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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 196

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This is the grave of Al Haig.

Unfortunately born in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania in 1924, Haig grew up in a staunch Republican family. He really wanted to be a military guy but he wasn’t a very good student. “Al is definitely not West Point material,” said one of his teachers. So he went to Notre Dame for two years and then transferred to West Point. How could he do that? A rich and powerful uncle, showing the great American meritocracy in action as usual. He wasn’t real good at West Point, graduating in the bottom third of his class. Said one of his professors, Haig was “the last man in his class anyone expected to become the first general.” But he was ambitious and ingratiated himself with top generals. He started in the Korean War as an aide to Lieutenant General Alonzo Patrick Fox and then got into Douglas MacArthur’s loop as a junior officer. He went back to school after the war, getting an MBA from Columbia in 1955 and an MA in international relations from Georgetown in 1961. All the while, Haig was toadying himself to powerful military figures and politicians and academics who believed in a right-wing military. He was named military assistant to Robert McNamara in the Defense Department in 1964 and stayed there until the end of 1965 when he took a command in Vietnam.

Now a lieutenant colonel, Haig won a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions at the Battle of Ap Gu, when he and his troops were pinned down by the Viet Cong for two days. It was after this that Haig really rose into power. He became close to the Nixon administration very soon after it took over in January 1969. He was an assistant to Henry Kissinger for a year and then Nixon made him a personal assistant on military issues. He was promoted to Major General in 1972 and was the chief U.S. advisor to South Vietnam president Nguyen Van Thieu on the cease fire talks in 1972. Nixon loved Haig and passed over 200 senior generals to name him Vice Chief of Staff of the Army in 1973. Through all of this, Haig believed Kissinger was too soft in Vietnam. And after only 4 months there, Nixon named him White House Chief of Staff. By this time, Watergate was overwhelming the administration and Haig personally controlled a lot of the day-to-day aspects of the government in the last year of the administration. Haig helped convince Nixon that resigning was his best move and helped work out the transition to Gerald Ford. How much did Haig know about Watergate? We will probably never quite now. He was certainly loyal to Nixon in all ways. People such as James Schlesinger legitimately worried that Haig would get the Pentagon involved in preserving Nixon. It’s entirely possible that Haig was involved from the very beginning, knowing about the wiretaps from 1969 on.

In any case, Ford named Haig NATO Supreme Commander in 1974 and he stayed in that position until 1979. He was nearly assassinated in Belgium in 1979 by Red Army Faction members, who typically screwed it up. Haig retired from the Army in 1979 and moved into the military-industrial complex world briefly, until Ronald Reagan tapped him to be Secretary of State in 1981. Haig had a lot of trouble getting through Congress because of his role in Watergate, which Senate Democrats wanted to investigate further. Haig’s disinterest in human rights was also a problem, especially that shortly before Reagan took office, right-wing militias in El Salvador murdered four American nuns. Haig told the House Foreign Affairs Committee,

I’d like to suggest to you that some of the investigations would lead one to believe that perhaps the vehicle the nuns were riding in may have tried to run through a roadblock, or may have accidentally been perceived to have been doing so, and there may have been an exchange of fire, and then perhaps those who inflicted the casualties sought to cover it up.

And then there was Haig’s most infamous moment, after Reagan was shot:

One small problem here. The United States has a vice-president. And George Bush was not too thrilled about this.

His viability as Secretary of State was permanently compromised at that moment and saying that using a nuclear weapon against the Soviets as a deterrent warning shot did not help. Caspar Weinberger, James Baker, Ed Meese, and Michael Denver particularly hated him–which is a lot of powerful people to hate you–and he finally resigned in 1982. Haig wanted to be president by this point. He ran for the Republican nomination in 1988, famously characterizing Bush as a “wimp” but his candidacy went nowhere. He spent the rest of his life as a semi-respectable member of the Washington foreign policy elite, never as accepted as Kissinger and distrusted because of his rather extreme views on a lot of issues. He spent a good bit of time on FoxNews talking about the military in his later years, certainly leading to no bad ideas there. He died in 2010, at the age of 85.

In the end, my view of Haig is that he was a pretty scary figure, one that would have fit in very well with Donald Trump’s administration. Haig was always happy to be on the “team” of right-wing presidents willing to break the law.

Al Haig is buried on the confiscated lands of the traitor Lee, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

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