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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 298

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This is the grave of Caspar Weinberger.

Born in 1917 in San Francisco, Weinberger’s family were ethnically Jewish but had abandoned the faith a long time before and were vaguely Christian. He was a sickly child but smart and went to Harvard, where he graduated in 1938 and then got a law degree, also from Harvard, in 1941. He joined the Army in World War II, became a second lieutenant, served in the Pacific, and ended the war on Douglas MacArthur’s intelligence staff at the rank of captain. He worked as a law clerk in San Francisco between 1945 and 1947 and then joined a law firm.

A Republican, Weinberger ran for the California Assembly in 1952 and won. He served three terms. His main focus was water projects, always a good move for an ambitious California politician. He ran for state attorney general in 1958, but lost the Republican primary. He never returned to elected office, but instead became a key Republican insider, first at the state level and then nationally. He was close to Richard Nixon, who chose him as the head of the California Republican Party in 1962. He also became close to the rising star of Ronald Reagan. When Reagan became governor, he named Weinberger head of the Commission on California State Government Organization and Economy in 1967 and then state finance director the next year. Now the consummate Republican insider, in 1970, Nixon named him chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. Then Nixon named him head of the Office of Management and budget in 1972 and finally, he became Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1973. As HEW secretary, his main goal was slashing the budget. He was a Republican after all and HEW helped the poor. Can’t have that.

In 1975, he resigned from the Cabinet and did what any Republican would do. He cashed in. Specifically, he became a vice-president and general counsel for Bechtel. But of course he was still a powerful player in the Republican Party and when Reagan won the presidency, Weinberger was going to get rewarded. He wanted to be named Secretary of State, but that went to Al Haig instead. Christ. Anyway, Weinberger did win the runner-up prize: Secretary of Defense. And while Weinberger was a cost-cutter at HEW, at Defense, it was all about increasing the budget. I know, shocking for a Republican. Weinberger was certainly a more than competent administrator and during the Reagan years, he oversaw the massive expansion of the military, with new weapons programs. Among the weapons he most advocated for was the Trident II submarine-based missiles and the MX ICBM. He wanted a huge expansion of the nation’s nuclear arsenal and was a gigantic supporter of Star Wars. The so-called Weinberger Doctrine dominated the Reagan foreign policy, especially in the first term. This effectively stated that military force was a legitimate first-call use of statecraft, as opposed to something that was only used in a worst-case scenario. Nonetheless, Weinberger was hesitant in putting U.S. troops in conflict and wasn’t real comfortable with the mission in Lebanon, which turned out to be correct. In that conflict, Weinberger, who was no devotee of Israel like modern Republicans, wanted the Israelis to withdraw from Lebanon entirely and he saw committing troops to a multinational force in that conflict poorly considered. In this, he had allies, including George Bush, but Reagan didn’t listen.

And like Reagan, Weinberger saw the Soviet Union as the Evil Empire, seeking control over the world and which previous presidents had been far too soft in dealing with. The debate over whether Reagan’s enormous defense expenditures helped bring down the USSR will probably never in; at most, it was a relatively minor factor that moreover continues the usual American way of thinking that Americans are the primary agents in everything.

Weinberger played a big role in Iran-Contra, despite his lies about not being involved. In fact, it was the discovery of his role, specifically facilitating the transfer of missiles to Iran, that forced him to resign in 1987. Weinberger was indicted on two counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice in 1992. But then George H.W. Bush pardoned Weinberger in December 1992, just before leaving office. We will never know the full story about Iran-Contra and much of that is because of Bush, who was also heavily involved although he managed to escape any real strong connections. In the end, most of the people involved in one of the most grotesque scandals in American history never served a second in prison.

After resigning from Secretary of Defense, Weinberger became the publisher of Forbes. He wrote a couple of books about foreign policy and his time in government in the 1990s, not that there is any good reason to read them.

Early in the 1st season of The Americans, there’s an episode that features the assassination attempt on Reagan. The Soviets, fearful that Al Haig has led a coup, are extra vigilant, fearing a military dominated U.S. with Haig as the head. Philip and Elizabeth Jennings’ mission is to train a high-powered rifle on Caspar Weinberger’s house and shoot him on sight if they receive the order. I was basically shouting at the screen: “Shoot Him!” I was pretty much hooked on the show from that moment on.

Caspar Weinberger died in 2006 in Bangor, Maine. He was 88 years old. He is buried on the confiscated lands of the traitor Lee, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, along with his wife Jane, who is pushed him into politics in the first place in the 1950s and who was the campaign manager on his 1952 statehouse run.

If you would like this series to visit other Secretaries of Defense, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Frank Carlucci, recently deceased, is also at Arlington while Les Aspin is in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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