A replica of President Nixon’s New Jersey office at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.
What did President Nixon read? That is a question often asked by school children participating in school tours at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library, and for younger audiences, the answer is usually the copies of National Geographic in the Nixon family home, the small sample of his books displayed in his post-presidential office exhibit and the books on the desk in the replica of the Lincoln Sitting room.
For what he read in foreign policy, however, the answer is much more complex.
A deep thinker and voracious reader, President Nixon was an intellectual who read widely but also had over forty years of applied foreign policy experience.
While he admired intellectual inquiry, he valued the wisdom derived from the decision-maker’s challenge to theoretical paradigms. As he wrote in Real Peace: A Strategy for the West, “Those who make peace at the typing table rather than at the negotiating table have the luxury of being peace-makers without having to grapple with complex problems in the rough-and-tumble world of international diplomacy.”
One clue as to what may have been on his foreign policy reading list are the works and authors he included in his best-selling books.
Regarding détente and East-West relations, the scholars he regularly thanked included an array of published policymakers and academic historians which included William Van Cleave, Marin Strmecki, Walter McDougall, James Billington, Fritz Ermarth and William Hyland.
He also frequently agreed with Charles Krauthammer’s columns and may have followed the columnist on a number of contemporary issues and world events. While not necessarily in complete agreement with the preceding (President Nixon’s writings provide a detailed insight into his perspective on American foreign policy), it is safe to bet they were on his reading list.
In 1985, President Nixon read Charles Krauthammer’s March 1985 New Republic article entitled, “Isolationism, Left and Right” and wrote the author:
The following is President Nixon’s annotated copy of Charles Krauthammer’s November 1993 Time Magazine article, “The Greatest Cold War Myth of All.” At the top, you will see a handwritten note to his assistant, Monica Crowley: “A helluva piece!”
In addition to general books on foreign policy, President Nixon frequently studied and wrote about the Vietnam War, citing Guenter Lewy, Norman Podhoretz, Andrew Krepinevich, Douglas Pike, Stephen J. Morris, Harry Summers and Robert Turner. These scholars are part of what became known as the revisionist school of Vietnam War scholarship, and although “revisionists” do not agree on all points, they generally depict U.S. involvement in Vietnam as a noble cause deterred by bad politics, biased press coverage and flawed military tactics.
President Nixon reflected this view in his own book, No More Vietnams, and despite assuming office with little national will and a hostile Congress committed to slowly eroding his power to prosecute the war, he believed non-communist South Vietnam (Republic of Vietnam) and Cambodia (Republic of Cambodia) deserved the chance to defend themselves against the Soviet and Chinese backed communist North Vietnamese Army (Democratic Republic of Vietnam) and Khmer Rouge.
Historians and scholars who continue to study the war from what can be described as this perspective include Mark Moyar, Lewis Sorley, Stephen Randolph, Mackubin Owens, Phil Catton, Ron Frankum and Ed Miller.
This blog entry, of course, is not intended to be a comprehensive examination of the books President Nixon read but serves as a starting point for what could be elucidated as Richard Nixon’s foreign policy reading list.