Michael Zeleny (larvatus) wrote,
Michael Zeleny

the edge wounds, the point kills

Accounting for the fighting arts that enabled his countrymen to dominate most of the known world, Roman strategist Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus explained that a sword stroke with the edges, though made with ever so much force, seldom kills, as the vital parts of the body are defended both by the bones and armor. On the contrary, a stab, though it penetrates but two inches, is generally fatal.[1]


Roman swordsmanship doctrines took root among the erstwhile barbarians dedicated to besting their cultural laggards and social inferiors. Thus the Nineteenth Century Gauls agreed with the Eighteenth Century Britons: “le tranchant blesse, la pointe tue,”[2]—“the Edge Wounds, but the Point Kills.”[3] The sword lore of the day was rife with fears of the “stabber”, a.k.a. the “rusher”, an uncouth but dangerous creature possessed but of the rudiments of sword-play, who inflicted himself upon the most prominent swordsman present, by drawing his sword-hand as far back as he possibly could, putting his head down, rushing upon his opponent, and stabbing at him with his foil as hard as he possibly could, regardless of aim or outcome.[4] Far beyond the bounds of Christendom, Japanese ronin agreed with the lesson dealt by Renatus: their swords, fashioned for expert cutting, served the novice best as stabbing implements:[5]

“…and that’s how you kill a man.”

The pen is mightier than the sword,” gushed Cardinal Richelieu in the eponymous play penned by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839. But could the same be said of the pencil with its ephemeral traces? Lord Coke, treating of a deed, wrote: “And here it is to be understood, that it ought to be in parchment or in paper. For if a writing be made upon a peece of wood, or upon a peece of linen, or in the barke of a tree, or on a stone, or the like, &c. and the same be sealed or delivered, yet it is no deed, for a deed must be written either in parchment or paper, as before is said, for the writing upon these is least subject to alteration or corruption.”[6] For the same reasons, argued his successors, a writing ought to be made with materials least subject to alteration or corruption. Yet this presumption was rebutted when the Court of King’s Bench ruled on 6 February 1826, that “a bill or note may be drawn or indorsed in pencil as well as in ink.”[7] Thus the stage was set for the lowly pencil besting the noble sword.
On 30 March 1858, U.S. Patent Office issued Patent Number 19,783 for the combination of the lead and india-rubber or other erasing substance in the holder of a drawing-pencil, to Hymen L. Lipman of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In 1862 Lipman sold his patent to Joseph Reckendorfer of New York City, New York, for $100,000. On 4 November 1862, Reckendoffer received another patent for an improvement upon the invention of Lipman.

He then sued the pencil manufacturer Faber for infringement.[8] In 1875 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled against Reckendorfer in Reckendorfer v. Faber, 92 U.S. 347 (1875) declaring the patent invalid because the invention was actually a combination of two already known things with no new use. As Justice Ward Hunt put it on behalf of the Court:
A combination, to be patentable, must produce a different force, effect, or result in the combined forces or processes from that given by their separate parts. There must be a new result produced by their union; otherwise it is only an aggregation of separate elements.
    A combination, therefore, which consists only of the application of a piece of rubber to one end of the same piece of wood which makes a lead pencil is not patentable.
But contrary to this ruling of the highest court in our land, a conspicuous new result was indeed produced by the union of a piece of rubber with the piece of wood that made a lead pencil. This novelty was to manifest itself in the wake of a case that came up before the U.S. Supreme Court over eighty years later.
It is said that early in the XXth century, when The Times invited several eminent authors to write essays on the theme “What’s Wrong with the World?”, the contribution of Gilbert Keith Chesterton took the form of a letter:[9]
Dear Sirs,
I am.
Sincerely yours,
G. K. Chesterton
Not satisfied with exhausting the subject matter by a pithy witticism, Chesterton followed up his missive with a book-length treatment that included a fantasy of “the Universal Stick”:
Cast your eye round the room in which you sit, and select some three or four things that have been with man almost since his beginning; which at least we hear of early in the centuries and often among the tribes. Let me suppose that you see a knife on the table, a stick in the corner, or a fire on the hearth. About each of these you will notice one speciality; that not one of them is special. Each of these ancestral things is a universal thing; made to supply many different needs; and while tottering pedants nose about to find the cause and origin of some old custom, the truth is that it had fifty causes or a hundred origins. The knife is meant to cut wood, to cut cheese, to cut pencils, to cut throats; for a myriad ingenious or innocent human objects. The stick is meant partly to hold a man up, partly to knock a man down; partly to point with like a finger-post, partly to balance with like a balancing pole, partly to trifle with like a cigarette, partly to kill with like a club of a giant; it is a crutch and a cudgel; an elongated finger and an extra leg. The case is the same, of course, with the fire; about which the strangest modern views have arisen. A queer fancy seems to be current that a fire exists to warm people. It exists to warm people, to light their darkness, to raise their spirits, to toast their muffins, to air their rooms, to cook their chestnuts, to tell stories to their children, to make checkered shadows on their walls, to boil their hurried kettles, and to be the red heart of a man’s house and that hearth for which, as the great heathens said, a man should die.
    Now it is the great mark of our modernity that people are always proposing substitutes for these old things; and these substitutes always answer one purpose where the old thing answered ten. The modern man will wave a cigarette instead of a stick; he will cut his pencil with a little screwing pencil-sharpener instead of a knife; and he will even boldly offer to be warmed by hot water pipes instead of a fire. I have my doubts about pencil-sharpeners even for sharpening pencils; and about hot water pipes even for heat. But when we think of all those other requirements that these institutions answered, there opens before us the whole horrible harlequinade of our civilization. We see as in a vision a world where a man tries to cut his throat with a pencil-sharpener; where a man must learn single-stick with a cigarette; where a man must try to toast muffins at electric lamps, and see red and golden castles in the surface of hot water pipes.
—Gilbert Keith Chesterton, What’s Wrong With The World, Dodd, Mead and Company, 1910, pp. 146-148
In at least one of its respects, Chesterton’s adaptationist vision was not too long in coming. Not a half century later, in a case styled Scales v. United States (1958-1962), the U.S. Supreme Court considered the membership clause of the Smith Act, which prohibited membership in organizations advocating the violent or forceful overthrow of the United States government. Junius Scales was criminally charged with membership in the Communist Party of the United States. The criminal charge arose because the Communist Party advocated the overthrow of the government “as speedily as circumstances would permit.” Challenging his felony charge, Scales claimed that the Internal Security Act of 1950 stated that membership in a Communist organization shall not constitute a per se violation of any criminal statute. After failing in both a district and appellate court, Scales’ appeal to the Supreme Court was granted certiorari to consider the question of whether or not a Communist Party member’s conviction under the Smith Act, which made a felony the knowing membership in organizations advocating the violent or forceful overthrow of the United States government, violated the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause in light of the apparent protections afforded to such members under the Internal Security Act. In a 5-to-4 decision, the Supreme Court held that the Security Act protected “per se” members of an organization from criminal prosecution. By contrast, the Smith Act went beyond “per se” participation by targeting those, whose membership in an organization entailed their knowing and deliberate participation in criminal activity. In light of this distinction, the Court noted, the two Acts were not conflicted. Since Scales, at the very least, knew, encouraged, and provoked illegal Party activities over the course of his eight year membership, he became the only American ever to be convicted under the Smith Act’s membership clause, of complicity in the commission of criminal activity.

Witnesses to Scales’ complicity in the commission of criminal activity included a certain Charles Childs, a paid informer of the FBI from the age of 18. Childs testified that he had been taught at a Party school how to kill a man with a sharpened pencil. In 1952, Childs attended a “Party Training School” of which Scales was a director. The school was given “for outstanding cadres in the North and South Carolina and Virginia Districts of the Communist Party.” It was held on a farm and strict security measures were taken. The District Organizer of Virginia instructed at the school. He told the students that “the role of the Communist Party is to lead the working masses to the overthrow of the capitalist government.” With respect to the preliminary task of gaining the “broad coalition” necessary to achieve this task, he stated that,
… the Communist Party has a program of industrial concentration in which they try to get people, that is, people who are Communist Party members, into key shops or key industries which the Party has determined or designated to be industrial concentration industries or plants. This is so that the Communist Party members in a particular plant will be able to have a cell, or a Communist Party group in which they will be able to more effectively plan for such things as attempting to control the union in that particular plant.
And, in a compulsory recreation period, this same instructor gave a demonstration of jujitsu and, explaining that the students “might be able to use this on a picket line,” how to kill a person with a pencil. According to Childs’ testimony,
what he showed us to do was to take our pencil, … just take the pencil and place it simply in the palm of your hand so that the back will rest against the base of the thumb, and then we were to take it, and the person, and give a quick jab so that it would penetrate through here [demonstrating], and enter the heart, and then if we could not do that, we just take it and grab it at the base of the throat.
Thus the Communist homicide technology repurposed and redeployed the lowly pencil after the fashion of Chesterton’s Universal Stick. Regrettably, the record of Childs’ testimony left the details of this deployment to the readers’ imagination. It took several more decades for detailed instructions to surface in the U.S. media. No one was better qualified to spell them out, than G. Gordon Liddy.

In the aftermath of the Watergate scandal resulting in Liddy’s conviction and imprisonment, rumors of his martial prowess circulated through various channels. Muckraking journalist J. Anthony Lukas recounted his demonstrations of how to kill someone with a freshly sharpened pencil by bracing the eraser end in your palm and ramming the point into the victim’s neck.[10] Upon his release, Liddy supplemented this rumor with a boast in an interview given to Playboy:
Playboy: What are the most effective ways to kill a man without employing a conventional weapon?
Liddy: Well, they are innumerable, depending, of course, on the skill of the practitioner. For someone with no special training, our old-faithful pencil is very efficient, just your common garden-variety standard wooden pencil with a good sharp point and a strong, substantial eraser. The eraser’s quite important, actually. With those prerequisites, and if you can reach your opponent, any novice could kill his enemy in one second or less. But I don’t want to go any further into the details, lest we have a sudden rash of pencil killings in junior high schools across the country. Assuming, of course, that adolescent males concentrate on Playboy’s Interviews.
—Eric Norden, “Playboy Interview: G. Gordon Liddy”, 1 October 1980
Enterprising adolescent males were served the details in Liddy’s contemporaneously issued autobiography, which disclosed his contemplation of killing star witness for prosecution John Dean by driving up a pencil through the underside of his jaw, through the soft-palate and deep into his brain.[11] Another of his journalistic nemeses, Jack Anderson, eventually spelled out the last piece of the puzzle by quoting Liddy’s warning: “Be sure the eraser is in good condition. It will protect the palm of your hand when you drive the pencil into an attacker’s throat.”[12] Thus the patents of Lipman and Reckendorfer received their belated vindication.
It bears notice that the Latin term for pencil, peniculus, is a diminutive of, and a euphemism for, penis. This derivation affords an insight into wishful aggressive deployment of that modest writerly implement. Lasting cultural impact of notional penicular homicide remains periodically attested in our day. Thus in his 2008 autobiography, William Shatner recounts his summer camp meetings with “kids who had survived the Holocaust, kids who had seen their parents slaughtered, kids who just as easily could kill you with a pencil as become friends.”[13] More pointedly, Steve Geng, the brother of writer and editor Veronica Geng, writes in a memoir of his drug addiction, imprisonment, and bodily decay, intermingled with tributes to his sister, of his response to being stabbed in the calf with a pencil in the course of resisting a jailhouse rape attempt:
I knew I’d have more trouble with Slim, so I carefully plotted my revenge. That night I would take a sharpened pencil, now that I knew what an effective weapon it could be, creep up to Slim’s bunk while he slept, carefully place the point of the pencil into Slim’s ear, and drive it into whatever tiny brain he had with a quick stroke of the flat of my hand. Along about two in the morning when everyone was asleep, I actually did tiptoe over to Slim’s bunk, pencil in hand, but discovered him sleeping with a blanket over his head and I couldn’t determine exactly where his ears or eyes were. It was one of the most fearful and rage-ridden nights I ever spent, and my determination wavered as I put it off until the next night. There was an off chance that I might actually kill him, but I’d read somewhere that such an attack, if done quickly and efficiently, would produce no outcry from the victim, leaving me to creep back to my bunk undetected.
    Fortunately, my new friends from the mess hall persuaded the assignment captain to move me to another dorm before I got a chance to test that theory.
But the pride of place in imaginary penicular slaying belongs to Derek Raymond:
‘You’re not very good at it, are you?’ said Gust, ‘they ought to have sent heavies in.’ He thought the man very likely could have got a job playing Hess in this new TV series they were doing on the war, and he would have had a word with a few directors he knew in Soho if he had been a mate of his. But, as he wasn’t, Gust kicked him in the stomach as he tried to drag himself up on one leg with the help of the bar-rail, then turned back to the other man.
    ‘You all right?’ he said. ‘How are you feeling now? Chipper?’ He took one of the man’s ears in his thumb and forefinger; the ear was tiny, considering the size of his head, and it had little hairs inside it. Gust picked up a cocktail stick out of a dirty glass on the bar and jabbed it down into the eardrum as far as he could; when he pulled it out the stick was half-way red, and there was some grey stuff in it as well. He shouted down his ear: ‘I think I just broke your foot!’ but the man wasn’t making sense any more; he was wailing with his hand clapped to the side of his head, swaying up and down from the waist like a bereaved widow, or else perhaps he just didn’t hear, or maybe the music was too loud. Gust realised then that he had pushed the stick in too far and that the man would probably die. Dirty cocktail-stick in the brain? What a bleeding way to go! Now the man with the broken leg tried another naughty stroke; although he only had one hand free because he was using the other one to hold onto the rail, he still managed to smash a glass and try putting it in Gust’s face.
    ‘This is just self-defence after all,’ Gust said to himself. He stamped on the man’s feet again; this time he definitely felt bones go and the man screamed, dropped the glass and let go of the rail; but instead of letting him fall Gust took him round the waist, ripped his fly open and searched inside his pants till he found his testicles, which he yanked right out into his hand. Their owner can’t have been much into baths because they smelled like something tepid from a canteen counter. Gust wrung them like the devil having a go at a set of wedding bells with all the grip he had, until the man was shrieking on the same D minor as the music.
    ‘It’s nothing personal,’ said Gust, ‘but I’m afraid you’re going to have to learn to fuck all over again.’ He wiped the blood off the man’s prick down his face, then pulled the face towards him and drove his nose into his brain with his head. The music boosted into E major on a key change, and the man doubled up under a bar-stool, leaving a lot of blood behind him while Gust receded into the half darkness towards the black drapes on the walls.
—Derek Raymond, Not Till the Red Fog Rises, Time Warner Books UK, 1994, pp. 86–87
In the realm of homicidal devices of opportunity, there is no difference between G. Gordon Liddy’s common garden-variety standard wooden pencil with a good sharp point and a strong, substantial eraser, and Derek Raymond’s cocktail stick picked up out of a dirty glass on the bar. Indeed, both of these devices answer G.K. Chesterton’s vision of a world where a man gives up trying to cut his throat with a pencil-sharpener, to stab his neighbor’s throat with a freshly sharpened pencil. As Monty Python’s criminologist helpfully pointed out, after all a murderer is only an extroverted suicide.

And that’s all she wrote.


[1] Thus Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus:

Praeterea non caesim sed punctim ferire discebant. Nam caesim pugnantes non solum facile uicere sed etiam derisere Romani. Caesa enim, quouis impetu ueniat, non frequenter interficit, cum et armis uitalia defendantur et ossibus; at contra puncta duas uncias adacta mortalis est; necesse est enim, ut uitalia penetret quicquid inmergitur. Deinde, dum caesa infertur, brachium dextrum latusque nudatur; puncta autem tecto corpore infertur et aduersarium sauciat, antequam uideat. Ideoque ad dimicandum hoc praecipue genere usos constat esse Romanos; dupli autem ponderis illa cratis et claua ideo dabantur, ut, cum uera et leuiora tiro arma sumpsisset, uelut grauiore pondere liberatus securior alacriorque pugnaret.
They were likewise taught not to cut but to thrust with their swords. For the Romans not only made a jest of those who fought with the edge of that weapon, but always found them an easy conquest. A stroke with the edges, though made with ever so much force, seldom kills, as the vital parts of the body are defended both by the bones and armor. On the contrary, a stab, though it penetrates but two inches, is generally fatal. Besides in the attitude of striking, it is impossible to avoid exposing the right arm and side; but on the other hand, the body is covered while a thrust is given, and the adversary receives the point before he sees the sword. This was the method of fighting principally used by the Romans, and their reason for exercising recruits with arms of such a weight at first was, that when they came to carry the common ones so much lighter, the greater difference might enable them to act with greater security and alacrity in time of action.
[2] Thus uniformed braggarts in a novel by Paul and Victor Marguéritte:
    Le capitaine de Serres eut un rire joliment cruel :
    —Mon ordonnance affilait encore mon sabre ce matin. Je lui ai dit : Épointe plutôt. Le tranchant blesse, la pointe tue.
    Couchorte cria :
    —Le sabre ! Il n’y a que le sabre ! C’est la première des armes. Un temps de galop, une lame solidement fixée au poignet, on traverse son homme comme du beurre.
—Paul et Victor Marguéritte, Le Désastre, Plon, 1897, p. 92

    Captain de Serres let out a cruel laugh:
    —My orderly was still sharpening my sword this morning. I said to him: “The point in preference. The edge wounds, the point kills.”
    Couchorte exclaimed:
    —The sword! there is nothing but the sword! It is the very first of arms. When on the gallop, with a blade securely fixed to the wrist, one can go through one’s man as though he were butter.
―translated by MZ
[3] Observing then the difference in the very Nature of a Sword, which all pretend to be called Swords-Men must know, the Highlanders can do nothing against our new Way of Fighting: the Reason is plain, they Fight with the Edge we with the Point; the Edge is a Blow, but the Point is a Bullet, the one falls down and may be defended many ways, the other pushes on in a straight Line, and cannot by much be so easily defended; the Edge Wounds, but the Point Kills; a Man receives many Cuts and yet stands to his Work, but the first Thrust he receives is into his Vitals, and he drops immediately: The Strength of their Motion also differs, the Blow is made by the Arm only, the Thrust by the Weight and Strength of the whole Body; the Blow is by the Sword only, the Thrust is by the Sword at the end of a Musquet, strengthen’d by the Weight of the Piece; the Blow is by the single Hand, the Thrust by both Arms; the Blow is slow and must be preceded by lifting up and falling down, the Thrust is swift and speedy; the Blow cannot be redoubled or recovered without Time, the Thrust is recovered and redoubled in a Moment: In a Word, the Soldier can make three Thrusts to one Blow. From all which I infer, that the antient Terror of these Highlanders is entirely vanish’d; and that unless the Earl of Mar who now leads this Rebellious and Barbarian Army can alter their way of Fighting, which he will find very difficult to do, our new Way has so much the advantage of them, that the King’s Army will be able to Fight them, tho’ they were three for one, and I refer my Opinion to the Event. Wherefore to encourage ourselves also, on a yet surer and stronger Foundation, I conclude this Part in the Word of the faithful Spies to the Children of Israel, when the wicked Spies terrified the People with the Multitude and Strength of their Enemies; Fear ye not the People of the Land for they are but Bread for us, their Shield is departed from them, and the Lord is with us, FEAR THEM NOT.[4] Those who cultivate the “noble science of defence” know this dangerous animal very well indeed, and give it a remarkably wide berth; but among our readers there may be one here and there who is not a votary of our honoured art, so to him we must present this creature. It joins the school of arms of some professor, or, if it has sufficient influence, gets itself elected as a member of some fencing club; when there, it provides itself with all the impedimenta needful to the fencing man, and it proceeds to take a dozen, or possibly two dozen, lessons from one of the professors (how we do feel for that poor professor!). It now finds itself, after a fashion, able to lunge and recover, and it possesses a very archaic and terribly rough idea about how a thrust is to be parried. Its object is now achieved; it requires no more lessons; it is able to, as it euphoniously puts it, “get a sweat,” which it proceeds to do; it does not wait to be invited to fence, but inflicts itself at once on the most prominent swordsman who has the bad luck to be present. Once engaged, its tactics are simple: it draws its sword-hand as far back as it possibly can, it puts its head down, rushes like an angry billy-goat upon its opponent, and stabs at him with its foil as hard as it possibly can, utterly regardless of where it may strike him or what the result may be.
Alfred Hutton, The Sword Through the Centuries‎, Dover Publications, 2002 (1901), p. 330
Here again is emphasized the difference between foil and épée work. If a poor fencer is pitted against a good one in foil the expert will not find the slightest difficulty in defeating him, for practically all of the awkward thrusts of the duffer will be easily parried so that they will not endanger the proper and legitimate target—the body and upper arm. But the duffer will be very apt to hit the good man foul time and time again, and the expert will not mind because he keeps his parries restricted to narrow movements in order to conserve time and power. A hit on his leg or mask is merely a foul hit and does not count. Mark, however, what happens in épée under like circumstances. The good man cannot afford to let the poor one come within striking distance, because, though he may hit him in better style, nevertheless some wild stab of his awkward opponent may reach him at the same time and the judges will say that both are hit, for in épée (i.e., in a duel) a beautiful lunge that passes through the adversary’s shoulder does less damage than a wild stab that happens to go through the expert’s jugular vein! And the frantic rushes of an untrained man are disconcerting even to the coolest of champions. Many a good fencer who gives a perfect account of himself so long as his opponent employs the classic methods to which he is accustomed is utterly at sea when face to face with a “rusher” upon whose movements no dependence can be placed. And if this is notoriously true in foil fencing, how much more must it obtain in épée? There is not a fencer of experience who cannot remember many instances of the poor man scoring. For example, if I remember aright General Boulanger, though by no means an expert, was as an old soldier a much better fencer than his older antagonist, Floquet. Nevertheless the latter by merely thrusting out wildly on one of the General’s rather impetuous attacks ran his opponent through the neck, very nearly killing him. Therefore in épée you must be able to retreat ad libitum before a wild or awkward antagonist, and for that you must have plenty of room behind you. A wag has suggested that the best form for a duelling-ground in a light with such a rusher would be a circle, so that one could continually keep out of distance, and patiently await the proper opportunity!
—Edward Breck, “Fencing in America”, The Outing Magazine, Volume 61, 1912-1913, pp. 483-484
[5] Thus Genta, the pseudonymous protagonist of Kihachi Okamoto’s, Kill!, a light-hearted 1968 remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1962 Tsubaki Sanjûrô.
[6] See Edward Coke, Commentary upon Littleton 229, 1628.
[7] In Geary v. Physic, 1826, 5 Barn. & C. 234, followed by numerous cases cited by Joseph Fitz Randolph in A Treatise on the Law of Commercial Paper, Vol. 1, Frederick D. Linn & Co., 1888, p. 61.
[9] See Philip Yancey, Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church, Doubleday, 2001, p. 58.
[10] Liddy brought his gun collection and his macho style with him to Washington. Once he burned his hand badly when he held it over a candle flame to impress some friends. And he liked to demonstrate how you could kill someone with a pencil. This involved bracing the eraser end in your palm and ramming the point into the victim’s neck. He recommended that the pencil be freshly sharpened.
—J. Anthony Lukas, Nightmare: The Underside of the Nixon Years, Viking, 1976, p. 87
[11] Thus Liddy on how to kill with a pencil:
I learned to kill a man immediately with no more than a pencil; to maim, to blind, and, generally, to employ my body’s “personal weapons,” against an opponent’s “vulnerable areas.”
—G. Gordon Liddy, Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy, St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 1991, originally published in 1980, p. 86
While on the main floor I had made friends of other secretaries, showing some of them who worked late hours how to defend themselves against attack, including how to kill a man with no more than a pencil. Some of the women had been shocked by that, but one had not. She was Jeanne Cress Mason, formerly of the ultrasecret National Security Agency, the code-makers and -breakers for whom the FBI had performed so many embassy break-ins.
Op. cit., p. 278
I stood stock-still, trying to figure out this development. Here was the perfect opportunity to kill Dean. A pencil was lying on the desk. In a second I could drive it up through the underside of his jaw, through the soft-palate and deep into his brain. Had someone set it up? If so, why now? President Nixon was out of office. I had received no orders to kill Dean and certainly wouldn’t be presumed so irresponsible as to do so on my own initiative; his death might hurt, through reaction, the trial chances of Mitchell, Ehrlichman, Parkinson, and Mardian. I decided to consider that my being shut up alone in the room with Dean had just been an incredible error.
Op. cit., p. 455
[12] Liddy’s official title was legal counsel for the Committee to Reelect the President, but that didn’t come close to explaining his unwritten job description—bag-jobs, forgeries, frame-ups, break-ins, and buggings. An ex-FBI agent, he had first joined the Nixon administration at the Treasury Department where he worked on antidrug policies, but he was ill suited for a policy-making position. As one of his co-workers told me, “He’s much too, uh, inventive for that.”
    A glowering and cheerless man who thrived on conspiracy, Liddy worked hard to cultivate a macho image. Once, when recruiting some men to work for him at the Republican Convention, Liddy held his hand over a candle flame, without so much as a twitch of his heavy mustache, until his flesh burned. He wanted to illustrate for his recruits what kind of men he wanted them to be.
    This bantam Groucho Marx in a three-piece suit strolled through the Nixon circus with no apparent realization that he was different from other men. He once stopped to talk with the wife of Republican official Robert Odle outside GOP campaign headquarters, and the conversation drifted toward the safety of women on the streets of Washington. Liddy advised her that she should carry a sharpened pencil to use as a stiletto. “Be sure the eraser is in good condition,” he warned. “It will protect the palm of your hand when you drive the pencil into an attacker’s throat.”
    A man of action, Liddy once leaped out of a taxi to rescue a pedestrian who was being mugged. Liddy was beaten senseless by the mugger. It was a rare occasion when he was bested. Usually Liddy was prepared for battle. While casing Senator George McGovern’s campaign headquarters for a possible burglary, Liddy whipped out a pistol in quick-draw fashion and shot out a street light that he thought might illuminate the scene of the crime.
    During the 1972 presidential campaign, Nixon’s treasurer Hugh Sloan asked Liddy to escort him to the bank with $350,000 in Sloan’s briefcase. Liddy had a surprise in his own briefcase—a gas-operated pellet gun. After the bank, the two men stopped at a restaurant for lunch and Liddy began to worry that the gas pressure in his gun would build up and the weapon might accidentally discharge. Sloan started to sweat, but Liddy was cool. He strode into the men’s room, walked into the first stall, and fired the gun into the toilet. The reaction of the man in the next stall was not recorded.
    My reporter Jack Cloherty made the rounds in Liddy’s neighborhood to find out more about him. The neighbors said Liddy sent his own children to bed before dark and could never understand why other parents didn’t do the same. Liddy became so annoyed by a group of neighborhood youngsters talking loudly after dark that he perched on a garage roof and waited for them. When they passed within range, he leaped from the roof like Batman, grabbed the kids, and slapped one of them. A delegation of parents decided it was time to negotiate, but their resolve to soften Liddy weakened when they arrived at his house and saw his guns prominently displayed on the dining room table.
    Nixon, in a conversation with Haldeman, admitted that he thought Liddy “must be a little nuts.” “He is,” Haldeman agreed. But neither seemed to think Liddy was too nuts to be carrying out orders from the president of the United States.
    When the Watergate burglary was bungled and the intruders were arrested, Liddy felt personally responsible. In all seriousness, he invited John Dean to have someone shoot him down in the street, gangland style, as punishment. Dean said that wouldn’t be necessary.
—Jack Anderson with Daryl Gibson, Peace, War, and Politics: An Eyewitness Account, Forge Books, 2000, pp. 223-224
[13] See William Shatner with David Fisher, Up Till Now: The Autobiography, Thomas Dunne Books, 2008, p. 14.
Tags: communism, death, persiflage, violence, writing

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