by Rick Bretz
“The Gate of Hell has opened and shrapnel came through the windows,” a Gaza resident said today. The Gaza resident’s statement could apply to any war throughout history. One hard truth remains: Once the gate of hell opens it is difficult to close.
When people can’t settle their differences through diplomacy, civilians inevitably see the failed results at their front door step. History has proven that leaders and generals believe adversaries surrender when spears and arrows find their way to a civilian’s living space. News channel broadcasters describe horrific tragedies from current events daily. It happened in Persian Gulf and Afghanistan Wars, the Vietnam War, Korean War, World War II, World War I all the way back to the first earthly disagreement over territorial rights.
It’s happening now in the Ukraine and in the Middle East while Hamas and Israel fire rockets at each other. For most non-combatant civilians, it doesn’t matter who is right or wrong. Some civilians even pick a side until they see at what a cause costs. What matters then is the smell of death has entered their universe and they want it to stop.
July 21st marks the anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas or the First Battle of Bull Run as the Union Government called it. The battle marked the first major fight between the Armies of Virginia. If there is one truth other than death inside the universe of battle and that is the fight will always involve civilians on the battlefield. Such is the case at the Battle of First Manassas or Bull Run depending on your loyalties during the Civil War. The Confederates refer to the battle as Manassas while the Union called it Bull Run. The signs leading to the battlefield today read “Manassas” as you travel down Interstate 66 in Virginia just outside Clifton and Centreville, Va.
A key part of the Manassas battle occurred on Henry Hill around the Henry House. Judith Carter Henry, 84 or 85 years old, stubbornly refused to leave her upstairs bedroom while the battle continued around her house. Judith Henry was killed by a Union cannon shell meant for the snipers who were using her house. She was the first civilian killed at First Battle of Manassas, July 21, 1861. The house had been in the family for a number of years and grave markers remain on the battlefield in front of the house rebuilt in1870.
The battlefield is a place where you can get a sense of the “Universe of Battle.” This is where armies and governments from both sides may have formulated the idea that this war would be over later than sooner as General Tecumseh Sherman predicted at the beginning. Another dynamic general, General Thomas Jackson got his name that would go down in history when General Bernard Bee yelled, “There is Jackson standing there like a stone wall.” So it was General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson as the name remained throughout history. Some accounts have claimed that the statement was meant as a criticism of Jackson’s refusal to move and help his fellow units. However, history proves that Jackson’s unit suffered many casualties during the battle.
When walking most battlefields including this one, the observer gets the sense that communication must have been difficult. They used flag signal codes and runners for communication. Command and control as well as integrating battle elements such as cannon units, cavalry and infantry must have been difficult. Today’s satellite communications and almost instant intelligence data from the field gives today’s commanders more time to make decisions.
The phrase “Universe of Battle” suggests different meanings to a person’s point of view. It can represent the horrors of war invading a civilian’s universe as in the case of the recent downing of Malaysian Flight MH17 or the conflicts in the Middle East between Hamas and the Israeli defense forces.
The universe of battle could also mean the particular space you’re living in when fighting in a battle. The kind of universe where all your senses reach a new level from hearing every audio wave, and smelling the cannon’s gunpowder to seeing the blood on wounded soldiers and civilians. It’s a bubble atmosphere until it’s all over.
I choose to visit battlefields to honor those who find themselves, through the accidental fate or personal choice, in a situation where they have to fight or die for a cause, defense of a country, for the elimination of a social system, for a particular religion or for the continuance of mankind’s maturity. Maybe there will be a time when people will cease creating new battlefield parks. Imagine.
by Rick Bretz
A trip to Vermont can provide an opportunity to remove oneself from all that prevents peace and relaxation. While travelling the highways, back roads, and by ways of the state, you can witness the vivid green mountain ranges as well as see up close the covered bridges that connect roads over valleys and waterways. Using a thoroughly modern piece of machinery, the automobile, to find architectural skill that benefited the horse and buggy rider sometimes requires compromise. For almost all bridges, there is room for only one car to cross at a time so diplomacy is required. “You go first, then it’s my turn.”
The covered bridge lives in many states across America but it also can be found in many countries such as Germany, China, Switzerland and Turkey. Covered bridges have an architecture all their own and can vary is types. color and size.
Construction workers and engineers built the first covered bridge in Pennsylvania over the Schuylkill River in 1800. Pennsylvania has its share of covered bridges, more than 200 spreading out across the state. However, Vermont has its share and the count comes in at just over a 100. The state has the highest number of covered bridges per square mile than any other state.
The covered bridge was engineered for a couple of reasons. The primary requirement was to protect the bridge from the weather by enclosing it on its sides and with a roof. Experts in the field of Covered Bridge-worthiness say that an authentic covered bridge is built with trusses. Vermont law now protects covered bridges and none can be torn down without approval from the governor and the Board of Historic Sites. A covered bridge can extend the life of bridge well past the 10 or 15 years a wooden bridge can last without the cover and enclosure walls.
Many states can boast covered bridges but they will have a tough time matching the high concentration of bridges per square mile combined with the scenery you will enjoy while looking for them. Besides the skiing, Vermont’s bridge scenery remains in place for travelers to see the past.
by Rick Bretz
This is what you learn after reading the book “Command and Control” by Eric Schlosser. The subtitle gives away the theme, “Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety.”
The book moves through the early stages of the Cold War landscape where the country’s leaders addressed many thorny issues such as fixing weapons program technical malfunctions and, even tougher, how to eliminate human errors.
In the Cold War business doing things right 99 percent of the time only gets you criticized for the other one percent when things go wrong. The men and women who keep the country safe and secure while working inside missile control centers and bombers remain examples of intelligent and reliable military professionals. The military forged new territory after World War II when they had to invent procedures and checklists for managing and controlling intercontinental ballistic missiles and warheads designed to wipe cities and countries off the map.
Despite the best planning and “What If” matrices by government and defense professionals in the military, accidents will happen and did happen. Through sheer good fortune the nuclear weapons program didn’t accidentally kill innocent civilians like the 1961 “Broken Arrow” incident near Goldsboro, NC., when bombs went through all but one of the fail safe steps that prevented a detonation after a B-52 bomber crash. Prior to that, the government even authorized military studies such as the Army’s Office of Special Weapons Development report in 1955 titled, “Acceptable Military Risks from Accidental Detonation of Atomic Weapons.” These chapters make you sit up and read with a little more attention so you won’t miss any other revealing “that was a close one” information.
This book scrutinizes and outlines the thought processes and policy battles within the civilian and military government leadership for control of the country’s use and design of the nuclear defense program. He portrays key figures at the early stages of weapons technology like Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay and Presidents Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy, who had to deal with the weapons command and control issues in the beginning. A concern raised by leaders at the start was the communication time-lapse from a Soviet Union launch to the moment the President receives word that missiles were on the way. This time period was vital for having enough time to make the correct decision to launch weapons or realize it was a false indicator. If recognition and communications were slow, the President may not have had enough time to give the OK to send missiles down range in retaliation, especially if the target was the nation’s capital.
For the baby boomer generation, this book is a trip down mutual destruction memory lane. The author liberally uses the acronyms some of us have come to know and love like MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), DEFCON (Defense Readiness Condition), ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) and even some new ones like PAL (Permissive Action Link), a term used to describe a coded device installed within a nuclear warhead or bomb, like a lock to prevent unauthorized use of the weapon that might accidentally facilitate MAD.
Several of the acronyms are downright ingenious like MANIAC (Mathematical Analyzer, Numerical Integrator, and Computer), an early electronic, digital computer used at Los Alamos to design the first hydrogen bombs.
The author Schlosser, who also wrote “Fast Food Nation”, begins with an event that occurred on September 18, 1980, in a Titan II missile silo near Damascus, Arkansas. It describes the command and control center and how, through a series of mistakes, a missile came close to contaminating a large part of the state. It’s a story thread that is woven throughout the book. The author walks you through the launch complex while giving the reader a vivid picture of what a missile looks like and the difficult job “Missileers” had keeping our country safe from communist aggression. The job was much more dangerous than conventional thinking would have you believe.
The Air Force officers and airmen mentioned in the book, working at missile silos and control centers across the United States and overseas, trained diligently for a task they were given during a tense time on the Cold War timeline. They were putting into action the Cold War Theory of deterrence. In between the face-offs and stare downs, misinformation and disinformation flowed as part of campaigns to unsettle each other’s government leadership. All the while, agency and department chiefs fought for control, budgets increased, military services developed their own weapons initiatives, and strategies shifted from deterrence and MAD to the strategy of conflict escalation during the arms race.
For some people this book will get tedious in the middle when the author outlines policy arguments and protocols. The read gets interesting when he describes the many personalities that have worked in the program. Some parts take on a solemn tone at times when he writes about young people who have given their lives while flying missions or trying to prevent a missile silo from contaminating an area.
I recommend this book if you want to read about the history of America’s arms race with the Soviet Union and how the two countries played a high stakes game of poker with millions of lives on the table. At times, America bluffed and other times the Soviet Union had the bad hand but played as if they had a straight flush.
by Rick Bretz
The first apology in the history of the world, of course, occurred shortly after Eve ate the fruit from the forbidden tree.
She had to send out a Tweet that went something like this, “I deeply regret the error of my ways. I saw it and I took it. I shouldn’t have and media cameras caught me. Most of all, I am sorry for hurting the only human being that I can have a conversation with, Adam. Please do not use me as an example. I didn’t know what I was thinking.”
That Twitter apology was followed by a Facebook post and several talk show appearances.
This was soon followed by a heartfelt, “I’m Sorry” from Adam for coming home later from whatever he did in those days.
Many apologies later from Caesars, Pharaohs, Kings, Queens, husbands and entertainers led to another famous apology.
History would reveal that Leonardo Da Vinci apologized for taking so long (4 years) to complete the Sistine Chapel. Ok. That didn’t happen but if he were doing today, he would have to explain why he was behind schedule on an evening news show, followed by Congressional Hearings to explain how the money was being used.
An avalanche of heavy-hearted apologies have inundated the radio, internet and talk shows the last several years. Too bad most of them aren’t sincere. The apology-makers are trying to save something they have, like money, reputations, endorsement deals or careers. Part of the problem is that the word usage police and special interest groups have begun to hold people’s reputations and careers hostage until they submit to their social penance demands. People have to show the proper amount of contrition or else they can’t move on with their lives.
Here is an effective apology from the past. In 1077: Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV apologizes to Pope Gregory VII for church-state conflicts by standing barefoot in the snow for three days.
Now this is an apology. No words but action. I’ve given some apologies but I would have never thought about this as a way to say, “I’m Sorry.” If I did think of it, I would have kept it to myself and thought of something else like “I’ll light the candles in the Chapel for seven straight days or something like that.”
However, when you need a real apology done the right way there are two examples that come to mind. One is a non-apology no fault appeal.
It was John Belushi’s last second plea to his scorned girl friend at the end of the Blues Brothers movie, “No I didn’t. Honest… I ran out of gas! I–I had a flat tire! I didn’t have enough money for cab fare! My tux didn’t come back from the cleaners! An old friend came in from out-of-town! Someone stole my car! There was an earthquake! A terrible flood! Locusts! IT WASN’T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD!!
Then there is the insincere heartfelt apology given to Kevin Kline by John Cleese in the movie, “A Fish Called Wanda.” He states while hanging upside down out of a window, “All right, all right, I apologize. I’m really, really sorry. I apologize unreservedly. I do. I offer a complete and utter retraction. The imputation was totally without basis in fact, and was in no way fair comment, and was motivated purely by malice, and I deeply regret any distress that my comments may have caused you or your family, and I hereby undertake not to repeat any such slander at any time in the future.”
There are many ways to apologize but don’t say you are sorry unless you mean it. Also, don’t keep saying I’m sorry for no reason, it loses its effectiveness and just makes the offender look ridiculous. So, with that stated, I’m sorry for wasting your time reading this post. Really I am.
by Rick Bretz
On this day, May 31st, 1879, Madison Square Garden opened in New York City at 4, Pennsylvania Plaza. Yes, that’s right, 1879. That’s the age of the venerable building indirectly named after the fourth President of the United States, James Madison, because the building was constructed inside Madison Square. The Garden officially seats 18, 200 people but has fit more and has been the location of many historical events.
Here are some of the most remembered events that occurred in Madison Square Garden.
1. George Harrison and Ravi Shankar’s benefit concerts for Bangladesh-August 1, 1971. He had Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and Billy Preston there to help him out.
2. The Democratic National Conventions-1924, 1976, 1980, 1992. Politics in New York City? Boss Tweed would have never stood for it!
3. Former Republican Presidential Candidate, Wendell Willkie, leads 20,000 African-Americans in 1943, as the group organized a civil rights rally at the Garden, the largest of its kind for the time. He called for equal rights and for the defeat of Hitler. Despite the democratic message of today, republicans are champions of equal rights.
4. The Fight of the Century-Challenger Mohammed Ali and Heavyweight Champion Joe Frazier meet at the Garden for a boxing match on March 8, 1971. Frazier wins by unanimous decision. The second Ali-Frazier fight happens at the Garden three years later in 1974, when Ali wins by decision. The best fights of all time are between these two. Joe Louis fought at the Garden too but these two were warriors.
5. 1898-Nikola Tesla demonstrates the first remote control robot by using radio control hardware. Further proof Tesla was way ahead of everyone else.
6. May 19th, 1962. President John F. Kennedy’s 42nd birthday party celebration is held at the Garden. Marilyn Monroe sings the famous “Happy Birthday Mr. President” song. Every man deserves to be serenated Happy Birthday just like that.. It doesn’t even have to be at the Garden and the title could be “Mr. Guy that works all day at his job down the street.”
7. June 17, 1978 Bob Marley performs at MSG and increases awareness in America for reggae music. In 1980 he performs two shows again the Garden. Days later Marley collapses due to the spreading cancer in his body. He dies on May 11, 1980. The great Bob Marley’s last words were to his son Ziggy, “Money can’t buy life.”
8. 1973, Led Zeppelin performs three consecutive sold out performances that are recorded on both film and recording tape. A concert film is later released called, “The Song Remains The Same.” This Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band is one of the best-selling groups of all time.
There are many more performances that span the entertainment, political and social worlds. The list of entertainers who have performed at MSG is a hall of fame for musicians and singers. Ricky Nelson even wrote a song about it called “Garden Party”, which is a song about performing there with his fellow fifties greats.
I just learned a few weeks ago that one of my distant relatives from my Mother’s family tree was killed during the Civil War, near the Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania. After I heard that, I started thinking about the Arlington National Cemetery and all of the other Veteran’s Cemeteries. They remind us that several have put on the uniform and put their lives in danger so that others can have a chance at the American dream. The headstones in the cemetery usually designate their religion of choice. For me, when I visit the cemeteries, I first notice two things. I note when they were born and when they died. Most of the time, the age is under 30 years old. I always think about the realization that when I am having a bad day, some people don’t have a day at all.
When I think about it that way, driving home in a traffic jam doesn’t seem so bad at all.
Memorial Day is when we stop to remember our veterans and especially the courageous souls that gave their lives to support America and, more importantly, to prevent their battle buddies from getting killed on their missions. We honor those who came back but we should especially remember military men and women who gave everything and never returned. These people rest in several overseas cemeteries that honor our fallen. It is striking to see the number of service men and women buried in foreign lands, almost 125,000 souls resting in 25 burial cemeteries throughout world.
Congress established the American Battle Monuments Commission in 1923. The Executive Branch organization honors the service, achievement and sacrifice of the US Armed Forces. The commission establishes and maintains US military memorials, cemeteries and markers where the US Armed Forces has served since April 6, 1917.
Here is a list of the American Battle Monuments Commission cemeteries the organization maintains along with other pertinent information.
I am a veteran and my wife is a veteran. My father is a Korean War veteran. Several of my family members are veterans. Several of my friends from all the services who served with me are no longer alive today. I miss them and I honor them every day. I honor and remember all of my Armed Forces brothers and sisters who gave their lives.
by Rick Bretz
George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, published in 1949, has been reestablished as the go-to book for all things wrong with government privacy invasion and society’s ills. With government-funded security professionals scrutinizing some or all of the internet usage and phone conversations that are happening today, it does reflect the worst themes of 1984. Of course it is more complicated than the government watching over people. September 11, 2001, showed us that proper vigilance can go a long way toward keeping people safe from terrorists who want to prove a point by killing innocent people. Orwell’s novel remains a commentary on communist practices in the Soviet Union and modern relationships between governments, media and citizens throughout the world.
Some of the themes of 1984, nevertheless, seem to be blanketing our society as we live and work carrying our information devices. Smart Phone and internet monitoring are instances of privacy concerns. In spite of this fact, millions of people publicize their every move on Facebook, Twitter and any other social media. This fact makes it difficult to take the side of a person wronged by the invasion of privacy. People want privacy only on their terms. Like the movie star or celebrity who craves success but doesn’t want the paparazzi baggage that comes with it. If you want safety and security and still need your family and friends to know about last night’s pizza party, you have to compromise a little, maybe a lot.
Below is a 1984 to present comparison.
|Invasion of Privacy-1984————————2014>||Phone Surveillance, internet tracking|
|Constant Surveillance1984———————2014>||GPS Trackers in Vehicles, Cameras on Streets and at traffic lights. Aerial Surveillance|
|Torture (Room 101)-1984———————–2014>||Pick a country|
|Double Think-1984——————————2014>||Advertising, college professors|
Cult of personality1984————————-2014>
|World Leaders, celebrities, musicians, talk show hosts, and televangelist|
|Tele-screens (two-way Monitors)-1984——2014>||Overhead surveillance, street cameras, two-way camera software|
|Class System (Proles, Outer Party)-1984——-2014>||The 1 Percent, Poor, Working Class, Blue Collar, Middle Class, the Power Elite, Educated Elite, Fortune 500 CEOs, Government Officials (Elected and Appointed)|
|News Speak-1984——————————-2014>||Affordable Healthcare Act, (government catchphrases used as titles for legislation)|
|Ministry of Plenty (Food Supply)-1984———-2014>||Rising Oil Prices, Government Regulation, Inflation|
|Ministry of Peace (War)-1984——————-2014>||World Leaders and Defense Ministers|
|Ministry of Truth (News)-1984——————2014>||CEOs and managing editors of news organizations dictate the headlines and stories seen by consumers. Federal Communications Commission. Advertisers|
|Ministry of Love (Dissidents)-1984————-2014>||Whistle blowers usually pay a price|
|Poverty, Vices-1984—————————–2014>||Making vices like alcohol and drugs (marijuana) available control the public and provide needed revenue.|
|Censorship-1984——————————–2014>||If a show or story does not please a power player, they have monetary and power influences to make it disappear.|
|Controlling the Middle Class-1984—————2014>||Taxes, regulations and travel restrictions or religious and government organizations (Republican and Democratic Parties)|
There are many ways to track a person today. It would be difficult to get lost when the hunter really wants to find you. Let me count the ways: GPS Device, Car Computers, Credit Cards, Smart Phone, Home Phone, Social Security Number, Driver’s License, Aerial Reconnaissance, Drones, and Toll Roads just to name a few.
Cars today have what is called a “Breaking Coach.” It tells you that you have driving skills. Don’t kid yourself. It is a way to determine how safe our driving habits are in case we are in an accident. Insurance companies and law enforcement officials really want to know this.
Your MAC (Media Access Control) address is a unique set of digits that identifies your particular computer or Network Interface Card, and with the IP (Internet Protocol) address, can determine your internet history. It’s a digital signature.
When you drive through a toll booth, a camera records your drive through and your license plate and if you have a toll sticker on your window it identifies that too.
Officials in several states are studying the feasibility of adding hardware to vehicles to track the number of miles a car travels on the highway to determine a road tax.
And the hits just keep on coming.
By Rick Bretz
On this Mother’s Day, let’s look back at the some of the best movie moms as they protect, defend, encourage and stand by their sons and daughters. As everyone knows, Don’t mess with Mom!
1. Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in the Terminator (1984) and T2 (1991)
Sarah Connor reloads the assault weapon with one arm as she becomes a one-woman army. She fights Arnold’s terminator first and then a Robert Patrick’s T-1000 shape shifter who keeps on coming like a human Tsunami. All of this while she fights to keep her son safe so he can lead people into future battles with the machines. What does she get for her troubles? She gets locked up and fed drugs. But, not to worry, she’s been counting pull ups and sit ups and studying how to be the best survivalist ever. The time has come for her to get busy being a Mom when she breaks out.
2. Shelley Duvall as Wendy Torrance in The Shining (1980)
Wendy Torrance has to put up with tons of brooding and abuse from Jack Nicholson’s character in this movie. He drags her to a Ski Lodge in the mountains so he can get away to write his next masterpiece and he comes up with “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” In addition, his son sees waves of blood coming from the elevator and repeats the word “REDRUM.’ (Spoiler, but if you haven’t seen it by now…!) She wins in the end because she has spent her days at the isolated getaway figuring out the maze outside the hotel. Moms are always prepared.
3. Jessie Royce Landis as Clara Thornhill in North By Northwest (1959)
Clara Thornhill as Roger Thornhill’s mother in Alfred Hitchcock’s cross country thriller plays her part perfectly. She stands by her son although she thinks he is paranoid and a little over-worked. Roger Thornhill, of course, is not imagining anything but Clara’s past history with her son plays into her assessment of his well being at the estate once being released by the court system. The mother sets up the rest of the movie. Jessie Royce Landis was only eight years older than Cary Grant at the time but she succeeds in making us believe she is his mother. Perfect case of standing by your child even if you think he is off his rocker.
4. Margaret Wycherly as Mother York in Sergeant York (1941)
Before Sergeant Alvin York becomes a war hero in World War I, he goes through a process of rehabilitation where he is born again and follows the word of God. He takes this seriously and becomes a conscientious objector because of the commandment “I shalt not kill.” While he was transforming and soul-searching, Mother York stood by him and gave him encouragement. After some long thought while on furlough, he decided it would be wise to go to war with his weapon and save lives by doing his best to end the war early. The decision would have been more difficult if Mother York had not let him decide for himself.
5. Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter (1968)
Being a mother in 1183 had to be tough no matter your status in life. Not many comforts back then. For Queen Eleanor, she had to be a mother while being in imprisoned by King Henry II while he was running around with his mistress whom he wanted to marry. In the movie, although she is imprisoned she holds her own in the verbal sparring department. The dialogue between O’Toole and Hepburn is one of the best movie scenes in history. As a Mother, The Queen knows when to scold and when to support. One of the movie’s best scenes involves Hepburn and Anthony Hopkins’ portraying Prince Richard (The Lion-Hearted). She talks to him as a Mother and not as a Queen. For Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine to Peter O’Toole’s King Henry II, she schemes to control the situation as an aging King Henry struggles to name a successor among his sons.
6. Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side (2009)
Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for her performance in this film. Based on real events, this movie shows how a Mom with a purpose can change someone’s life. She’s a one woman wrecking crew and won’t stop until people understand. Along the way, she won’t put up with any racism or any other nonsense, even when it comes from gang members. She also knows how to coach and gives her adopted son a great piece of advice during football practice.
7. Cher as Florence “Rusty” Dennis in Mask (1985)
Moms don’t have to be perfect. What great moms have in common is that they all defend their children. They also support and encourage when needed. Cher’s performance as “Rusty” shows all her flaws but it also shows her supporting her son “Rocky”, who has a condition that deforms his skull. He looks different from everyone on the outside but is just the same as every other teen who has dreams. Judging someone from the inside and not how they look or by skin color is a lesson that still applies today and still has to be learned by others.
8. Jane Darwell as Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Darwell’s performance as Ma Joad holds the movie together. Sure, Henry Fonda gives a great soliloquy at the end of the movie but look who he’s giving it to—his mother. She endures the mid-west dust bowl conditions that takes their loses their livelihood. She packs up the family and their possessions and travels all the way to California for a chance at a better life. Bad luck continues but she continues holding the family together. Fantastic movie and a great performance.
by Rick Bretz
No former President provokes more passion and stimulates for conversation than former President Richard Milhous Nixon. Voters elected him as the 37th President of the United States serving from 1969-1974, resigning on August 9, 1974, one day after announcing it to a national TV audience. Nixon’s legacy is more complicated than just a Watergate cover up. After his resignation, according to the book “The President’s Club”, Presidents from both sides of the aisle sought his advice and relied on him for overseas missions on a range of diplomatic topics including the Soviet Union, the Middle East and the Far East. Actors tried their talents at being Nixon a few times in film. Few have tried to master the nuances of Nixon’s personality. There are several movies about Richard Nixon such as All “The Presidents Men” and the “Assassination of Richard Nixon” but these releases keep Nixon behind the scenes as a looming figure. We only see him in news footage. I have selected actors who have taken on the responsibility to carry the whole movie. There are a few who have accepted the challenge.
Nixon (1995) Directed by Oliver Stone
Anthony Hopkins as President Richard M. Nixon
Played against Ensemble Cast portraying significant people throughout his life.
Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of President Richard Nixon shows a Nixon who relies on his wife Patricia Nixon for advice and support. He shows him as someone who plays hardball politics to succeed. Hopkins doesn’t look all that much like Nixon but he splashes the screen with Nixon’s paranoia and emotional repression. The movie gives a glimpse of how tough Nixon could be when dealing with his adversaries and pushy friends looking to gain something from his position. This movie was not well liked by Nixon’s family and friends. However, the criticism aside, Hopkins does an admirable job of revealing Nixon’s complicated, multifaceted personality. The movie also gives the viewer an idea of Nixon’s childhood challenges that shaped his personality and character.
Frost/Nixon (2008) Directed by Ron Howard
Frank Langella as former President Richard M. Nixon
Played against Michael Sheen as talk show host David Frost and Nixon’s interviewer
The negotiations leading up to David Frost’s interview with Richard Nixon is a slice of history people weren’t aware of during the airing of the show. The movie shows the interview as a chess game between Frost and his people and Nixon and his aides. Nixon didn’t want to reveal anything that would further damage him but he also wanted to get his side of the story to the public. Langella does a skilful job of portraying Nixon as someone who his smart and is good at countering verbal maneuvers. The movie was criticized for its compression timeline that didn’t show Nixon having his way during a majority of the interview. The suspense lies in how Frost can get Nixon to admit he made a mistake and was wrong.
The Checkers Speech, the Real Frost/Nixon Interviews, the Farewell Speech to White House Staff
(1952, 1977, 1974)
Richard Nixon as Richard Nixon
Nobody does Nixon like Richard M. Nixon himself. His Checkers Speech saved his position as Dwight D. Eisenhower’s running mate and Vice Presidential candidate during the 1952 election campaign. Checkers refers to his dog and he explains in the televised speech that the dog is beloved by his daughters and he won’t give it up. The speech addressed concerns about Nixon’s financial dealings.
If you want to get a better idea of how the Frost/Nixon interviews went, then watch the whole conversation. In this interview, you get an idea of Nixon’s intellect and command of foreign policy. It’s the reason why President William Clinton sought out Nixon’s advice when he needed answers about foreign policy and the current political climate.
The Farewell Speech to the White House Staff is riveting. The speech to his loyal followers in the White House addresses his childhood, his father, mother, revenge and serving in politics. This speech had more drama in it than 50 percent of the movies released in the 1970s.
Towards the end of the speech, Nixon says this, “We want you to be proud of what you have done. We want you to continue to serve in government, if that is your wish. Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty; always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.”
The Real Person
There are many caricatures when people portray Nixon. The real person was an intellectual and political heavy weight who got caught up in government politics as take no prisoners game defined earlier in the 1900s.. His failure was to realize the shift in the political climate and how the press had changed concerning how they reported on politicians as the Vietnam War wage on in the late 60s and early 70s. His downfall was using the tape recording system started by Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940s.
The record, however, shows that Nixon began several programs that still live with us today. He began the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Natural Resources and proposed ending the draft. His trip to China thawed relations between the two countries and he used triangle diplomacy to further America’s interests. He also signed into law Title IX, legislation that states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” He made it possible for all daughters to participate in sports so they can have a chance at scholarships and education.
After he left office, Richard Nixon became a consultant to later Presidents as well as a prolific author and statesman.
President Richard Nixon will always be viewed as tragic figure with personality flaws. Some will view him as a criminal for his actions. The record is more complicated than to paint his legacy with broad brush strokes. He started many positive programs and probably helped to end the cold war when he visited China. As we have seen in the past 30 years, being a President is fraught with political landmines that can trip up the most talented of people. The Presidents that came after Nixon had and will continue to have the benefit of learning from his mistakes.
President Richard M. Nixon Links:
Links to Checkers Speech Frost/Nixon interviews and Farewell Speech:
Here is a short news roll film of the USS Carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt leaving New York Harbor. In addition to that, the film features prisoners of war training, aerial workers repairing St. Patrick’s Cathedral and other news events. Interesting footage concerning the re-training of German prisoners of war. The link is below.