H.R. Haldeman, Richard Nixon’s crew-cut Chief of Staff, was the man Nixon trusted most. That made him the most powerful person in the Nixon White House after the President himself. ‘If a historian had had a fantasy of knowing all that one man nearest to Nixon had known,’ Theodore Draper wrote, ‘he would have chosen Haldeman.’footnote1 That fantasy came true when Sony Electronic Publishing released Haldeman’s diary in its entirety in 1994, after both Nixon and Haldeman died.footnote＊ One million words, the equivalent of eight 300-page volumes, The Haldeman Diaries on cd-rom constitutes the most detailed diary any high government official has ever published.
It is also the most candid: Haldeman recorded the words of his master nightly, without embellishment, without trying to make him look good, the way a true believer would. The diaries were never intended for the public eye, and were ‘a well-kept secret until shortly before publication’, according to John Dean, who worked under Haldeman as Counsel to the President.footnote2 Haldeman decided to publish them shortly before his death in November 1993. The result of the appearance of the cd-rom edition, Theodore Draper wrote, is that all the work on Nixon’s presidency ‘will now have to be reconsidered, revised, and rewritten.’
The 700-page print version, published simultaneously,footnote3 which includes only a fraction of the total, is indexed only by name; the cd-rom, by contrast, is searchable by word—any word. Instead of reading it from the beginning, or for particularly significant dates, the reader can start by searching for particular words. The result is a new experience in research, and striking new evidence about the Nixon administration.
The principal use to which the cd-rom text-search capability has been put is by journalists documenting Nixon’s anti-Semitism.footnote4 Searching for
But it’s the entries on the politics of the Vietnam War that are the most significant. The cd-rom Haldeman Diaries make it clear as never before that concern about the anti-war movement was a constant feature of life in the Nixon White House: the diaries, covering four years and three months, list 265 entries for ‘demonstration’, ‘demonstrators’, ‘campus’ and ‘protest’—more than ‘China’, which has 252 entries, and far more than ‘Democrats’, which has only 167.
It is hardly surprising that the big Washington demonstrations receive ample attention. What is surprising and new is the way relatively small, virtually unknown acts of protest had a powerful and lasting effect on Nixon. And the cumulative effect of both small and large anti-war actions was massive: Nixon couldn’t leave the White House except for unannounced surprise appearances.
The ubiquity of anti-war protest, especially the small events, disrupted some of the most private events in the President’s life. The Haldeman Diaries present numerous striking incidents: 9 January 1970 was the birthday of the President—Haldeman calls him ‘P’—which Nixon decided to spend with his elder daughter. He ‘went up to Julie’s for dinner,’ Haldeman wrote, but ‘wouldn’t let us announce it ahead because of probable demonstrators. All was fine on arrival, but during dinner a bunch of bad guys arrived and chanted outside the apartment, Julie cried, P left abruptly, really too bad.’ (‘Bad guys’ was Haldeman’s term for anti-war demonstrators).