A handwritten note on top of the telegram asks, “Is this one of the former Beatles?”
Yes, it was.
The telegram, a terse protest of the bombing of Cambodia, was addressed to then-President Richard Nixon and sent to the White House by George Harrison on Aug. 16, 1973.
It is one page of 90 released by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
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George Harrison’s A-file is basically a history of his interactions with U.S. immigration. It covers more than 20 years and now appears online along with the files of other notable foreigners that have come before the agency.
Harrison’s records are noteworthy because they help complete a story of government paranoia, of Nixon’s exploitation of federal agents to undercut what was then growing youth dissent toward the Vietnam War. Not a small factor was Nixon’s own fears that he wouldn’t be re-elected in 1972. He was re-elected but famously fell to his own dissembling and obstruction of justice in the Watergate scandal.
Harrison’s squabbles with immigration might be labeled collateral damage. Nixon’s main target then was another former Beatle, John Lennon, who was far more politically active.
Still, the telegram is intriguing.
Harrison was angry that his request for a visa extension had been denied, because of a prior pot conviction in England. He’d previously been granted entry, despite officials knowing about the 1969 conviction. Here is the text of the telegram, retaining the misspellings and garbled syntax:
“Sir how can you bomb Cambonian citizens and worry about kicking me out of the country for smoking marijuana at the time. Your repressive emperaour war monger ways stop before too piece luv we will run the world Harry Krisher Hare Hara Krishne Hare Hara Hare Hara Krishner. George Harrison.”
It’s appropriate that these pages are available now. Once again the nation is led by a paranoid, self-obsessed president motivated by deep resentments that rival any regard for the nation and its security. Many comparisons have been made between Donald Trump and Richard Nixon, with more than a few foreseeing a similar, self-made demise.
When you hear politicians bemoan the outspokenness of Hollywood celebrities, of musicians who make headlines for their political views, not their talent, it’s an echo of the Beatles era.
Lennon was hounded by Nixon and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. It took a Freedom of Information Act request followed by a 25-year legal battle before journalist Jon Wiener gained the release of government files chronicling the FBI’s surveillance of Lennon, including efforts to catch him with narcotics, which could then be used as a rationale for deporting him.
The files are astounding and chronicled in Wiener’s 1999 book, “Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files.”
Harrison’s immigration file further completes the picture.
Like Lennon, Harrison’s previous conviction for marijuana possession was used at times as a reason to block his visas, and at other times it was ignored. The difference seemed to be whether or not the government thought that he was being too outspoken. Fears, especially for Nixon, were high as the 1972 Republican National Convention neared. He believed that Lennon was helping plot violent demonstrations.
A September 1971 letter in Harrison’s file is a note among immigration officials advising that any requests by Harrison or Lennon should be sent to a higher office. It describes them as “personalities who may receive public attention in the United States, which would result in unfavorable publicity to this office.”
Harrison’s file includes correspondence from 1970 in which representatives of “The Ed Sullivan Show” noted that the Beatles services are no longer needed and should not be used as a rationale to grant them visas at the London embassy.
All of this is a cautionary tale in a time when questioning the government is once more being met with jeers about disloyalty and when facts considered uncomfortable to the president are “fake news.”
Ironically, the lesson comes through the experiences of four British lads who brought a musical revolution to America.
Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star.
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