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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, July 1, 2009)

Following 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 "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 wrote.

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 that legacy."

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. 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.


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