G. Gordon Liddy is a fascinating character and his autobiography, Will, reinforces his reputation as a colorful man whose quest for the limits of his courage catapulted him into celebrity. Few readers of Will would deny Liddy’s implicit premise that he, through sheer determination, managed to alter the course of American history and many readers have discovered that Liddy, despite his eccentricities, is an intelligent man who tells a good story.
The reader quickly discovers that Liddy’s life had far more to it than simply an involvement in the Watergate break-in at National Democratic Headquarters in Washington. In fact, the Watergate episode, although showcased, often takes a back seat to even more unusual escapades. It is difficult to believe, and this is the only trouble with the work, that he did half the things he says.
Early in life, Liddy learned some hard lessons, many of which he taught himself. As a young man reared in Hoboken, New Jersey, in the 1930’s, he was cursed by terrifying feelings of inadequacy brought on by his fear of various things, from the roar made by the dirigible Akron as it flew over his home to the fluttering of small moths at night in his bedroom. “Soon,” confesses Liddy, “my every waking moment was ruled by that over-riding emotion: fear.”
His fears grew geometrically, each new one greatly heightening his hysteria. (Some fears, such as that of the “moth-millers” casting shadows on his wall, seem absurd, while others, such as fear of pain and fire, do not.) Eventually, he became obsessed by a fear of God, fueled by nightmarish tales told to him by priests and nuns at Hoboken’s SS Peter and Paul Church, stories about how God became furious with small boys who failed to make the proper sign of the cross. Moreover, he was informed that prayers must be said nightly for all deceased family members so that their souls would not feel the torments of Purgatory. God’s omnipotence, compared with young Liddy’s vulnerability and awkwardness, made Him seem more the ogre than the Father. The priests and nuns made Him out to be cruel rather than compassionate, demanding rather than forgiving.
Appalled by his paralyzing fear of all sorts of phenomena, Liddy constantly tried to make himself brave by testing his will rather than stewing in his own cowardice. “Will,” it soon becomes apparent, is Liddy’s byword and his supreme god. In fact, in his estimation, to be stoical in the face of life’s terrors is to exercise will power which in turn allows one to feel pride rather than shame, to be in control rather than controlled, to deny all feelings of submission and weakness.
Liddy’s belief in will has been alluded to many times since he became famous for participating in Watergate, and he has been called many things because of his unbending attitude toward those who wish to obtain vital information about the Watergate break-in from him, from Fascist, to dunce, to criminal, to lunatic. Yet, in press accounts, there is evidence of a sneaking admiration for Liddy’s sense of self and dedication to abstract principle.
As the guilty and fear-ridden child in Hoboken, Liddy decided to do something about his “spinelessness” and, in so doing, rid himself of self-loathing and regain his health. His mother’s tales of American Indians bravely enduring physical torture without showing signs of suffering and of runner Glen Cunningham overcoming the handicap of badly burned legs and becoming a champion runner inspired Liddy, who came to believe that if these people could find self-respect, so could he.
Liddy was to continually test himself in order to achieve his goal of self-mastery. His accounts of...
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