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It was October 1973, and I was thirty-nine years old. Watergate had broken out in September of the previous year. I was in the midst of living "the good life," and, although I had been following the news accounts of the Watergate affair fairly closely, it was more background noise than anything else. My attention was focused on practicing law in Houston, Texas, building an international law firm, and managing my business affairs.
The Senate Watergate Committee was in full operation, and John Dean, the president's counsel, had testified that President Nixon knew of the Watergate cover-up as early as September 1972. There was also testimony that John Ehrlichman, one of the president's closest advisors, had approved cash payments to the Watergate burglars. The Committee had heard testimony to the effect that the president had installed a voice-activated taping system in the Oval Office, which had recorded all conversations taking place there without the visitor's knowledge or consent.
Nixon's two closest associates, Ehrlichman and H. R. Haldeman, had resigned. John Dean had been fired. Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor, had subpoenaed tape recordings from the White House that were relevant to the case, and subsequently was fired as special prosecutor on orders from President Nixon. Attorney General Elliot Richardson, who had selected Cox for the job, refused to comply with Nixon's orders and resigned. His deputy, William Ruckelshaus, likewise refused to fire Cox, and was discharged. Solicitor General Robert Bork, next in the line of succession, was appointed acting attorney general and removed Cox from office.
This series of events was dubbed by the press as the "Saturday Night Massacre." By this time, like most Americans, I had become deeply alarmed, and I felt that there must be much more to this than had already surfaced.
In late October, General Alexander Haig, Nixon's chief of staff, telephoned my father, Leon Jaworski, and said he wanted to discuss his taking the special prosecutor's job. My father flew to Washington the next morning. Public reaction to the Saturday Night Massacre apparently had been much more violent than the White House had anticipated. Congress was considering creating a separate Special Prosecutor's Office outside the president's control.
In that meeting, Haig urged my father to take the job. "The situation in this country is almost revolutionary. Things are about to come apart. The only hope of stabilizing the situation is for the president to be able to announce that someone in whom the country has confidence has agreed to serve." My father agreed to take the job only if he was assured that he would be able to pursue the investigation with complete independence, and that he would have the right to take the president to court if necessary.
During the following months, my father was to discover the frightening dimensions of the Watergate conspiracy, and he was to share those with me, in confidence, as he learned of them. This was a life-changing experience for me.
* * *
It was Halloween night when my father returned home from the meeting with General Haig. News of his acceptance had leaked out in Washington, so media representatives had assembled at the house. Most members of our family had gathered there, and the air felt electric with excitement.
But later that night, I went for a long walk alone. I thought of the sacrifice my father was about to make. He was sixty-eight years old, in the process of retiring. I worried about his health, and the enormous stress he would be experiencing in the coming months. Most people knew him as a member of the establishment, the senior partner of one of the most powerful law firms in the country, and one of the best litigators in the United States.
I knew him quite differently. I knew him as the son of a Polish immigrant and as a rare and great American—a modest, almost self-conscious man, who held a deep belief that when we are called, we must serve. He abhorred being in the limelight. In the midst of pressure and controversy, he sought simple pleasures, working close to the earth, spending a lot of time gardening. He raised beautiful azaleas and camellias, which he loved to photograph.
When I was young, every evening I would ride my bicycle to the bus stop to meet my father, and then we would walk back home together to our big white house. Many times after dinner, he would take the car and go back to the office, particularly when he was in trial, which seemed to be almost all the time. But there was plenty of time for the children: playing in the parks together, tossing the baseball on weekends, playing at the beach, fishing. On Sunday mornings, he would put all three of us on his lap and read the funny papers to us. He was a wonderful father. Then World War II came, and it all changed.
One afternoon, I was playing outside when all of a sudden my father showed up, much earlier than he normally came home. I followed him into the house where my mother was polishing furniture and doing some general housework. She looked up and said, "Well, Mr. Jaworski, what are you doing home this time of day?"
And my father replied, "Captain Jaworski to you, my dear." I remember the look of dismay on my mother's face. From that moment on, our lives would never be the same.
We didn't see much of our father after that. While he was overseas, it was really rough on my mother. She would wait for his letters, and when they came, we would all crowd around her in the living room. We would stand very close to our mother while she would try to read the letters to us without crying. She never made it. We would all clutch her and hold her tight while she was crying, sometimes uncontrollably, as she read.
When my father came back from Europe, he was an altogether different person. We went to the train station to meet him, and the first thing I noticed was that he was chain-smoking cigarettes. He hadn't smoked cigarettes before. When we got home, what I remember more clearly than anything else over the next few days was that he was cursing: "damn" and "hell" and "son of a bitch." I'd never heard him use those words before. There was an edge to him, a harshness. He didn't care much about the flowers. He seemed nervous and began working very hard almost immediately.
Later, when I was older, he told me that many of his friends and partners had stayed home and not gone to the war. They had made a lot of money in the meantime, while we were in pretty pressed financial shape because of his war-time pay. He had a lot of catching up to do, so he began dedicating himself to that. It was pretty much that way from then on for as long as I can remember. All of his partners and young associates at the firm referred to him as "the Colonel," and I began doing so also. As I look back at it, this seemed to mark the change in our relationship.
During the first week when he was back, he insisted that I take boxing lessons. I didn't want to take boxing lessons, and when I told him so, he shamed me for being afraid. He seemed to be very disappointed in me, which hurt. This was the first of a series of events that reflected the kind of relationship I had with the Colonel from that point forward. I was an unself-conscious, silly, but sensitive and vulnerable boy, full of wonder and imagination and open to all possibilities. I was always trying to get his attention, trying to get him to accept me for what I was and what I wanted to be. It was a struggle that lasted for years and years. In the long run, I became fiercely independent, and so opposed to anyone controlling me that I think I went overboard with it.
Maybe that's why for years I was so wild. Even before the fifth grade, I was always organizing mischief. I would get my older sister to help me put big rocks on the railroad track to see what would happen. Another time, I set fire to a field, not intentionally, but I was playing with fire. The fire could have burned up a whole block of houses if the fire department hadn't handled it promptly. When I was in fourth grade, I found some mules grazing in a field, and I thought it would really be funny to turn them loose in my school building, so I did. At thirteen, I would sneak out of the house and roll the Colonel's car down the driveway, very quietly, and then go out driving for a couple of hours, coming back just before daybreak, when the Colonel would get up and go to work. At sixteen, I took his pickup truck and drove to Mexico for a week with a couple of my buddies.
* * *
When my father went to Washington to take over the job as the Watergate prosecutor, he didn't know whom in his office he could really trust. Those early months were tough on him. He was known as the president's man, the lawyer who supposedly could be controlled, the friend of Lyndon Johnson, who knew where power lay and respected it. His staff of seventy-five was composed of young lawyers who were mostly inherited from Cox. My father was hampered by the disaffection of some members of that staff, and like most people under those circumstances, felt a certain degree of self-doubt. We talked over the telephone often during those early days.
In a telephone call just before Christmas, the Colonel's voice was grave. He said he could not talk about things over the telephone, but he wondered if I would be at the family ranch when he could spend a few days there over Christmas.
Our ranch lay between the little village of Wimberly and Austin, Texas, on Ranch Road 12. The Colonel had bought the land in the late 1940s, after he came back from the war, and had paid thirty dollars an acre for it. It was solid cedar and scrub. For those first five years, from the age of fourteen through eighteen, I worked summers and most holidays with the crews who were clearing that land. The Colonel would often join us, and he got tremendous satisfaction out of creating parklike settings from areas so densely covered with scrub and cedar that not even grass could grow. In later years, it became a family affair, almost a ritual, where the Colonel, my brother-in-law, and I would spend weekends at the ranch, getting up early, before the heat became unbearable, to chop cedar, pull dead stumps, and burn the scrub. This was the Colonel's sacred place, where he cleared his mind, and where he got his energy.
* * *
After receiving the Colonel's telephone call, I arranged to take a couple of days off to spend at the ranch. On the way up, I thought about how serious he had sounded over the telephone. I was anxious to hear about the developments in Washington over the previous few weeks.
When I got there that evening, the Colonel seemed tired, and we spent the time after dinner just catching up on things in general and talking over the business of the quarter-horse operation at the ranch.
After breakfast the next morning, we loaded up the Jeep with all the necessary paraphernalia—chainsaws, double-edged axes, pickaxes, plenty of cold water, fruit, and a few beers. At about seven-thirty, we struck out for the "boondocks," as the Colonel called it, and went to work. We cleared cedar without stopping for a couple of hours, and when we took a long break, the Colonel and I sat under a big oak and talked.
It was the same as it had been for twenty years. He always wore the same clothes up there. As my mother put it, "He looked like something the cat drug in." His baggy pants were stuffed into his Red Wing work boots and held up by a belt that had seen its better days years before. His shirt was a khaki army shirt from his war years, which had the sleeves cut out of it. After he'd worked for a few hours, his clothes were soaked with sweat, and there were wood chips, grime, and dirt throughout his hair and eyebrows. As I think about it, I smile. His face looked like a chimney sweep's. But that's when he was the most relaxed, the happiest.
As we squatted down under the tree, the Colonel began to tell me what was on his mind. "Bud, we've been listening to the tapes. The president is up to his ears in this thing. I heard the president of the United States, a lawyer who took the same oath that you and I took, suborning perjury like a common criminal. He was telling Haldeman how to testify under oath untruthfully and yet sidestep perjury. Here is the president of the United States, his counsel, and his chief of staff—three of the most powerful men in the country, people charged with the highest responsibility in our government—and I heard them talking and plotting against the ends of justice like thugs. Sleazy, third-rate criminals." His voice was rising, and his eyes were flashing. He got up, went to the Jeep, and pulled out a brown cardboard envelope, which he almost threw down at my feet. "Here—just take a look at this!"
We began leafing through the transcript. The part the Colonel had referred to was the now infamous March 21, 1973, conversation among Nixon, Dean, and Haldeman, and, as my father had told me, contained the portion in which Nixon was coaching Haldeman on how to lie under oath without committing perjury. Their language was a mixture of disjointed phrases, profanities, and obscenities. It was like two guys half-drunk in a back room shooting craps. They talked about getting a million dollars to pay in blackmail money to keep things quiet. What was contained in this transcript was clearly sufficient in my mind to permit a jury to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the president had joined a conspiracy. It was clear that Nixon was up to his eyeballs in the entire business.
My mind flashed back to the many times I had heard Nixon speak to the American people on television about Watergate, reassuring us that he was not involved, that this whole affair was blown out of proportion. That was the public Nixon. Now I was seeing the private Nixon—the real Richard Nixon. His betrayal of the Constitution and his staggering abuse of power made me sick to my stomach. Revulsion and hate welled up in me. I had a feeling of fear for our entire country, fear that followed the realization that we were being led by a man with so little character. How could someone with such a low moral and ethical base ascend to the highest office of the most powerful nation in the world? How could this happen? Who was responsible? How could we prevent this from ever happening again?
I looked at the Colonel, and I could see that his heart and his soul were aching like mine. He was looking down at the ground, scratching in the dirt with a twig, and then he looked up at me and said, "When I went up there, I never ever expected to find the president in the middle of this. It never even occurred to me that he was in the driver's seat. The situation is explosive. But you can't breathe a word of this to anyone. It would prejudice the right of others, and eventually Nixon himself, to a fair trial."
I knew this without the Colonel even saying so. I knew he badly needed someone just to confide in—someone whom he trusted, with whom he could share this. He talked of a deep premonition that things were going to get much worse than anyone in Washington ever imagined. And it was on his shoulders to help see the nation through one of the most traumatic events in its history. I reassured him. "Colonel, stay after it. I know you'll continue to do the right thing."
"With God's help," he added.
* * *
The hardest thing for me in the weeks and months that followed was to have this knowledge and, at the same time, watch the president lie to the American people on television. It's impossible to describe the feeling of contempt I had as I watched him. I was disillusioned with our political leadership, but I recognized that we all bore some personal responsibility for what was happening in Washington. We were getting what we deserved. I began thinking about the role that ordinary citizens like myself should be playing in the life of our country.
* * *
About a month after I met with the Colonel, the attorney general and his six codefendants appeared in Judge Sirica's court for their arraignment on the Watergate cover-up indictment. They were all charged with one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice. In the Colonel's words, it was "an unparalleled American tragedy ... an historic moment." There stood the former chief law enforcement officer in the country, the former assistant to the president, the special counsel to the president, an official of the Committee to Re-Elect the President, and the general counsel to the United States Information Agency. All but one were lawyers—a painful fact, which the Colonel and I talked about many times.
Excerpted from Synchronicity by Joseph Jaworski Copyright © 2011 by Joseph Jaworski. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Introduction by Peter Senge PART ONE: PREPARING TO JOURNEY
2. Making a Mark
3. The Journey Begins
5. Grand Prix Test Run
6. The Art of Loving
8. The Dream
10. Collapsing Boundaries PART TWO: CROSSING THE THRESHOLD
11. The Mystery of Commitment
12. The Guide
13. Synchronicity: The Cubic Centimeter of Chance PART THREE: THE HERO’S JOURNEY
14. The Moment of Swing
15.The Wilderness Experience: A Gateway to Dialogue
16. Dialogue: The Power of Collective Thinking
17. Lessons: Encountering the Traps
18. The Power of Commitment PART FOUR: THE GIFT
19. The Return & Venturing Forth Again
20. Setting the Field
22. New Frontiers
23. A World of Possibilities
24. Creating the Future NEW CHAPTER: How Synchronicity Has Changed the Lives of Readers NEW CHAPTER: Deeper Insights into the Inner Path of Knowledge