by G. Gordon Liddy
Liddy lead the team that broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in 1972; the fact that they were caught ultimately lead to Nixon's resignation. Approximately the first half of Will describes Liddy's life up to the Watergate break-ins. The main theme is, as he says, "a journey from weakness to strength." In one notable scene, he eats part of a dead rat during the process of conquering his fear of rats. In another, he takes part in a raid on Timothy Leary's mansion. Liddy's personality is such that he cannot allow himself to be outdone: in any situation, no matter how dangerous or bizarre, he reacts in a way that is even more outrageous. This appears to be a profitable strategy, but it's certainly also a risky one -- he was lucky to never meet anyone just like himself. Liddy's other important personality traits are that he is extremely loyal and that he believes that the ends desired by his superiors justify nearly any means. Some of the means that he considered using against the Democratic party are pretty ludicrous: they include hiring prostitutes to sleep with politicians, hiring hippies to show up George McGovern's headquarters and urinate on the floor, and giving LSD to a speaker who was to be discredited. He claims that extreme measures were justified by the fact that during the late 60s and early 70s the establishment was, in fact, at war with the radical left. The obvious problem with this justification -- a problem that I wish he had addressed -- is that mainstream Democrats and the radical left were different groups of people.
The second part of Will describes the Watergate break-ins, the resulting trials, and Liddy's subsequent imprisonment. Having already set the stage by describing his background, personality, and philosophy, Liddy's goal in this part of the book is primarily to explain and justify his actions, to take some potshots at his enemies, and to show that one can stand up to one's principles even under extremely adverse circumstances, such as a bad prison in Washington DC.
In general, Will is a fascinating story -- Liddy led a colorful life and he's a good writer. He comes off as intelligent, brave, and for the most part an upstanding citizen, but always a little too ready to show everyone how his behavior is dictated solely by his own code of behavior, and not by society's. In a slightly twisted way, it's an inspiring story: Liddy shows how personal fears and weaknesses can be overcome by an effort of will. In this respect, the fact that his methods are often distasteful is irrelevant.
copyright © 2001 John Regehr