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HOME > ARTICLES > NOVEMBER 2002 #4

THE RICHARD M. NIXON
LIBRARY AND BIRTHPLACE


by Jeannine Coup

A visit to "The Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace" is a well conceived walk through American history, post WWII.

You first view a 28 minute film about Nixon and narrated by him. The film, "Never Give Up: Richard Nixon in the Arena" is a look at his career from the 1940's to the 1990's. There were stories and exhibits on Nixon's election to the House of Representatives and the Senate and his successful pursuit of Alger Hiss in the famous 1948 espionage case.

A visitor could read about the first Kennedy-Nixon debate. It was held in McKeesport, Pennsylvania in 1947, when both men were newly elected Congressmen. The future adversaries drove from Washington, D.C. To McKeesport together and back again and debated on values of the Taft/Hartley Bill. Nixon debated for the bill and Kennedy against. Newspapers reported that there was no clear winner.

As you walked through the gallery each period or achievement of Nixon's life became a separate room or area. During the years of his Vice Presidency the Library stressed the countries he visited and his abilities in foreign affairs.

Walking into the room which dealt with the world leaders whom Nixon knew personally was breathtaking. There they were, standing in front of you, life size statues of ten world leaders. You could walk up and stand next to Mao or Churchill, measuring the height of the man to the height of his achievements.

Everyone who walked into "The Structure of Peace" area stood quietly in awe. Shown were items from Viet Nam prisoners of war, items they had secretly made or saved and brought home. Souvenirs like a sliver of soap made into a cross which seemed very small were emotionally meaningful to the prisoners. From this somber moment you moved to RN's tribute to Pat Nixon who he called his Ambassador of Goodwill.' This was all very interesting but at this point of time you were wondering if the Library would ever mention Watergate.

Finally, you walked into the last permanent room in the Library. It was in low light but you could still easily follow a written and narrated time-line of key Watergate developments. Some of the narration were done by Nixon himself. Visitors could also listen to the smoking gun' tape. It was difficult to understand the tape and in today's world of political high-jinx, difficult to find the huge problem it had once created.

Once the tour was completed you realized how many world and national events had occurred during Nixon's public life. From WWII through the cold war,' the space race, Viet Nam and the end of the war, opening China's doors, and of course Watergate and resignation. To understand post WWII America it helps to understand this unique but tarnished giant who walked through the pages of history.

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