excerpted from the book
Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia
by William Shawcross
Simon and Schuster, 1979
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'
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
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
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."