Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Robert L. Nichols
NICHOLS: My impressions of Nixon prior to his arrival were very negative. My impressions of Nixon the man, based on this experience, were quite positive. He had a tremendous intellectual curiosity. He wasn't telling me anything but rather was picking my brain for everything and anything I could tell him about China and about the attitude of the people in Hong Kong towards China, and the attitude of the Chinese towards Hong Kong. He never stopped asking questions, one after another, which was quite impressive, I thought, as an insignificant cultural affairs officer in Hong Kong, what an experience to have a man who had been vice president of the United States and had run for President and was to run again, asking me these questions and paying attention to what I had to say.
Then I warned him about the press. I told him that the American correspondents would try to take over and dominate the press conference, that the Chinese were very passive, and that it would be a good idea if he paid attention to the Chinese questions. And by gosh, he did. He took extra time. In fact, he delayed his departure from Hong Kong on an Air France plane. They had to hold the plane—he was going to Saigon—because he held a press conference longer, mainly because he was letting the Chinese get their questions in. That was a real teaching experience to me.
Q: You mentioned Vietnam in this context. At that point it was quiescent. The French had left several years earlier, and we were not really involved.
NICHOLS: We were getting quite involved by '65, yes. It was after the Tonkin Gulf.
Q: This is after the death of President Kennedy and during the Johnson Administration.
NICHOLS: This is during the Johnson Administration. The Tonkin Gulf resolution had already been passed.
Q: So it was on the front burner.
NICHOLS: It was on the front burner, yes.
Q: Did you have any other intimations during that posting of what was to come in Vietnam?