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A gay beat poet and a Secretary of State, naked, for peace?

by Nick Cargo

Nestled in recently declassified transcripts of former Nixon Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's telephone conversations is an exchange between him and counter-culture icon, peace activist and poet Allen Ginsberg on how to end the Vietnam war.

One joking suggestion from Ginsberg: The duo appear nude on television.

"They don't make gay heroes they way they used to before the movement and community underwent professionalization," said blogger Michael Petrelis. "I'm sorry we no longer have queer visionaries like Ginsberg communicating with power-brokers at the top level of American society, and challenging them like this."

The following is a transcript of the call, which took place on April 23, 1971.


G: I am calling at the request partly of Senator McCarthy. Senator McCarthy told me to, call you. My idea is to arrange a conversation between yourself, [CIA Director Richard] Helms, McCarthy and maybe even Nixon with Rennie Davis, Dillinger and Abernathy. It can be done at any time. They were willing to show their peaceableness and perhaps you don't know how to get out of the war and who by private meeting --

K: I have been meeting with many members representing peace groups but what I find is that they have always then rushed right out and given the contents of the meeting to the press. But I like to do this, not just for the enlightment of the people I talk to but to at least give me a feel of what concerned people think. I would be prepared to meet in principle on a private basis.

G: That's true but it is a question of personal delicacy. In dealing with human conscienceness, it is difficult to set limits.

K: You can't set limits to human conscienceness but --

G: We can try to come to some kind of understanding.

K: You can set limits to what you say publicly.

G: It would be even more funny to do it on television.

K: What?

G: It would be even more useful if we could do it naked on television.

K: (Laughter )

G: It might be too __ but under some kind of circumstances. What shall I tell them that would be encouraging?

K: That I would think about it very seriously.

G: Good deal.

K: I will call Senator McCarthy. I am leaving town for a conference that I have had scheduled for some time but I will be back on Monday. When did you intend to do this?

G: During the May Day Meetings in Washington. They will be lobbying and they could meet with you. May 2 or 3.

K: May 2nd or 3rd. Damn it! I would like to do it in principle but --

G: It is a good principle.

K: Now wait a minute. I don't know about those dates, I may not be in town. If not, we can do it at some other reasonable date.

G: I gather you don't know how to get out of the war.

K: I thought we did but we are always interested in hearing other views.

G: If you see [CIA Director Richard] Helms, ask him if he has begun meditating yet.

K: [About what. ]

G: . . . . . . . . . . on the opium market . . . . . . Long Chin (spelled phonetically). He promised to meditate one hour a day. I still have to teach him how to hold his back straight.

K: How do I reach you?

G: City Lights, San Francisco.

K: Where are you calling from?

G: Sacramento, California -- I just gave a talk on gay liberation (?) to the students here, and I am going to San Francisco to join the march there. I will be at the following number --

K: I won't be able to call you, I am leaving town. How can I reach you after Monday ?

G: I will be there until June 15th.

K: You are not coming here?

G: If I were needed, I could arrange --

K: No, no - - I will call McCarthy.

G: Talk to him, I will try to arrange a private meeting. It would be good to talk to the Army too, you know the war people and the anti-war people.

K: It i s barely conceivable that there are people who like war.

G: They might have some ideas, they have been to Hanoi.

K: I will call McCarthy. If we can set it up on a basis of --

G: You may have to subject yourself to prayer.

K: That is a private matter that is permissable.

G: Of course.

K: Okay, I will call McCarthy.


Hundreds of hours of the transcripts, maintained by George Washington University, are available to the public at the National Security Archive. The transcripts were made unbeknownst to anyone in the government besides Kissinger, who recorded the calls, and his secretary, who transcribed them. On leaving office in January 1977, Kissinger destroyed tapes of the incoming and outgoing exchanges and took the documents with him, calling them "private papers."


Originally published on Monday December 29, 2008.

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