2013 Brunch Sampler: Barrie Dunsmore
My story is nearly fifty years old. Yet as important as it was, it had become lost to history. All of the principals are dead. And historians of that period have made no mention of what - had it become known at the time - would have had a stunning impact.
However, just a few weeks ago, what was lost to nearly all of us has been found - although almost incredibly it got so little news coverage that most people, including yours truly, missed it.
Just five days before the 1968 presidential election, President Lyndon Johnson went on television to announce that the North Vietnamese had made concessions at the Paris Peace talks that could end the Vietnam War almost immediately. However hours later, the South Vietnamese said no to that compromise. That much we knew.
There have been rumors and whispers about what might have happened - but we did not actually know why Saigon said no.
Now we do, with as much certainty we will ever have - thanks to tapes and transcripts of Johnson’s telephone and office conversations for the year 1968, newly released by the Johnson Presidential Library.
In one conversation, Johnson is told by then Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford that the FBI has secret wire taps in which Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon’s designated emissary Anna Chennault, tells the South Vietnamese not to accept the latest proposals. She urges them to wait until Nixon is elected when they will get a better deal.
Johnson is outraged. He tells Senate Republican leader Everett Dirksen, “This is treason.” Johnson also advises Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey. But - no one goes public. In 1968 America was already in turmoil over the Kennedy and King assassinations and the wide spread anti-war riots. A revelation of this magnitude, on election eve, based on illegal wiretaps, could have been calamitous.
And so, Nixon would win the presidency by less than 1% of the popular vote. The war would go one for five more years and 22,000 more Americans troops would die.