Friday, August 16, 2013

My Apologies to Richard Nixon


I don't talk politics in my blog for two reasons.  First, because there are plenty of people on the Innertubes willing to do that for me.  And second, because my political opinions are not very interesting.  But I don't suppose it will shock anybody if I mention that I think Richard Nixon was a terrible president.

Still, fair is fair.  In my research for the next novel, I discovered that I've been misquoting the man for decades.  As have so many of us when we cite his reaction to seeing the Great Wall as, "It is indeed a great wall."

I use that quote, in fact, as an epigram at the head of the penultimate chapter of my book.

Here, however was what he actually said :

I can only say to the media, who, like myself, have never seen the Great Wall before, that it exceeds all expectations. When one stands there and sees the Wall going to the peak of this mountain and realizes that it runs for hundreds of miles, as a matter of fact thousands of miles, over the mountains and through the valleys of this country, that it was built over 2,000 years ago, I think that you would have to conclude that this is a great wall and that it had to be built by a great people.

It turns out that the wonderful piece of absurdity I've been quoting so long was created by cutting a clause out of its context.  So, for my very small part in perpetuating that untruth, I hereby apologize.

But will I cut the quote from my novel?  No.  It's a work of fiction, and when writing fiction my primary loyalty is not to the truth but to the text.

You can read the entirety of Richard Nixon's remarks, if you wish, here.



George Berger said...

Thanks for making me smile.

Steven Shaviro said...

I just wanted to share with you my favorite Richard Nixon comment:

"Risk taking and adventure can add zest and meaning to life, but they can also bring the profound sadness of defeat and failure. Life is a rollercoaster, exhilaration on the way up and breathtaking on the way down... In the end, what matters is that you have always lived life to the hilt. I have been on the highest mountains and in the deepest valleys, but I have never lost sight of my destination."

Farah Mendlesohn said...

Why we should rehabilitate Richard Nixon:

Who cares if he swore a bit :-)

Michael Swanwick said...

This is not the proper place to argue seriously about Richard Nixon, Farah. But I do care that he prolonged the Viet Nam War for his own political benefit.

The very best Nixon can hope for, I'm afraid, is to be seen as a tragic hero, a man who could have been great but was brought down by his personal flaws.

Farah Mendlesohn said...

Not arguing. But that wasn't why he was impeached or for what he was condemned, and it's fascinating that this aspect of him is so rarely mentioned.

A Commercial Traveller said...

At the time, I thought Nixon was about as bad as it could get in the White House. Boy was I mistaken.