In 1968, not long before the presidential election, the Vietnam War was tearing America to pieces. Thousands of young protesters -- many of them about to be drafted into the slaughter -- swarmed in streets and denounced the White House. President Lyndon Johnson decided not to seek re-election. Hubert Humphrey became the Democratic nominee.
In the fall of '68, North Vietnam secretly offered meaningful concessions, which promised to spur successful peace talks in Paris. LBJ prepared to announce a halt in U.S. bombing of North Vietnam -- which would have cheered America and brightened Democratic chances in the election. But, abruptly, South Vietnam pulled out of the peace talks.
Now it seems likely that Republican nominee Richard Nixon secretly induced South Vietnam to wreck the talks, insuring his own narrow election victory. The grotesque war continued five more years, claiming 22,000 more American lives.
Confidential White House recordings released by the LBJ library show that Johnson privately accused Nixon of "treason" for sabotaging the peace talks. Here's the story:
Nixon chose lovely Anna Chennault, Chinese-born widow of World War II Gen. Claire Chennault, as his private liaison to South Vietnamese leaders. She was a wealthy GOP national committee member and part of Nixon's campaign staff. She met South Vietnam's ambassador covertly in Nixon's New York apartment, assuring him that if Nixon became president, U.S. policy would more strongly favor South Vietnam. She arranged a secret meeting between the ambassador and Nixon.
Just before the election, after South Vietnam scuttled the peace talks, Chennault phoned the ambassador and told him to "just hang on through the election." The White House learned about the call because the FBI had bugged the ambassador's phone.
LBJ raged privately that Nixon was betraying America by prolonging the vicious war. He called his old colleague, Republican Sen. Everett Dirksen, to protest.
When the war didn't subside by Election Day 1968, Nixon won the presidency by less than 1 percent of the popular vote.All this transpired nearly a half-century ago -- but history is important. Federal officials, perhaps historians in the Library of Congress, should conduct a formal inquiry to see whether Nixon betrayed America for political gain.