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Profile: David Plotz
David Plotz was a participant or observer in the following events:
Former Nixon White House aide Charles Colson, later described by reporter David Plotz as “Richard Nixon’s hard man, the ‘evil genius’ of an evil administration,” is sentenced to jail after pleading guilty (see March 7, 1974) to taking part in the plan to break into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office (see September 9, 1971) and interfering with Ellsberg’s trial (see June 28, 1971). Colson also, according to Watergate historian Stanley Kutler, tried to hire Teamster thugs to beat up antiwar demonstrators, and plotted to either raid or firebomb the Brookings Institution (see June 8-9, 1973). Colson will serve seven months in jail (see September 3, 1974). [Slate, 3/10/2000] Colson tells the court: “I shall be cooperating with the prosecutor, but that is not to say that the prosecutor has bargained for my testimony, that there is any quid pro quo: there was not. I reached my own conclusion that I have a duty to tell everything I know about these important issues, and a major reason for my plea was to free me to do so.” Colson’s testimony against Richard Nixon is damning, as he tells the court Nixon had “on numerous occasions urged me to disseminate damaging information about Daniel Ellsberg.” Vice President Ford defends Nixon, saying, “There’s a big difference between telling Chuck Colson to smear Ellsberg and ordering—or allegedly ordering—a break-in.” Colson will later become a born-again Christian evangelist, and found an influential prison ministry. [Slate, 3/10/2000; Werth, 2006, pp. 273-274]
Newsweek publishes a column by Colonel David Hackworth, who regularly writes on military matters for the magazine. Hackworth recently visited accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) in prison (see May 11, 1995). McVeigh and his lawyer Stephen Jones were featured in a recent issue of Newsweek as well (see June 26, 1995). Hackworth includes little of the actual words of the interview in this column, and spends most of his time giving his impression of McVeigh. He is ambivalent at best, lauding McVeigh’s military record and his ramrod-straight appearance, but speculative at best about McVeigh’s professed innocence. When he talked to McVeigh at the El Reno Federal Corrections Center, he writes, “I realized my gut feeling was right. He has what a lot of soldiers, good and bad, have: fire in the belly. When we talked about the military, a change came over him: McVeigh suddenly sat straight in his chair. The Army, he says, ‘teaches you to discover yourself. It teaches you who you are.’ I know what he means. To warriors, the military is like a religious order. It’s not a job. It’s a calling. Not too many people understand that calling or have what it takes.” Hackworth believes that after McVeigh returned from serving in Desert Storm (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990 and January - March 1991 and After), he “slipped into what’s known among vets as a postwar hangover[. I’ve] seen countless veterans, including myself, stumble home after the high-noon excitement of the killing fields, missing their battle buddies and the unique dangers and sense of purpose. Many lose themselves forever.” He notes that McVeigh voluntarily washed himself out of Special Forces training (see January - March 1991 and After), “but seemingly accepted his defeat stoically. Did his failure drive him over the edge? Maybe, but McVeigh says no: ‘It wasn’t the straw that broke anything.’ He planned to get in shape and come back. Still, something snapped.” Hackworth writes that McVeigh left the Army because of the postwar letdown and the Army’s “drawdown” of personnel (see November 1991 - Summer 1992), and was particularly troubled by his comrades leaving the service. He quotes McVeigh as saying, “You can literally love your battle buddies more than anyone else in the world.” Hackworth adds: “When they shipped out he was devastated, wondering if he’d made a mistake by staying in the military. Losing your war buddies is like losing an arm or a leg—or a loved one. McVeigh may have been crushed by the amputation.” From there, Hackworth writes, McVeigh “couldn’t adjust to civilian life,” and notes: “I’m no shrink, but I’ve seen this failure to adapt many times before. The rules change on you. You’re used to order—having a dear objective, knowing just how to get the job done. Then you’re on your own in a different world, with no structure and little exact sense of what you’re supposed to do.” None of this excuses or even explains the crimes McVeigh is accused of committing, he writes, and concludes: “The Timothy McVeigh I talked with didn’t seem like a baby killer. He was in high combat form, fully aware that his performance in the interview was almost a matter of life and death. If he’d been in combat, he’d have a medal for his coolness under fire. He might also be the most devious con man to ever come down the pike. At times McVeigh came across as the boy next door. But you might never want to let him into your house.” [Newsweek, 7/3/1995] Hackworth’s column contains much the same information he gave PBS’s Charlie Rose in a recent interview (see June 26, 1995). In a harsh critique of Hackworth’s military writing, Slate writers Charles Krohn and David Plotz will call his column on McVeigh “astonishingly sympathetic,” and will mock Hackworth’s “postwar hangover” explanation of McVeigh’s alleged bombing. [Slate, 11/28/1996] Although the interview is dated July 3, the issue of Newsweek containing it appears on June 26.
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