GEORGE WILL’S COLUMN ON NIXON EMPHASIZES THE ROLE OF LAPSED TIME IN PROVIDING THE WHOLE TRUTH OF A HISTORICAL EVENT
As I read George Will’s latest column in the Sunday Ledger-Enquirer , I had to reflect on the experiences I had in Dr. Craig Lloyd’s Columbus College’s (now Columbus State University) historiography class. When I researched for a paper on the role that yellow journalists William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World newspapers played in starting the Spanish-American War, what really stood out was that, generally, histories written contemporaneously could not be trusted as much as those written years or decades after the events depicted.
That doesn’t mean that contemporary history doesn’t have value. Many historians believe it is very valuable, but new information revealed over the years can revise what was believed to be factual when written contemporaneously.
Now, forty years after Watergate, we learn why former President Richard Nixon risked his presidency by ordering that notorious burglary. George Will reported in his column that ran in the Sunday Ledger-Enquirer that Ken Hughes, who studied the Nixon tapes for more than ten years, points out in his book, Chasing Shadows: the Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate, that “Nixon ordered the crime in 1971 hoping to prevent the public knowledge of a crime he committed in 1968.” Will says Nixon’s prior crime in 1968 was to interfere, as a private citizen, with U.S. government diplomatic negotiations concerning the Vietnam War. He said Nixon was worried that supposed documents in a safe in the Democratic headquarters would reveal “his role in sabotaging negotiations that might have shorten the war.”
A lot of historical documents are sealed by public figures for opening at a future date after the owners of those documents have been dead for, say, 50 years. So, historically, the microscope of time plays a big role in giving us the whole truth about historical events.