Alexander M. Haig, Jr. and
the Nixon Tapes
Former Secretary of State Urged Study of
Nixon White House Recordings
"Today's generation of young people frequently
fail to look backward in history to discern lessons that can be
avoided in the future." (Letter from Haig to
nixontapes.org, July 1,
the passing of General Alexander M. Haig, Jr. on February 20,
2010, obituaries and reminiscences have been pouring forth from
the nation's leading media outlets. However, one aspect of
Haig's life that has not been covered was his interest in the
Nixon tapes during his latter years.
While Haig may be best known
for his turbulent role as the 59th Secretary of State under
President Ronald Reagan from January 1981 to July 1982, visitors
to this site know Haig as Henry Kissinger's right hand man in
Richard Nixon's National Security Council. As the tapes in which
he featured demonstrate--which are scattered throughout this
website--Haig played an instrumental role in decision making on
the prosecution of and negotiations
to end the Vietnam War.
Haig became interested in the
Nixon tapes in his latter years, and even requested from
nixontapes.org "a complete
set of recordings of my conversations with President Nixon."
This extensive project was underway at the time of Haig's death,
and a portion had already been sent to him. This work was
scheduled to continue for approximately another six months. Haig
spoke to President Nixon more often than nearly any other of his
top aides, generating a significant number of recordings.
Apart from simply desiring to
own a copy of this important collection, which willl soon be
made available on this website, Haig recognized the implicit
historical value of the Nixon tapes. He seemed genuinely
disappointed that they have not yet, as of his last writing,
been fully released by the National Archives. "As you are no doubt
aware, the National Archives has been slowly releasing Nixon era
tapes to the public on a sporadic basis, occasionally triggering
a Washington Post article when they see something provocative,"
Haig also urged young
historians to study the tapes, and to learn from them. He
expressed a concern that over time people have become removed
from the challenges faced during the Nixon era, which he
believed continued to be relevant today. "As time marches
forward, today's generation of young people frequently fail to
look backward in history to discern lessons that can be avoided
in the future," he wrote.
Of course, when
Richard Nixon ordered the installation of
the taping system, he never planned for the tapes to play
such an important role in the legacy of the Nixon adminstration.
In fact, at the time of the installation, in February 1971,
Nixon had every reason to believe that the recordings would
forever remain the private property of the president. As Al Haig
noted, "It is interesting to note that President Nixon
considered the White House taping system as a key component to
the documentation of his legacy, but never envisioned that it
would also play such a key role in establishing a portion of
Rather than attempting to shape
that legacy, Haig felt that the legacy would naturally take
shape once the tapes were freely made available to the public in
their entirety. He recognized that it was impossible to have a
proper debate about the decisions made by the Nixon White House
until all of the pertinent records were made public. "Your
efforts in digitizing and distributing the tapes will no doubt
benefit historians and the public in better understanding the
real underpinnings of many of the policy decisions made during
the Nixon years," Haig wrote.
nixontapes.org could not
agree more with Haig's sentiments, and will continue to make
the fascinating recordings available well into the future to
anyone, anywhere, with an internet connection.
To you, General Haig--R.I.P.