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Why I Invaded Cambodia by Richard Milhous Nixon (as told to P. J. O'Rourke)
Harry, June 1970
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Richard Nixon did indeed go out at some ungodly hour to speak to antiwar demonstrators in Washington. According to an article by Robert B. Semple, Jr., in the May 10, 1970, New York Times:
President Nixon left the White House shortly before dawn this morning, drove to the Lincoln Memorial, and spent an hour chatting with young people who had come to protest his war policies.
The extraordinary visit, which caught his staff unawares and left the Secret Service "petrified," was Mr. Nixon's first direct exchange with students massed here for a weekend of protest.
As he stood on the steps of the memorial and talked, the crowd around him grew from eight to thirty to fifty, and near the end of what appears to have been more monologue than dialogue, he asked the students "to try to understand what we are doing."
To understand where I'm at you've got to dig it that I've been into this very heavy political thing for a long time. In some ways this has done strange things to my head. But I've always felt that when you're really into something you shouldn't cop out on it. To be really out front, I get off on ego trips, power games. It's a speed-freak sort of trip, I admit it. But, like, that's where I'm at. ... I mean you can put me down for kicking your ass but don't put me down for being an asskicker 'cause that's my movie. That's cool, I got to do my thing. I just want to make that perfectly clear.
I'd always been sort of into this kind of riff, but I never meant to get as strung-out on it as I am now. It was in '52; I was out on the coast to get my head together when Ike calls me on the phone. "Dickey," he said, "you won't believe the job offer I have."
"Tell me," I said.
"Dickey," he said, "they're going to make me president."
"Far fucking out!" I said, but he sounded troubled.
"Dickey," he said, "I'm troubled."
"What's the matter, Ike," I said.
"Dickey," he said, "if someone were to find out, Time magazine or someone, that all these years Mamie's been in drag ..." I told him about the operations in Sweden. I guess Ike could see I had my head together about politics, because several days later he calls again and asks me to be vice president. I told him I wasn't up for that; I was just ready to split for Mexico City with Jack and Alan and Neil. But he came on strong and vibed me out about the whole thing — I've been into it ever since.
So like one thing led to another and I got to be president myself. Now being president is a really heavy thing. It's like being a very big dealer, like doing deals for five or six hundred kilos every day — guns out on the table and briefcases full of hundred-dollar bills. You have to deal with really heavy cats. This redneck that held the job before me had some fucked-up war going down. First thing I did was I called up the Pentagon and said, "This is the president, off that shit! I want everybody back in California by Friday night." Fifteen minutes later the chairman of the board from GM walks in with this weird cat in a sharkskin suit and sunglasses.
Well, there's a time to stand and fight and a time to cut and run. Being president is a bummer.
Not only heavy cats like that to hassle with all the time, but for a vice president I get a Yippie infiltrator who runs around the country saying the most outrageous possible things — trying to discredit the entire government.
I was really getting freaked out. All these frustrations and anxieties building — bad vibes. Like the Supreme Court. The whole country's making an ass of itself, pasting up American flags everywhere, shooting kids and spades, saying things like, "Leave loose the dogs of war!" So I figure they must want a Nazi for their Supreme Court. Give them what they want, I say. Two Nazis I give them, but no, no, they don't want Nazis; they want a liberal. A Liberal! There are only eleven liberals left in the United States. I had a hell of a time.
Like I said, when I first got into this trip I couldn't dig the war. But then I started getting to know Westmoreland and his buddies. They'd be walking up and down Pennsylvania Avenue wearing their colors and looking really bad. We got close. They're good guys once you can dig where they're at. I started going out on runs with them in their choppers, drinking beer. When I got behind it I understood they aren't really violent. They're for peace love and everything; they just like to stomp gooks. They gave me a set of honorary colors — a cutoff Eisenhower jacket with script lettering in an arch across the back saying, "JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF" with "USA" down at the bottom and a big mushroom cloud in between. I'd got very tight with Westmoreland, Wes the Axe, so I laid it on him about the vice president and all that shit. Wes said, "Yeah, you got to be a badass in this world or you just ain't gonna make it." I thought about that, and when I found out Cambodia was hiding those gook Viet Cong I said to myself, "I'm gonna trash that country!" Jesus, I never thought anybody'd get all that uptight about it. But soon as I told Wes to do a number on the Cong the shit really hit the fan. I felt bad about it. I really did. First thing you know there are thousands of people planning to gather outside my house to vamp on me about it. Night before they were all to come I dropped a tab of sunshine and thought it over. I went through some weird changes. Early in the morning, when I was coming down, I decided to go outside and rap on it. Hardly anybody was there and I had to wake this cat up to find somebody to rap to. "Wake up," I said. "I'm the president. Wanna do some boo?"
"Oh, yeah, far out, hey, Fat Freddy, wake up, it's the president."
"No, no, their president."
"Oh, yeah, far out," said Fat Freddy. So they got up and blew some of my dynamite Laotian shit, and I sniffed some coke they had and laid it on them what I said here.
"Wow, man," said the first. "Where's your head at?" He told me my thing is really bad karma. That I'd be reincarnated as a Gila monster. I could dig what they were saying. That's the way people should be with each other, really out front. This is what America's about.CHAPTER 2
The Boxer Shorts Rebellion
An Exclusive Look at Sex Behind the Bamboo Curtain
Screw, March 1972
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The following was part of a semi-elaborate hoax wherein I claimed to have been a member of the press corps accompanying Richard Nixon on the epochal trip to China in February 1972. (Poor Nixon seemed to possess some pheromonal lure for pests like me — which may explain Woodward, Bernstein, Deep Throat, and the whole Watergate imbroglio as well as anything does.) The hoax began in an "underground" newspaper, The New York Ace, continued on radio station WBAI (then, as now, the Voice of Nonsense in Gotham), and culminated with this article for Screw.
The original editor's note is attached. Nothing in it except "available on four hours' notice" was true. Interesting to note that, of the hundreds of publications founded in those exuberant days, only two — the self-explanatorily-titled Screw and my current employer, the pop music journal Rolling Stone — still flourish. What does this say about the intellectual, moral, and artistic contributions of the Sixties to present-day society? Practically everything.
The China hoax fooled whole dozens of people, and Newsweek almost did a story on "Our Hippie in Peking," except (for once) Newsweek checked its facts. When the penny dropped, some of my fellow lefty journalists were wroth. "You're just lying to the people," said one. "What's the point of this?" I guess the point was that the press coverage of Nixon's China trip was so shallow and predictable you didn't need to be there to write it. How green I was to think this notable.
P. J. O'Rourke was among the eighty-seven newsmen who accompanied President Nixon to Peking. Representing the Syndicated Collegiate Press Service (SCPS), twenty-four-year-old O'Rourke was the youngest member of the China trip press corps and the only one who, by any stretch of the imagination, could be deemed hip. His coverage of the Nixon junket has been syndicated to college and underground papers nationwide.
P.J. is a New York — based freelance writer who graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Chinese language and literature. His opportunity to go to Peking came as a result of Presidential Press Secretary Ron Ziegler's appointment of one representative from the collegiate press, Faye Levine, coeditor of the Harvard Crimson and SCPS Boston correspondent. But Faye, also a Chinese major, was hospitalized with hepatitis on the eve of Nixon's departure, and SCPS's editor in chief, Ed Dale, picked P.J. as an eleventh-hour replacement. Dale said he chose O'Rourke, even though PJ. is not a college student, because "he was the only young, experienced reporter we know who speaks Chinese and is available on four hours' notice."
Unisex is the very first thing that hits you in China. Not that ersatz continental garçonette haircut business or high heels for men, but real unisex. The clothing that they wear — it's not masculine or feminine, nor is it as dumpy and sexless as it looks in those Daily News centerfolds, it's just the same, for everyone, UNISEX! And the effect of those millions and millions dressed alike without regard for age or station is more spectacular than any Ken Russell costumed outrage.
This is what they're talking about when they say culture shock. This is not what I expected it to be. I had this picture in my mind of the "identical masses" — lumpish, lumpen, flat-faced, neuter, homely, puritanical, and paramilitary. But Chinese clothes are too loose and wrinkled and casual to look "military" or "like a uniform." There's an impression of comfort, not regimentation. The colors are all very quiet — gray, green, and blue, but faded with that washed-out look it takes us stateside hippies years to achieve in our jeans.
Nothing flashy about these people, that's for sure, but right away that makes you look at their faces, look at them, not what they're wearing. And that's sexual, in a subtle way, even erotic. They don't care much about clothes, wearing them with baggy disdain — not all bound up like a bunch of latent bondage freaks the way we do. And this does fantastic things for the Chinese women, really sets off their beauty. The same as when some girl puts on your old flannel shirt about five sizes too big. All the Chinese women look cute and scruffy like that. Also, I noticed right away that no one is wearing underwear. Those loose cotton pants are always molding themselves fluidlike around Chinese ass cheeks and draping with a sort of spartan luxury into folds at the crotch. At the factories we visited girls would be working away greasy and adorable and determined in the drafty shops and nipples would raise welts in their khaki work shirts all around. I almost went mad with socialized lust.
The Chinese are so pretty, small and lithe, fine-featured, not a wasted stroke. They made me feel clumsy and hatchet-faced, these unpainted beauties of the Orient with their pert breasts and Lolita-slim hips. But it's all unisex, finally, so not just the girls or even the handsome young people but the unnumbered lot of them exude this sexuality — the body proper, naked and strong beneath the handiest and most democratic thing available to throw on the back.
Of lewdness, on the other hand, there is nothing. There's no nightlife that I could detect. Liquor is sold in some stores but there are no bars, much less nightclubs, fuck movies, sex shows, massage studios, or whorehouses. Nor are there any sex papers, sexy publications, or even cheesecake shots. The best I could do was a photo of some lady soldiers with their pants rolled up in the rice paddies in the Move Forward with Firm Determination Red Women's Brigade Magazine. I tell you, I couldn't figure it out, such sexy people and no visible sex.
I was sure I just wasn't getting the full story. Our guides and translators weren't giving us much rope. They had an endless fucking itinerary planned, touring this communal bakery, that collective steel mill, and some other People's Tractor Assembly Plant until I had buns, Bessemer, and detachable winch and stump-pulling units coming out of my ears.
I tried putting the make on our head translator but she immediately explained that she was going steady (literally: "attached with progressive fervor"), and showed me her boyfriend's Chairman Mao button. Now how the hell she could tell it from her own Chairman Mao button is beyond me but there it was, with some angora wool wrapped around the back. That was the end of that.
Back in the Hotel of the Nationalities, where the press party was housed, I had this young waiter on my floor. I could tell he really wanted to talk as soon as he found out I spoke Chinese, but the waiters weren't allowed any lengthy personal contact with us. Finally, the third night we were in Peking, when he brought the evening tea, I told him to tell the bell captain, or whomever, that the decadent American had got drunk and was sick all over the floor, then come back to "clean up" so we could talk. He was leery but he agreed to try, and rushed back with a mop and ten solid minutes of questions. He hoped one day to be a People's Intelligence Agent, he confided, and had to know about America in great detail. What was it like to ride in a Packard? Who was pitching this year for the Brooklyn Dodgers? Was Eddie Fisher still going with Elizabeth Taylor? What was Judy Garland's latest hit?
My Chinese is not the best but I answered him as well as I could and then asked him about China. "Wow," I said (roughly translated), "is everything as uptight as it looks?" He gave me one of those "foreign devil" stares. "You know," I said, "what's a fellow to do for laughs around here?" He explained they had Ping-Pong matches every Sunday at the school where he went. All the girls and boys would go to the PingPong game. I told him that wasn't what I meant.
"Well," he said, "after the game, on the way home, sometimes girls will hug and kiss one in a spirit of revolutionary comradeship." He admitted too that you get bare tit that way sometimes, if you were "resolute in proletarian unity." But progressive girls didn't do it until the imperialist-running-dog oppressor had been crushed or they were married — whichever came first. There were some girls, though, who really put out. You could tell them because they'd kiss you after your first Self-Criticism and Aloud Reading from the Thoughts of Chairman Mao Study Group together. They were fast and usually wound up in homes for unwed revisionists.
"Is there any prostitution in China?"
He said, "No! That would be capitalist exploitation and bourgeois decadence!" But he allowed as how there were some dirty acupuncture parlors. I asked about masturbation and he explained that the Red Book was very clear on that point, that it caused Trotskyism and made warts grow on your chin. He had never heard of dry humping or "hickies." A mention of pornography, however, produced an enthusiastic response and he pulled out of his wallet a faded and poorly reproduced playing card with a chubby peasant girl on the back. She was pulling up the front of her quilted jacket and her entire stomach was exposed. After that he had to leave.
The only other people I really had a chance to talk to were some students at Peking University who were completely flabbergasted when questioned about "deep" or "French" kissing, and would only say that whenever they got "hooligan urges" they took a cold shower.
Myself, I'm not fooled. Such is the deceit for which the Orient is famed. We haven't been hearing about Oriental women for the past thirty- five years just because they build good tractors. My dad was in WW II and I know. These Reds just know we're a bunch of regular softies for this wholesome hard work stuff. They're just making a play for our respect and admiration. You can't tell me they're a bunch of goody two shoes over there in China when we're not around to watch them.
In the first place, there're so damn many of them. You don't find babies under cabbage leaves.
And in the second place, the last day we were in Peking, when we were all visiting the Forbidden City, I was wandering around looking for a men's room in the Palace of Sublime Peace when I turned a corner and came upon Kissinger and Chou En-lai embracing behind an ornate pillar. Kissinger kept wetting his little finger and twisting it in Chou's ear while humming, sotto voce, "Chinatown, My Chinatown." Chou was smiling inscrutably.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut"
Copyright © 1995 P. J. O'Rourke.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
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Table of Contents
Juvenilia Delinquent "Underground" Press, 1970-1972,
Why I Invaded Cambodia by Richard Milhous Nixon (as told to P.J. O'R.),
The Boxer Shorts Rebellion An Exclusive Look at Sex Behind the Bamboo Curtain,
Jets and Sharks Drop Acid, Read Marcuse,
Harry Interviews a Grown-up,
Editorial from the "Bummer" Issue,
"Taking the Train" In Three Acts by the Penn Central Players,
#9 (the evolution of surprise),
poem on nothing at all,
The Truth About the Sixties and Other Fiction,
An Inquiry into the Nature of Good and Evil,
Another Tale of Uncle Mike,
Ghosts of Responsibility,
A Perfect Couple,
An Atheist in the Foxhole,
Days of Wage National Lampoon, 1972-1981,
A Few Thoughts on Humor and Humorists,
The Problem with Communism,
How Fluoridated Water Turns Kids into Communists,
Why I'm Not Afraid of the Dark,
Drives to Nowhere Automotive Journalism,
The Welsh National Combined Mud Wrestling and Spelling Bee Championship,
Boom Squeal Boom Squeal Yip Yip Yip,
A Borderline Experience,
The Ultimate Politically Incorrect Car,
Surf and Turf Safari,
P.J. Meets the Atomic Death Toboggan,
Essays, Prefaces, Speeches, Reviews, and Things Jotted on Napkins,
Contribution to "Sixty Things a Man Should Know",
Foreword to A Modern Man's Guide to Women,
On First Looking into Emily Post's Etiquette,
Speech Given to Libertarians,
Thoughts on the Prospect of a Sixties Revival,
Current and Recurrent Events,
The 1994 Mexican Elections,
The 1987 Stock Market Crash,
Health Care Reform,
The Caribbean Refugee Crisis,
100 Reasons Why Jimmy Carter Was a Better President than Bill Clinton,
Republicans Take Control of Congress,