted belligerently in both public and private. He assured his staff that the fact that few enemy had been found was not important; it was the infrastructure of the sanctuaries that he was after. His language was crude: "It takes ten months to build up this complex and we're tearing the living bejeesus out of it. Anything that walked is gone after that barrage and the B-52 raids." He abused members of Congress who criticized the invasion, and he declared, "Don't worry about divisiveness. Having drawn the sword, don't take it out-stick it in hard . . . Hit 'em in the gut. No defensiveness. "

On many campuses the Reserve Officers Training Corps buildings were attacked or sacked. One, Kent State in Ohio, already had a connection with Cambodia: Sihanouk had once been given a fine welcome there by students who listened, raptly, to his denunciations of the American press. Afterward the Prince wrote that "My short stay at Kent somewhat consoled me for all the disappointments we have had with America and the Americans." Now Kent and Cambodia were to be forever linked. After the ROTC building was burned, Governor James Rhodes, taking his cue from Nixon and Agnew, declared that he would "eradicate" rioters and demonstrators there-"They're worse than the Brown Shirts and the Communist element and also the nightriders and the vigilantes. They're the worst type of people we have in America." The next day the National Guard that he had ordered onto the campus turned and, in a volley, shot fifteen students, four of them dead.

The White House reaction to the killings was that they were predictable. So was the response. Over the next few days between 75,000 and 100,000 protestants converged on Washington. Buses were drawn up all around the White House, and Alexander Haig told one journalist that troops had been secretly brought into the basement in case they were needed to repel invasion. It was a trying time. When Walter Hickel, Secretary of the Interior, warned Nixon (in a letter that was leaked to the press) that history showed that "youth in its protest must be heard," he was fired. But Nixon did seem to realize, for a time, that concessions must be made.

The most important-which made nonsense of any military rationale for the invasion-was to declare that United States troops would penetrate only twenty-one miles into Cambodia and would be withdrawn by June 30. Then on May 8 the President gave a rather low-key press conference at which he identified his goals with those of the students. During that night he made over fifty telephone calls, including eight to Kissinger, seven to Haldeman, and one each to Norman Vincent Peale and Billy Graham. After one hour's sleep he started playing Rachmaninoff's First Piano Concerto and then at 5 A.M. on May 9 took his Cuban valet, Manolo Sanchez, to talk to students who were holding vigil at the Lincoln Memorial. It was a stilted encounter. Nixon tried to assure them that he and they were really fired by the same purposes, talking to them about surfing, football and the way travel could broaden minds. Egil Krogh, an aide to Presidential assistant John Ehrlichman, followed Nixon to the Memorial and was deeply moved by the episode. This, he felt, was a President for whom he would do almost anything. Nixon himself had fewer illusions. When he finally got back to the White House after a detour to the House of Representatives, where he had his valet deliver a speech to the empty chamber, he said, "I doubt if that got over." Indeed, his soft approach soon wore thin. A few days later, as he leafed through photographs of two more students shot dead protesting the invasion at black Jackson State College in Mississippi, he asked its black president, "Look, what are we going to do to get more respect for the police from our young people?"

Kissinger later confided that Nixon was on the edge of a nervous breakdown in May 1970. According to Nixon, Kissinger also had doubts about the "incursion" after Kent State. Nixon says he reminded Kissinger of Lot's wife: "I said Henry, we've done it. Never look back." In public Kissinger took the advice. This was a trying moment, but it was one that required firmness. ''They'd driven one President from office," he later remarked. "They'd broken Johnson's will. Were they trying to break another President?" Whether Kissinger thought this was the real problem, he realized, according to Nixon's speechwriter, William Safire, that the invasion offered him perhaps a unique opportunity, in Safire's words, for "winning on another front: the battle between his National Security Council and William Rogers' State Department."

As far as the White House was concerned, Rogers had not distinguished himself by his advice or attitude before the invasion; Melvin Laird had done little better. Laird issued public denials of the reported rift between him and the White House on the invasion. But within the circle of his own staff he expressed his dismay. At one of his daily Vietnamization meetings he complained that he had been led to understand that the invasion of the Fish Hook would be principally a South Vietnamese effort. In fact, there were now 12,000 American and only 6,000 Vietnamese troops there. He was concerned that Kissinger was running WASSAG without proper consultation with his office.

On May 2, the White House learned that William Beecher, of The New York Times, had still another story that the President did not wish to see published. He was about to reveal that just before the invasion Nixon had resumed the bombing of North Vietnam. Kissinger made several calls to New York Times editors to pressure them into dropping the story. He failed. Alexander Haig called Robert Haynes, the FBI agent who had brought over previous transcripts of taps for Kissinger and Nixon to read. According to an FBI memo, Haig said the new leak had been "nailed down to a couple of people," but he asked for four taps, on "the highest authority"-that is, the President himself. Among them, for the first time, was William Beecher. Haig also asked for a tap on William Sullivan, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Asian Affairs, and that the tap on Laird's military assistant, Colonel Robert Pursley, which had first been placed in May 1969, then lifted, be replaced. And it was now that Richard Pedersen, Rogers' assistant, was tapped. For the first time, Haig asked that office as well as home telephones be tapped.

Pursley's tap, and Pedersen's, can have had little to do with plugging leaks. Pedersen had, on White House orders, been cut off from all information regarding Cambodia since mid-April. When he obtained his file from the FBI Pedersen says he was convinced that the White House's purpose was to catch him or his superior, William Rogers, in an indiscretion or criticism of the President's policy that could be used against them. It could apply to Pursley and Laird as well. William Safire has pointed out that the two taps "enabled Kissinger to preview the opinions of their bosses, Laird and Rogers. This gave Henry a bureaucratic advantage, to say the least." (On May 12 Haig again called the FBI and said Kissinger wanted two more taps-on Tony Lake, who had submitted his resignation to the National Security Council, and Winston Lord, Kissinger's loyal Special Assistant. The taps were installed, but from now on the FBI summaries were sent to Haldeman.)

Rogers' misgivings about the invasion were reflected in the ranks of the State Department, where virtually no one knew what was happening in Cambodia. Two hundred and fifty foreign-service officers signed a petition of protest, and sent it to Rogers. The story leaked to The New York Times, and Clark Mollenhoff, a reporter from the Des Moines Register, who had become, for a time, a diligent Nixon aide, called Pedersen to demand that the list of signatories be sent over to the White House. Although he was angered by the demonstration, Rogers refused; he knew the effect this would have on the careers of those involved.

Within a few days of the invasion, columnists and diplomatic correspondents were speculating on the division between the White House and Rogers. Kissinger complained to Safire that the foreign-service establishment was taking advantage of Rogers' vanity to circulate the story that his reasonableness toward Hanoi was being overruled. Kissinger himself saw clearly that his duty lay in giving the fullest support possible to the President in his hour of need. "We are all the President's men," he repeated, "and we must act accordingly." His loyalty and the fervor with which he tried to rally morale was, for his colleagues, very moving. "Henry was a fighter, a real inspiring leader," John Ehrlichman later recalled.

Inevitably, there was a price to be paid; total loyalty to the President on this issue was not compatible with the intimate relationship that Kissinger had hoped to maintain, and till now had largely succeeded at, with his liberal friends at Harvard. On May 8 a group of them, led by Thomas Schelling, descended upon him. (They discovered, to their embarrassment, that Kissinger had provided them all lunch at his expense; it was not a very convivial occasion.) Schelling began by saying he should explain who they were.

Kissinger interrupted, "I know who you are . . . you're all good friends from Harvard University."

"No," said Schelling, "we're a group of people who have completely lost confidence in the ability of the White House to conduct our foreign policy, and we have come to tell you so. We are no longer at your disposal as personal advisers."

Each of the men around the table-among them, Richard Neustadt, author of Presidential Power; Adam Yarmolinsky, Professor of Law and adviser to both Kennedy and Johnson; Francis Bator, who had worked on Johnson's National Security Staff-put his objections to Kissinger. They pointed out that the invasion could be used by anyone else in the world as a precedent for invading another country in order, for example, to clear out terrorists. Schelling told him, "As we see it there are two possibilities. Either, one, the President didn't understand when he went into Cambodia that he was invading another country; or, two, he did understand. We just don't know which one is scarier." Kissinger said he thought he could persuade them all was well if he could talk to them off the record. They refused to be drawn in; they shook hands and left.

Others of his friends suggested that Kissinger should resign, as his aides, Lake, Morris, Watts and Larry Lynn had done, but he brushed aside all such demands. "Suppose I went in and told the President I was resigning," he was reported as saying. "He could have a heart attack and you'd have Spiro Agnew as President. Do you want that? No? So don't keep telling me to resign."

In fact, though the public and the private denunciations of his former colleagues and the criticism of the "Eastern establishment," together with the defection of the "liberals" on his staff, may have been personally painful to Kissinger, professionally they were useful. If he had, as he sometimes claimed, been concerned to demonstrate to men like Mitchell, Rebozo, Haldeman and Ehrlichman that his loyalty, as well as his intellect, had been transferred with other baggage from Harvard to the White House, it was the invasion of Cambodia that enabled him to do so. This was, from the start, the President's battlefield and his chief foreign-policy adviser never discouraged him. To judge by the interest he subsequently showed in Cambodia, Kissinger did not share Nixon's enthusiasm for this new theater of war. But his unstinting support during the invasion and willing participation in decisions that were made from April 1970 on helped to ensure the final eclipse of William Rogers. As the war spread through Cambodia, Henry Kissinger's control over policy was underwritten.

Tom Charles Huston, a former Army Intelligence officer, was something of an intellectual in the Nixon White House, and his ambition, according to John Dean, was "to become the domestic equivalent of Henry Kissinger." Huston served on the White House's Internal Security Committee, which kept in touch with the police on demonstrations. He kept a scrambler telephone locked in his safe, and he studied Communism. Detente, however, was of little interest to Huston. Since the summer of 1969, at John Ehrlichman's request, he had been examining the role of foreign Communists in United States campus disorders.

To his disgust, neither the CIA nor the FBI had been able to discover such links. Huston was sure that this was because of the pusillanimity with which they approached the task-even J. Edgar Hoover was now reluctant to allow FBI "black bag jobs" and wiretaps without specific authorization from the Attorney General, and he refused absolutely to cooperate with the CIA. Huston was placed in charge of internal security affairs in the White House, and in April 1970 he persuaded Haldeman that the President must order the country's intelligence chiefs to draw up a coordinated plan for gathering intelligence on domestic dissidents. The meeting, fixed for early May, was postponed by the howls of anger that greeted the invasion.

His task, Huston later testified, became "even more important" after the invasion and Kent State. H. R. Haldeman later confirmed this, saying that "Kent State marked a turning point for Nixon, a beginning of his downhill slide toward Watergate." The protests over the invasion demonstrated as nothing else had ever done, Huston said, the need for controls upon, and information about, American protest. "We were sitting in the White House getting reports day in and day out of what was happening in the country in terms of the violence, the number of bombings, the assassination attempts, the sniping incidents-40,000 bombings, for example, in the month of May . . ." (sic).

The session Huston had suggested took place on June 5. Nixon met with Hoover, CIA Director Richard Helms, Vice-Admiral Noel Gaylor (Director of the National Security Agency), General Donald Bennett (Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency), and Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Huston. He showed no trace of the publicly conciliatory President who had tried to identify himself with the aims of the protestants. Speaking from a paper prepared by Huston, Nixon asserted that "hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Americans-mostly under thirty-are determined to destroy our society." They were "reaching out for the support-ideological and otherwise-of foreign powers." He complained about the quality of the intelligence that had so far been gathered, and appointed Hoover chairman of a new Inter Agency Committee on Intelligence. It was to have a staff working group, which would write a report on how better information could be gathered.

Hoover made his objections to the intrusion by Huston, "a hippie intellectual," very clear; but, goaded on by Huston, the working group did produce recommendations for the removal of almost all restraints on intelligence gathering. Many of its suggestions involved breaking the law. The other agency directors did not object, but when Hoover saw the more extreme options, he refused to sign the report unless his objections were typed onto each page as footnotes. This infuriated his colleagues, but eventually, to Huston's relief, they all signed the document and he carried it back to the White House.

Huston had a few good days. He informed Richard Helms that from now on everything to do with domestic intelligence and internal security was to be sent to his own "exclusive attention" in the White House, adding "Dr. Kissinger is aware of this new procedure." He then selected the most radical options in the ad-hoc committee's report and recommended their implementation to the President. "The Huston Plan," which Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina, Chairman of the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, later described as evidence of a ''Gestapo mentality," suggested that the intelligence community, with the authority of the President, should now be allowed to intercept and transcribe any international communication; read the mail; burgle homes; eavesdrop in any way on anyone considered a "threat to the internal security"; spy on student groups. Huston admitted to Nixon that "Covert [mail] coverage is illegal and there are serious risks involved" and that use of surreptitious entry "is clearly illegal; it amounts to burglary. It is also highly risky and could result in great embarrassment if exposed." But in both cases, he assured the President that the advantages outweighed the risks.

Nixon approved the plan, and though Hoover quickly managed to have it rescinded, the fact of the President's blessing was to be a key cause of his fall. The discovery of the plan in the summer of 1973 helped enormously to build such Congressional outrage that the legislature was finally able to force the White House to end the massive bombing of Cambodia, which was just beginning to spread as Huston formulated his proposals in summer 1970. It would become a crucial part of the impeachment proceedings. When, much later, Nixon was asked by David Frost to justify his action he blandly produced a new version of Presidential infallibility: "Well, when the President does it, that means that it is not illegal."

Huston's rationalization resembled the reasons Henry Kissinger gave for the need to prolong the war as long as he thought it necessary to allow him to claim an "honorable" withdrawal. Huston thought of himself as a conservative but, as did Kissinger, he professed that the real threat to the United States was the rise of the reactionary right, and that the New Left would provoke every repressive demagogue in the United States. He argued that he and the intelligence community were protecting the country from its worst enemy, the far right, by "monitoring" its second-worst enemy, the New Left. As the Church committee put it, to Huston the plan was justified because it "would halt repression on the Right by stopping violence on the Left."

After Huston's ambition "to become the domestic equivalent of Henry Kissinger" was thwarted, he came to realize that he had been wrong. He now believes that the sanctions of criminal law are a more appropriate response to the threat of violence than unrestrained, illegal intelligence gathering, and he dismissed the right-wing backlash argument as specious. Henry Kissinger's attitude did not change. Long after the war ended he still called up the fear of the right not only to justify his decisions but also to refuse further discussion of Indochina. "The time has come to end the Vietnam War debate," he said on one occasion in 1977. "It could backfire, you know. If it continues, sooner or later the right wing will be heard from, too. And then we could have a very nasty controversy."


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