Three of the most powerful photographs in our country’s history are the product of our war in Vietnam: the 1968 Eddie Adams photo showing the the curbside execution of Nguyễn Văn Lém in Saigon; Nick Ut’s 1972 photo of nine-year-old Kim Phuc aflame from American napalm; and John Filo’s 1970 photo of the young runaway Mary Vecchio screaming over the body of Jeffrey Miller at Kent State.

Today is the 42nd anniversary of the shootings at Kent State. Someone asked me if I have any reflections. Nothing that can’t be called banal, really. The protests never affected my conduct of the war; neither did the deaths of those kids.

I suppose that’s my reflection: there wasn’t enough blood to change anything. There were too many sides. You can’t stop a war without a revolution.

Authority cannot abide disrespect; it reminds us of how tenuous the established order is. We authorize our agents to do what they have to do; the authorities rely on the citizens at home to disapprove of the ones on the street. It’s easier when we don’t have to kill the ones on the street to keep them under control.

Maybe that’s the real legacy of Kent State—the decision to develop weapons and tactics to control crowds without killing them. Militarized police. Nobody wants to call in the Guard, it’s an admission of having lost control. I suppose it’s instructive in terms of prefiguring the scale of protest required to change things these days.

I don’t know. I’m tired. If you think at all, eventually you think too much.

Mary Ann Vecchio, Kent State, 5/4/1970 Copyright John Filo


AP Eddie Adams Saigon Execution


AP Nick Ut || Kim Phúc and other children fleeing a napalm attack

  1. Foole says:

    I wonder where Mary Ann Vecchio is now? I suspect she won’t be voting for you even if you do get registered to vote and onto the ballot. The question is, is she voting at all?

    • Richard Nixon says:

      She’s around. She spoke at the 40th anniversary memorial in 2010. Living in Vegas, from what I understand. I don’t know whether or not she would vote for me this time around. Probably not, but it wasn’t me who called out the guard; it was Jim Rhodes. Almost picked him as my running mate. Wonder what that would have changed.

  2. Nick Stone says:

    You would have been the one who shipped me off to Vietnam, in theory, although in reality you would have merely been responsible for my becoming a resident of Canada, and in fact I received CO status, so I ended up with a nice safe ringside seat to your descent into…. I don’t know; was it madness? Perhaps that gives you too much credit, a Shakespearean wannabe, you didn’t quite make the grade, maybe? Anyway, your, uh, resurrection, has caused me a great deal of consternation, to say the least. I really hated you, you were EVIL. I hated Bush junior too, for a while, (I am getting too old to hang onto hate really well now, but that’s another story), but he was/is just a brain damaged alcoholic/addict with Daddy problems; you, you were the real deal. And here you are, after having properly died, representing the best hope for a better 21st century! I don’t know how to deal with this on an emotional/psychological level. My intuition says you are the man, so you have my vote, sir, but I worry, am I going to Hell for this? How do I know this isn’t your biggest TRICK of all?

    • Richard Nixon says:

      The raw materials were there—great man, tragic flaw, trying times—but in the end all that happened was that I lost my job and had to leave town (and screwed John Connally out of his shot at the White House). My wife and children still loved me; I had the respect and admiration of great men; I had many loyal defenders, some of whom stand by me to this day; I made more money and lived more comfortably than when I was between government positions, and without the pressures.

      In other words, I came back. Nixon comes back. That’s not something you see in Shakespeare, at least not in the tragedies, not with a character as central as I. History judges me ever more kindly.

      I proved Fitzgerald wrong to boot. There are second acts in America, if your liver survives the first. Not necessarily the best thing for the country but I proved it.

      I’m not a psychiatrist but I’m sure I never went mad. I made some errors in judgement, I misunderstood some things, I drank too much for a while and for a while I became very sad and small. I got over it. There were incidents of the sort you don’t want to dwell on, most anyone who drinks too much for a time can tell you stories. Mine were only different because of who and where I was.

      I knew George Bush quite well, of course, but I never knew his son. I’m told he was a mean drunk wet or dry. I don’t expect to see or hear much more of him. My impression is that however many more days he lives, most of them won’t be very good. Not that he won’t be happy, just that he won’t be fit for display.

      Hell is very similar to Los Angeles. Your experience is considerably dependent on where you settle. You sound like a smart fellow. I wouldn’t worry about it even if a vote for me turns out not to be divine. I’m glad you lived through my time.

      Speaking generally, and without authority, I think genuine evil is hard to come by. Your sociopaths, or however they’re called, because they’re unplugged and no one matters in the abstract. That wasn’t me.

  3. Foole says:

    Speaking of Hell,have you looked up Henry the K since you’ve been back? He’s getting a little long in the tooth, but he’s still active. He must be enjoying the attacks on Pakistani soil by American drones. Takes a little of the heat off for the illegal bombings in Cambodia, don’t you think?

    • Richard Nixon says:

      Henry was a backstabbing, grandstanding little weasel and it is a source of constant regret to me that he survived (politically) my administration. Always good for a conscience-free reading of events, though.

      I didn’t think the bombings were illegal then—if the president does it and so on—and now I think legality has no bearing on legitimacy. Just because Congress approves one set of killings and not another doesn’t make one right and the other wrong either of them right.

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