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Melvin Laird
Melvin Laird official photo.JPEG
White House Domestic Affairs Advisor
In office
May 1, 1973 – January 8, 1974
Acting: May 1, 1973 – June 6, 1973
PresidentRichard Nixon
Preceded byJohn Ehrlichman
Succeeded byKenneth Reese Cole Jr.
10th United States Secretary of Defense
In office
January 22, 1969 – January 29, 1973[1]
PresidentRichard Nixon
Preceded byClark Clifford
Succeeded byElliot Richardson
Chair of the House Republican Conference
In office
January 3, 1965 – January 3, 1969
LeaderGerald Ford
Preceded byGerald Ford
Succeeded byJohn B. Anderson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Wisconsin's 7th district
In office
January 3, 1953 – January 21, 1969
Preceded byReid F. Murray
Succeeded byDave Obey
Personal details
Melvin Robert Laird

(1922-09-01)September 1, 1922
Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.
DiedNovember 16, 2016(2016-11-16) (aged 94)
Fort Myers, Florida, U.S.
Resting placeArlington National Cemetery
Political partyRepublican
Barbara Masters
(m. 1942; died 1992)

Carole Fleishman (m. 1993)
EducationCarleton College (BA)
Military service
AllegianceUnited States
Branch/service United States Navy
Years of service1942–1946
RankJunior Officer
Battles/warsWorld War II
AwardsPurple Heart

Melvin Robert "Bom" Laird[2] (September 1, 1922 – November 16, 2016) was an American politician, writer and statesman.[3] He was a U.S. congressman from Wisconsin from 1953 to 1969 before serving as Secretary of Defense from 1969 to 1973 under President Richard Nixon. Laird was instrumental in forming the administration's policy of withdrawing U.S. soldiers from the Vietnam War; he coined the expression "Vietnamization," referring to the process of transferring more responsibility for combat to the South Vietnamese forces. First elected in 1952, Laird was the last surviving Representative elected to the 83rd Congress at the time of his death.

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  • ✪ Melvin Laird and the Foundation of the Post-Vietnam Military, 1969-1973


>> David Ferriero: Good afternoon. I'm David Ferriero, the archivist of the United States and it is a pleasure to welcome you to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives this afternoon. We're glad to have you with us today. Whether you're here in the theater or watching us on CSPAN or joining us on the archives YouTube channel. Today we present a roundtable discussion related to the new volume in the Secretary of Defense historical series, "Melvin Laird and the Foundation of the PostVietnam Military," 1969 to 1973. This volume highlights records from across the National Archives, the Gerald R. Ford presidential library, one of 13 presidential libraries within the National Archives holds Melvin Laird's papers on topics including the 1964 Republican Party platform, the 1964, '68 and '72 presidential campaigns, congressional Republicans in the 1960s, the Vietnam War and a wide range of defense department procurement planning and policy issues, both regional and global. Other records consulted included records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, records of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, as well as many different records series from the Richard Nixon presidential library and the presidential material staff. In 2012, we presented a discussion based on the previous volume in the series. And we are pleased to welcome back Dr.Erin Mahan, chief historian for the office of the Secretary of Defense who will moderate today's discussion. It's also a pleasure to welcome our keynote speaker, the Honorable John Warner, former secretary of the Navy and a senator from the Virginia. Tomorrow at noon, historian Michael Neiberg will be here to talk about his book "Potsdam: The End of World War II and the Remaking of Europe" and a book signing will follow the program. On Thursday, July 16th at 7:00 p.m., A'Lelia Bundles, chair of the National Archives Foundation will moderate a writers and scholars roundtable on civil rights featuring Pulitzer Prize winning authors Taylor Branch, Gilbert King and Diane McWhorter. This program is presented in partnership with the March on Washington film festival. To learn more about these and all of our public programs and exhibits, consult our monthly calendar of events in print or online. There are copies in the lobby as well as a signup sheet where you can receive it in regular mail or by email. Our moderator for today's discussion, Dr. Erin Mahan has been chief historian for the office of the Secretary of Defense since 2010. Previously she worked in the center for the study of weapons of mass destruction at National Defense University and the historian's office at the U.S. Department of State where she was an editor of the foreign relations of the United States series. Dr. Mahan holds a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia but her most important credential is her service on the National Historical Preservation and Records Commission which I chair here at the National Archives. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Erin Mahan. (applause). >> Erin Mahan: Thank you, David, for that kind introduction. And thanks to the National Archives for graciously providing this venue for the event and hosting the OSD historical office newest publication. I also want to thank Tom Nastick here at NARA as well as members of my only staff, Corbin Williamson, Marshall and Glen for handling all the logistics. We on stage often know that these events are not possible without the hard work of those behind us and they really make it happen. My own brief comments mirror David's because government history programs such as our hours in the Office of the Secretary of Defense could not produce comprehensive books without the assistance of the National Archives which processes and houses the voluminous primary documents used in our series. Our two organizations are natural partners in the construction of official histories. The goal of my history shop inside the vast Pentagon bureaucracy is produce books like this that we are recognizing today that are wellresearched, balanced, and as much as possible objective narratives that will stand the test of time. To that end, we are writing them about four decades after the period they cover so that we can make use of the resources as they finally get declassified or at least that's what I tell my bosses when they ask why they take so long. Especially when it is 40 years behind the curve, that necessary time lag precluded Secretary Melvin Laird to be here himself. He is no longer able to travel. But I'm pleased his son and grandson were able to be here today. Thank you for coming. (applause). Melvin Laird is the first living Secretary of Defense to have one of our official volumes published during his life time. Some say that the secretary to longevity is the cultivation of a lifetime of healthy relationships. That is very true of Melvin Laird. Richard Hunt's, Melvin Laird and the foundation of the postVietnam military, 1969 to 1973, is the seventh volume in the historical Secretary of Defense office series. It focuses on the secretary but also on the wider Office of the Secretary of Defense and their combined role in developing national security policy. We think Dr. Hunt's book is a great edition to our series. His book focuses heavily on the final years of the Vietnam War and in particular on the implementation of Vietnamization. But his book also addresses other major subjects such as Laird's attempt to reorient the department on the core security challenge of the Soviet Union, his struggles with recapitalizing a wornout force in the face of a shrinking budget, and a host of critical personnel issues from the end of the draft and implementation of the All Volunteer Force to making a most hospitable environment for women and minorities. I turn now to our keynote speaker, Honorable John Warner. Senator Warner served in the Navy and the Marine Corps, having experience in both elements of the naval services perhaps made telephone made sense that he would one day end up being secretary of the Navy under Secretary Laird. Ultimately he was elected to the Senate where he served for 30 years as either member or chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Last, and certainly not least, he is one of those very rare living individuals who have a Navy ship named after him. The USS John Warner appropriately of Virginia class nuclear attack submarine was christianed just last September and delivered a few weeks ago, three months ahead of schedule. We very much appreciate his participation today given his firsthand perspective on Secretary Laird. Thank you, Senator Warner we will thank you in a minute but I want to turn this stage over to you now. (applause). >> Honorable John Warner: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for coming and for attending. I'm particularly grateful to the archivist. As I expressed to him, I worked my way through law school partially by working in the law library. My wages were $1.25 an hour. And to the distinguished historian of the Department of Defense and her wonderful staff who've together with others put this book together, thank you. And I say thank you from my heart because this was an incredible chapter of American history that you had to record and do it with accuracy and preserve it for future generations. We have two other distinguished guests here tonight I guess it's morning Secretary of Navy, Charles Bowser. Do I see you? During the question and answer period, maybe I will put a question to you because you stood beside Laird. This man, Melvin Laird, is bigger than life. I hear from him frequently and I dutifully called him yesterday to have a final discussion about several points I wanted to distress discuss, and he promptly agreed to them all. Said fine. I said, do you have any final thoughts? Yes, I do. Long pause. Warner, don't screw up. (laughter). That was characteristic of his leadership in the Department of Defense. Yes, he was a rough, tough, swaggering old destroyer officer in World War II receiving the Purple Heart. But when it came to the administration of that building, he had that wonderful management of skill of knowing where firmness had to be applied, where compassion was needed, and where those needed help. And he was, together with a man he absolutely loved, David Packard, formed the Laird Packard team and we entered that building in January 1969. Now, mind you, Melvin Laird in his life time of course, he had his naval command experience at sea, but other than that, his largest responsibility of staff was somewhere between 30 to 40 to 50 staff people on Capitol Hill. Capitol Hill was his love of life. Let it be no mistake next to his family, his love of life. And he would often sneak out of the building as Richard Capin, one of the assistants he had that worked for us, used to tell me, to ostensibly go to Capitol Hill for a haircut. But we all knew that he was going back up there to take the pulse of the Congress. And when I say "the Congress," it was a bipartisan approach. He didn't just go to the Republicans. He went to the Democrats and he took with him the confidence that what he was trying to do was in the best interest of the whole nation. And it was not a partisan challenge that he was posing. That was one of his greatest skills. And it reflected by secretary Bowser who he asked to stay on. Bowser had been with the Democratic administration, appointed by the Democratic administration. But Melvin Laird skillfully in putting together that team decided to retain six or eight persons who had been under McNamara, Clark Clifford, to stay there because of their skills, politics be damned. Let's get the best and most knowledgeable of skills to run this department at a time of critical history being made, at a time where the first week in office an aide pulled him to the side that said, Mr. Secretary, the casualty figures last week in Vietnam were over 500 killed. That was a greeting he received when he arrived. That put him on a mission to do everything our country could possibly do to resolve the conflict in Vietnam and at the same time keep focused on the emerging picture of the threats facing America in the future. Now, mind you this was a Cold War period, and the Soviet Union was challenging the United States on the high seas all over the world. I was privileged to have been given the task by Laird and Secretary of State Bill Rogers to go right in the middle of the Cold War travel to Moscow on a number occasions and negotiate with the Soviets an executive agreement so our ships wouldn't collide trying to collect intelligence on each other or the airplanes wouldn't crack up and precipitate a greater conflict that was not the intention of either the Soviet Union or the United States. That was Europe, specific, of course, focused on the conflict in Vietnam. So this man gave up what he loved most, the Congress of the United States, full knowing that if he did his job right, he would never be able to return again and probably survive a public election. But he took that and he agreed to stay for four years, and I am deeply humbled and privileged to have been by his side in all those four years. Apart from our formal relationship, we had a bit of a social relationship, and it was an interesting one. Just to give you an example of the intensity with which this man would work, he would bring me up. We all worked on Saturday mornings. He would say, Warner, we are going to have mission Number 2 this afternoon leaving here promptly at 3:00. Yes, sir, I'd be ready. At 3:00, I would be down at his limousine out to a golf course where we would play golf. And then after golf, he would have one underscore one one drink. It was a Manhattan. And then he would get back in the limousine with me, he would go back to the Department of Defense. I would grab my car and scoot home and stay there and work in solitude or with others well into the night. Seven days, seven nights a week this man labored. This is laid forth in this excellent book all of the things he achieved and he was proud in. But most all, with the All Volunteer Force, he felt very strongly that such draft mechanism that is we had at that time were inequitable. Such things as the inability of women and minorities to advance through the ranks of the military needed to be adjusted. And he felt that if he could take the gamble and convince America that the concept of volunteerism which goes back to the earliest days of our republic that concept would glue together this nation and bring about an even stronger military. Folks, those of us that were there during this period testing the chances to do this and the military stood back in awe and said this is going to be a high risk, but it was Melvin Laird's determination to try to drive it through. And it took root. And today I can testify, having spent 30 years in the United States Senate supporting it, funding, it has worked and exceeded all expectations. The vision, the courage of one man to make that decision. There are many others that I could recount but today we are going to have a full discussion. Other persons far more informed on this book than I will address you. But I simply want to close by saying that you have got to remember at that point in time 360 degrees of critics circled the Department of Defense. Laird had to continuously debate I'll use that word, there's a stronger word but I have to restrain myself with the Department of State. He had to deal with the Congress knowing that one vote on some missile program, one vote on something else could cripple and pull apart his matrix of thinking to guide America beyond Vietnam to meet the challenges of the world. He really never lost a single important vote in his four years in the Congress, again, because he would schlep up and get his haircut and sit there just man to man or man to woman with his colleagues he knew best urging them to impose in him the confidence to make these decisions. He even had to take on the White House. How well I remember that. I had been associated with the Nixon campaign team for two elections, the '60 and the '68. But he said to his staff in the Pentagon: I and I alone will do the congressional relations with the White House. None of you are to be over there unless you are specifically carrying in your pocket an authorization slip signed by me to going. And that in the end was a, to this individual, a great protection. I won't go into detail on that. He reminded me yesterday, Warner, I saved you from extension. (laughter). Yes, sir. Anyway, this is a momentous event. Each of us are part of it. And I now respectfully and humbly yield the floor to our framework of speakers and perhaps I'm joining them. Is that correct? I'm joining them up here. But thank you all, once again, for joining us. And I hope we have a good, lively discussion. Thank you. (applause). >> Erin Mahan: Thank you, Senator Warner, for your very incisive remarks. I would like to move to the next phase of our program and invite the other speakers to the podium. So let me now introduce our very distinguished panelist who is will speak for about 10 to 15 minutes, allowing time for questions from the audience. And during that phase, I do ask that you find one of the standing microphones on either side of the auditorium to pose your question. First I'd like to introduce Dr. Jeremi Suri who holds a distinguished chair in global leadership at the University of Texas at Austin. Professor Suri is an expert on the time period covered in the layered volume. The author of six books including Henry Kissinger published in 2007, he recently published a new edited volume entitled foreign policy breakthroughs, cases and successful diplomacy recently released by Oxford University. Dr. Suri and I were contemporaries in graduate school. I can say I long ago predicted what the Smithsonian magazine named him which is one of the top young innovators in the arts and sciences. It is truly a privilege to have him here today. Professor Suri's remarks will be followed by Dr. George Herring, professor emeritus at the University of Kentucky. Dr. Herring is a professor on foreign relations. No graduate student passes through a doctoral program without reading his highly acclaimed standard survey of the conflict, America's longest war, the United States and Vietnam, 1950 to 1975, which is in its fourth edition. Professor Herring has also won countless awards and fellowships including those from the national endowment for the humanities and the Fulbright program. Our third panelist is the author of the book, Dr. Richard Hunt. Given that the Vietnam War was front and center during Secretary Laird's tenure, Dr. Hunt's scholarly background made him a logical selection. He served as a historian with the Army and while on active duty, he was assigned to the military assistance command, Vietnam History Office. Then as a civilian, historian for the U.S. Army center for military history, he worked on historical studies of the Vietnam War. His most notable book before this one, of course, is pacification, the American struggles for Vietnam's hearts and minds which analyzes the U.S. South Vietnamese effort to stem the Vietcong insurgency. I now turn the floor and the microphone or you can speak from your chair, if you prefer, Dr. Suri. >> Jeremi Suri: It is my pleasure to be here, an on to be on stage with a senator who I revere and two historians who have been models for me in many ways but most importantly to be here with my friend, Erin Mahan. Erin has done more, I think, for public history than almost any other historian. She brings a seriousness to her work which is so important and she does a great job, I think an unmatched job of connecting the world of scholarship with the world of policy making. That's really what we're about here. I also want to say how glad I am to be here to talk about Secretary Laird. I had the opportunity to talk to him on a number of occasions. I used to teach at the University of Wisconsin before I moved to the University of Texas. And Secretary Laird was very generous with me on many occasions. Even blurbed my book about Henry Kissinger which is quite a story because his relationship with Henry Kissinger is not always the nicest of relationships. It is interesting how that happened. But I learned so much from Secretary Laird and I'm very honored to be here with members of his family and please tell him that I said that. I want to really raise a couple of points about this terrific book that Richard has produced for us here. Melvin Laird and the foundations of the postAmerican postVietnam military in the United States is a book that takes us through what I think is one of the most important turning points and this is a point that the Senator made one of the most important turning points in American military and political strategy and also one of the most important turning points in American society. And the American military was one of the places where American social change occurred. Part of this book is about not just the Vietnam War but also the changing composition of the U.S. military, the changing role of the U.S. military and American society, the struggles with drugs and race in the American military as well as the struggle with fighting a war in Vietnam. I want to raise three issues for us to think about today, three areas where I think this book enlightened my thinking and where it can enlighten all of us and hopefully give us some more issues to discuss in our conversation that will follow. First issue: What is the role of the Secretary of Defense? What role should the Secretary of Defense play? Of course, when the office was created in 1947 with the National Security Act, it was a major change in the American Constitution. I have to remind students of this all the time, that the Constitution speaks of a War Department, right? And a Navy Department. That we have had a war and Navy Department from really the 1780s through the 1940s. That, of course, reminds there was no Air Force early on. They sometimes forget that. And National Security Act of 1947 creates the unified Secretary of Defense, the unified office. What role does the Secretary of Defense play? I think what this book shows better than anything else I read the Secretary of Defense in Laird's case played the role not simply as a policy advisor to the President but as a policy leader for Congress. The role that Laird played in educating the Congress, in informing the Congress, in making the Congress part of the policy process this is something the Senator referred to. I think it was much more than haircuts obviously. This book brings that out forthrightly. Laird spent time not only at Congress but managing the military bureaucracy which at this point had become the largest bureaucracy in the United States and in the world with his partner deputy Secretary of Defense David Packard. They set public information and policy making in line with other branches of Congress. If I made say so, it appears to me reading this volume that often they were replacing the reporting role that the National Security Council or the White House might have otherwise played. At times, the Defense Department became the primary information source for the Congress and for the American public. And the book goes through a number of cases where this is true. Cambodia and Laos being two of many. What role should the Secretary of Defense play? What role should he have within the White House national security establishment? For Nixon and Kissinger Laird was a secondary policymaker at best. It was not that he wasn't accessible to the President, it was often they made policy as the book shows without attention to his opinions or ignoring his opinions. And Laos would be another example of that time. And, again, where should the Secretary of Defense fit into the policy process? What role should he play? The volume showed that Laird found a way to get his policy positions into the policy process but he often had to do it despite the White House, despite the White House. Second point: Vietnam, George I'm sure will talk a lot more about this I think the book make as very strong case that Laird was not only the author of the Vietnamization strategy that we knew, I think but that he made an important effort time and again to pressure, and in many cases to force, other members of the administration to follow through on this process and that he played a key role in trying to build up the South Vietnamese military. The book is very strong on showing Laird's budgetary efforts to get allocation of resources from a Congress that did not want to allocate resources to these purposes. It showed repeatedly how he tried to stand in the way of escalatory moves from Kissinger and others. To my astonishment, it shows where the JCS tried to undermine Laird's activities in this area. You could argue at times the Vietnamization policy that Laird was pursuing was up against the odds of almost every other policymaker in the White House at the time. And I think the book shows very well that the de-escalation of American forces, which I think was crucial to removing the United States from the war, the turning over of the fight to the South Vietnamese, was something that Laird played an instrumental role in. I think it was also clear in the book, although others might disagree me, Laird did not expect the South Vietnamese force to fight successfully on its own. I think one of the lies we tell ourselves is that the South Vietnamese military could have won without the United States. I think the Vietnamization strategy was a strategy of withdrawal and it was a strategy of the South Vietnamese government ultimately collapsing. And I think Laird raised that. That's not said in the book. That's my interpretation of what's in the book. Final point, the All Volunteer Force, I agree with Senator Warner on this. And reading this book, I would argue that Chapter 14, the chapter on the All Volunteer Force, is worth the price of the book unto itself. That chapter, I think, provides the best account I have seen of the politics behind the creation of the All Volunteer Force. I learned so much reading that chapter alone. It shows how crucial Laird was in managing the Gates commission which was the Blue Ribbon Commission created to look into the All Volunteer Force. It shows his role working with Martin Anderson in the White House, George Shultz, Milton Friedman and others, things you would not expect the Secretary of Defense to do. It shows quite conclusively how important the pay increase was, the 20% pay increase that was given to military servicemen and women. The lottery, the use of the lottery, and the end of draft calls on July 1973. The volume shows that Laird recognizes Senator Warner said so well that the American military would fight better and that there would be a better relationship between the U.S. military and the American public if it moved from what was a somewhat arbitrary and unfair draft system to an all-volunteer system. And he managed that process. But I was also moved by a particular passage in the book, and I want to read this is the only thing I will read from Richard's book. But I want to read this passage because it captures some of my own reservations, I think the reservations that many historian have of the All Volunteer Force. This is at the end of a long chapter about the All Volunteer Force showing how successful Laird was with it. But it raises important questions for us today. Questions I ask myself when I look at my undergraduates at the University of Texas today, very few of whom unless they are in ROTC have served in the military. This is the author: Should military service be regarded as a commodity as the economist believed or did an individual have an obligation to one's country that transcended economic considerations? The end of the draft pioneered by Laird raised profound issues about freedom and the obligations of citizenship. Americans now had the freedom, once again, to choose not to serve and to plan their lives without fear of being drafted. The nation would have to wage war with volunteers. That's what we've done. With no shared obligation for military service from the larger society. The military henceforth would be a force of professionals who alone would bear the physical and emotional cost of fighting. Persons outside the military would be spared for most of the hardships and consequences of war. And as a result, might have less personal interest in opposing or protesting an unpopular or unjust conflict. I think we've seen the evidence of that. There is much more ambivalence, much more disinterest in our wars because most of our young people are not serving in those wars. At least most of those who we see on university campuses. The issues that arose when conscription ended in 1973 had also been debated in 1917. Others at the time protest that had conscription would erode the traditional American ideals of individual freedom and volunteerism. The lesser engagement of the public in initiating and conducting war conferred on the nation's leaders, particularly the President, greater discretion in making decisions about war and peace. With the end of conscription in 1973, the All Volunteer Force would constitute a test of whether the needs of national security during the Cold War could be met without recourse to conscription. And I think as Senator Warner said and as the book shows very well, the United States military became a better fighting force as an all volunteer professional force. But the question, of course, for us is: Did we become a better society? Did we become a better society? I am moved by this account of Secretary Laird's time at the office of Secretary of Defense by his commitment to public service, by his mastery of the issues, by his recognition and deep belief in the democratic process. That's what he was doing at Congress. But I'm also struck by what a different world it is from today. What a different world it is from today in the relationship between citizens and government and the relationship between parties and governance, and most significantly in the public engagement with these issues. I wish we had people like Secretary Laird back because I think our policy is less fruitful, less well thought out, less effective because we lack leaders of that kind today. Thank you. (applause). >> George Herring: My thanks too to Erin and the historical office for having me here today. I welcome the opportunity to say good things about a book from which I learned a great deal and in this case about a public servant I have come to have a real liking for. Now, I have been teaching and writing history for 50 years, and I think looking back on it, that what has kept me going more than anything else is the people I have written and taught about. One of my favorites happens to be Melvin Laird, the subject of today's discussion. My historical acquaintance with Laird is recent and somewhat accidental, not too many years ago Jeremi Suri invited me to talk about Laird at a symposium in Madison. And I must confess, when I accepted, I knew very little about him at that time. So I had to do a lot of work to educate myself. And the more I read, the more I came to see what an interesting character he was and to appreciate his vital role in the first Nixon administration. I don't need to emphasize in present company that the position of Secretary of Defense may be at least the secondmost difficult job in Washington. And we know it took a huge toll on many of its occupants. Louis Johnston, Robert McNamara. Clark Clifford served less than a year and later commented that his less than 12 months seemed like five years Laird brought extraordinary credentials to the office. Member of Congress for 16 years with long service on the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee. He was an adept bureaucratic operator. Presidentelect Nixon worried about his appointee's reputation for being at least a tad devious. Of course, Laird is devious, President Eisenhower assured him. But anyone who has to run the Pentagon and get along with Congress, that is a valuable asset. In his memoirs, Henry Kissinger has admiration for Laird's skills as a political insider. There were conspiracies that make byzantine mild by comparison. There are many stories and I will tell just one of them here. One of my favorites, Kissinger typically thought to exclude Laird from a presidential meeting with the Pope. The protocol recalled for Nixon to fly on a military aircraft to Saint Peters to the Caribbean. Laird brought the helicopter to Saint Peters an hour before Nixon was due to arrive. Given the noise level, the Pope couldn't but observe the aircraft, so he invited his passengers inside. Imagine Kissinger shocked when he arrived and found Laird already there. Kissinger concedes in his memoirs that entangles with Laird he lost as often as he won but he operated with buoyancy and good humor that made working with him as satisfying as it could be on occasion maddening. I think maybe that's in my heart of hearts why I've taken a liking to Laird. Now, it's an impression of mind, nothing I've measured scientifically, that until very recently Laird has not got his due. The index to the first edition of my book, "America's Longest War," for example, contains but two citations to Laird both references to his and William Rogers' unsuccessful opposition to presidential initiatives. Richard hunt's history of Laird's stewardship of the Pentagon I think is a superb corrective. It's most impressively researched. I'm one of those weird characters, maybe some others of you out there who sometimes reads footnotes for fun imagine that as I was pursuing the notes of this volume, I could only envy the citation of documents I assume are still unavailable to me. The book is wellorganized and clearly written. It upholds what I have come to view as the high standards of a series. It persuasively argues the centrality of Melvin Laird's role in national security policy in Nixon's first administration. Obviously in the time allowed here, I can't deal with everything or, indeed, with many things. So let me just address a few matters. Where I'll focus will come as no surprise to anyone who knows my work. I was most impressed with Dr. Hunt's analysis of Laird's Vietnam policies. To understand his role at that time, I think it's useful to begin with the Johnson presidency. At the time LBJ Americanized the war, 50 years ago this month, Laird was one of his most vocal critics. Hunt sees Laird in one comment as neither hawk nor dove. I see him at this point in 1965 as a Goldwater hawk who firmly believed in the efficacy of air power and in the concept of when or get out. In 1965, he advocated expanded bombing of North Vietnam. He staunchly opposed increasing U.S. Air Forces. When Johnson was contemplating doubling the number of Air Forces in June '65, Laird urged Republicans to withhold support unless the President told him what he was up to. Fat chance of that happening at that time. Laird was also challenging the more moderate and compliant Gerry Ford for leadership of House Republicans. So in 1965 in the summer, I had been working with LBJ's phone conversations. And Laird appears briefly but prominently. Fascinating phone conversation with Ford June 1965. LBJ suggested half jokingly, only half jokingly, that Laird was off his rocker and urged Ford to put a muzzle on him, to ingratiate with Ford, the President then proposed that his dissent Senator Wayne Morse be traded to the Republicans for Melvin Laird. As Secretary of Defense Laird has already been mentioned was the architect of and even coined the name of the policy of Vietnamization. His major accomplishment, Hunt contends, was getting the United States out of Vietnam. And the book documents with rich detail how he did this. His singleminded commitment to troop withdrawals often put him at odds with President Nixon who I think appreciated fully the political importance of what Laird was doing but also had some problems with it and Henry Kissinger, who did not always appreciate it. They persisted in seeking peace with honor. Code words for an independent, noncommunist South Vietnam. Their negotiating position called for mutual withdrawal of U.S. and North Vietnamese troops. They hoped to use troop withdrawals as a bargaining lever with Hanoi. Laird viewed from the perspective of domestic politics. He was certain it could not be won. He saw his task as getting the United States out as quickly as possible and repairing the damage at home caused by the war. By the fall of '69 through skillful maneuvers, he had brought the United States to what Dr. Hunt calls the verge of irreversible unilateral withdrawal. And from this point, he employed all the tricks of his trade to get U.S. forces out of Vietnam as quickly as possible. He used mounting pressure to cut the military budget as leverage to speed the pace of withdrawals. Time again he outmaneuvered Kissinger and even Nixon on withdrawal policy provoking Al Hague to accuse him of management chicanery. Laird said there could be no slowdowns seeking to end U.S. combat in Vietnam. While getting Americans out, of course, he also pushes hard to prepare South Vietnamese forces to take over the fighting. Laird's doing and ultimately successful troop withdrawal raises, I think, some interesting questions, some difficult problems. It certainly provides another example of the dysfunctionality of the Nixon administration. With a stronger President or maybe a weaker Secretary of Defense, it might not have happened. I'm certainly in sympathy with Laird's urge to get the United States out of Vietnam, but it's also clear that unilateral withdrawal did weaken Nixon's negotiating position and, as Jeremi suggested, South Vietnamese's ability to survive. I am not sure of it but my sense is that he dealt with this contradiction by persuading himself despite abundant evidence to the contrary that Vietnamization would work, that the South Vietnamese would be able to defend themselves. If this was his belief, of course, he turned out to be wrong and he clung to his belief even after 1974/'75 Vietnam's deficiencies became all too obvious. In his 2005 article on Vietnam and Iraq he blames the fall of Saigon of the U.S. Congress cutting aide. A charge I have not been convinced by. I thought the Laos chapter was a particularly fascinating piece of work which reveals a whole bunch of things, the dysfunctionality of the administration's policy making process. Above all, Hunt concludes is raises questions about the accomplishments and the durability of the Vietnamization as well as the two governments to wage war on its own. I think what has to be remembered and I would add quickly and emphatically from this point, that this excellent book deals with a lot more than the wars in southeast Asia and that, I think, is its real strength, bringing to the fore things that aren't usually taken into account in the history of these years. I think from the standpoint of time, I will stop right there and stop with a conclusion which I was particularly drawn to and I think particularly well sums up what we're talking about today. Here's the way Hunt sums it up. Laird, he said, exercises continual considerable autonomy in a sometimes dysfunctional administration that sought to stifle him. Fortunately for Nixon and Kissinger, he goes on to say, they failed to stifle him. The book makes clear a public figure who has gained little notice played a pivotal role in a number of key areas he not only survived in a difficult post but accomplished a great deal in an administration that often tried to marginalize him. He did it with clear vision, welldefined goals, dogged determination, and a large dose of good humor. My conclusion, not the author's, perhaps the smartest thing Laird did was to get out of Washington before the creeky edifice that was the Nixon administration came crashing down amidst the wreckage of Watergate. Thank you. (applause). >> Richard Hunt: I would like to thank the organizers of this session, the many NARA archivists who helped me and the historian that helped me make this book possible. Goldberg gave me the opportunity to work on this project, the current historian Erin Mahan provided unwavering support and sage advice. Melvin Laird was a reluctant secretary but a major figure in Nixon's first term. He advised the Presidentelect in 1968 to nominated Democratic senator Henry Jackson for the post. When Jackson backed out, Nixon turned to Laird. Laird accepted on condition that Nixon let him appoint his own officials. To Laird's surprise, Nixon agreed. Laird exercised this authority throughout his tenure. For his deputy, Laird selected David Packard without first notifying the Presidentelect. When informed, Nixon raised no objections but was somewhat dismayed because he had recruited Packard for a cabinet level position but was turned down. He wrote Laird in 1972, quote, I struck out, end quote. Perhaps no single appointment was more important to DoD in that period than that of Packard. Among other things, he handled acquisition reform and the preparation of defense budgets. Laird entered office intent Monday disengaging from the conflict. He planned to withdraw U.S. forces from Vietnam while improving and modernizing South Vietnam's military so it could become capable of continuing the struggle against North Vietnam on its own. This became known as Vietnamization. Laird's other major objective was to prepare U.S. Armed Forces for the postwar period. Vietnam was costly in lives, money, equipment, political capital. In addition, the war delayed modernization of weapons and equipment and weakened relations with Asian and European Allies. Under Robert McNamara the Pentagon shifted troops to Vietnam from other commands, including NATO. Years of combat frayed the force exposing racial divisions and growing drug abuse. Disaffection in the ranks, weakened morale and discipline. Laird and Nixon set up programs to improve opportunities for women and minorities and to provide education, amnesty and drug rehabilitation programs to help those with addiction problems. To build the future for us, Laird worked to end the draft and establish an All Volunteer Force. Laird served during a period of time of shrinking budgets, antimilitary sentiment and serious inflation. Pentagon critics called for greater spending on social programs and less on defense. This environment made rebuilding the defense program even more challenging. The Armed Forces declined by a third during his tenure, from 3.4 million in fiscal year 1969 to 2.2 million in fiscal year 1973. The President and Congress steadily cut spending. Outlays fell from 78 billion in FY69 to about 73 billion in FY73. But measured in inflation adjusted dollars outlays declined by 27%. Thanks in part to his political skills, Laird was able to fend off the even more severe cuts many in Congress sought to impose. Laird forged his basic views on national security as a Congressman. He had grown uneasy over President Johnson's Vietnam policy. To Laird, the war weakened the U.S. economy and its Armed Forces and was peripheral to core security interests, U.S. involvement in the war provided an opportunity for the Soviet Union to enhance its conventional and strategic power. Moreover, Johnson's policies had produced a stalemate in Vietnam and needlessly wasted lives and treasure. From the story of the administration, Kissinger and Nixon believed that increased battlefield pressure could facilitate a negotiated settlement. They wanted the joint chiefs of staff to somehow intensify Vietnam operations without alienating the public. Laird disagreed. He argued that the public expected the war to wind down, more aggressive operations would increase American casualties and cause a further loss of political support. After Laird's trip to South Vietnam in March�d expand plans to upgrade South Vietnam's forces. The operative plans only prepared South Vietnam's military to cope with Vietcong guerillas. If U.S. troops were to withdraw, Vietnam needed to be capable of fighting North Vietnam's regular forces as well. At the end of March, 1969, Nixon embraced Vietnamization, expanding the U.S. program to grow and modernize South Vietnam's forces so that they could bear the full burden of combat. Laird advocated Vietnamization as militarily feasible and politically pragmatic. It was his major policy contribution. He assumed that the new administration had a short breathing spell before war critics resumed their attacks. Laird doubted a negotiated settlement could materialize before public and congressional opposition became irresistible. Under Vietnamization, South Vietnam's forces doubled in size to over a million while U.S. military presence in South Vietnam dropped from 540,000 in 1969 to under 24,000 at the time the Paris peace agreement was signed in January '73. By the way, January '73 also saw the end of conscription and Laird's departure from office. Laird had agreed 1969 to serve just for four years. He offered his resignation to the President in November 1973, effective 20 January 1973. In accepting the resignation Nixon paid tribute to the secretary calling him, quote, the indispensable man, the right man at the right place at the right time, end quote. No doubt the President was thinking of Laird's efforts to fend off catastrophic budget cuts, his handling of morale and social problems in the Armed Forces, his role in ending conscription, and most of all the change in policy in Vietnam that led to the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Thanks in part to Laird's efforts, Vietnam did not become a major political liability for Nixon in the 1972 presidential election. U.S. forces in Vietnam had shrunk to a small number. Draft calls were down. And the public had less reason to protest. Even Kissinger, Laird's rival, praised him. Quote, he preserved our strength and laid the basis for expansion. This was a major achieve, end quote. Laird's successors would not have to wage war in Vietnam but would have to ensure that the All Volunteer Force remained viable, prepared to fight, and that it provided equal opportunities for minorities and women. Laird's measures to improve race relations increased opportunities for women in the military and handled drug issue represented initial solutions to issues that would require more extensive resolution over time. However, those policies helped establish a foundation for Nixon's second term. On Vietnam, there was no firm foundation. The collapse of South Vietnam's forces in 1975 raised questions about the real accomplishments of Vietnamization. Despite the U.S. withdrawal, there was no resolution of the rancorous disagreements over the Vietnam War. Thank you. (applause). >> Erin Mahan: All of our panelists have provided very thoughtful observations about an important book and an important man and the implications of many of his legacies. They have also done a very good job of allowing ample time for you to ask questions. We have about 30 minutes. If you run out of questions, I can fill that gap. But, please, go to the microphone and ask away. >> Honorable John Warner: Let me start a question. I think each of us in this room recognize that democracy is not a spectator sport and it's tough. In my 30 years in the Senate, I've watched the Congress go from a fairly friendly working relationship in times of election, bitter partisanship. That goes with the job. But when the elections are over to try and reconcile and find a common ground for the common benefit of this great nation. And that has been a struggle. And I think in many ways, Congress has not succeeded. But Melvin Laird, to me, stands out as a single individual that could take the partisanship and deal with it and then by partisanship management in his own building. I would like to ask Charles Bowser, why did you agree, because you had a distinguished career before coming to the Pentagon and after, why you were willing to continue to stay and serve three more years with the Republicans? That got your attention, didn't it? (laughter). >> First, let me say it was a surprise that they asked me to stay. I was a Democrat from Chicago. If you grew up in Chicago right after World War II, you either voted Democrat or you didn't get your garbage picked up or your snow removed in the wintertime. (laughter). So we were all Democrats. And I came in there under McNamara. I was last presidential appointment by McNamara. And then I did that one year, John points out. And then the Republicans came in. I was out in Chicago negotiating to go back with my firm. And I got this call from my marine aide, Colonel Kaufman who said do you know Governor Chaffey of Rhode Island? I said no. He said keep negotiating. We had lunch with Chaffey. When he came in to see me he said would you stay for a few weeks because I don't have a financial guy. So I arranged to do that. But I really soon found that the Laird/Packard/Chaffey/Warner team was really great and on the right course because I think getting out of Vietnam was essential. I told a story yesterday over at the Pentagon that when Secretary Clifford did not approve Wes Moreland's request for 200,000 more troops, why, I got a call from Major General Jayson who you remember, he was kind of like the thirdranking general at marine headquarters. And he had been Wes Moreland's chief of operations in Vietnam so he knew it very well. He said to me on the phone, he said, the Comnant would like me to come over and explain this situation more to you. And would you have time? I said I did. As soon as I hung up, I said, oh, my God, this is going to be interesting. So I got my marine colonel, Colonel Kaufman in again and asked what do you think? He think he is coming over to say the Secretary of Defense should have supported the general in the field and shouldn't have given him approval for 200,000. When General Jayson came out and unfolded the map of Vietnam and pointed out that north to south, Vietnam was along as the Russian front was east to west. And the idea of putting 200,000 more troops in there, and as he says what we do is probably have 100,000 in logistics and 100,000 in combat, would not in any way bring this war to a victory for America. We think the Secretary of Defense has made the right decision. So I saw then the beginning of the military beginning to think it was the better way was to come out, come out as best we could and try to build up anything. And I thought Laird and Packard and Chaffey and Warner, they were a terrific team. So I stayed three years. >> Honorable John Warner: How many other Democrats stayed on? >> Quite a few. There were eight of us that were asked to stay on out of 30. That was Johnny Foster and Bob Frosh. >> Honorable John Warner: Moot. >> Moot. He kept the whole financial team, yeah. Because he had to a lot of people, were coming in from the business world, don't realize in the government ways you get final decision on whatever you are trying to do is getting through Congress and budget appropriation. But Mel knew that quite well. He didn't want to start over, I think, with inexperienced team. But, anyway, and to this day, I feel the three years I spent as part of this team was one of the greatest periods of my career. And I've had a great career in both the business community and in my 15 years as controller general, too. Thank you. (applause). >> One of the things that the speakers focused on was the tensions between the Nixon White House and Laird. But I was wondering if there could be any comment about the tensions between Laird and the joint chiefs of staff because it seems to me from what I've read at least there were occasions the joint chiefs were going behind Laird's back in dealing with the White House and the White House was very definitely encouraging that. >> Honorable John Warner: First, I want to start off, Constitutionally the United States follows a firm principle of civilian control of the military. Now, when the Laird team comes in or whether it's the team that comes in with the next President, you suddenly bring together men and women from the civilian environments that they have been in, presumably successful, and all of a sudden you've got an enormous responsibility. Laird had 50 members of his staff on the Senate office and committee. He inherited 40 million staff civilian workers and military people overnight when he took that job. So the point I'm making, you got to rely on the military to recognize you're the boss but at the same time develop a partnership with them. And like any two organizations, there's going to be some friction and some little end run. But, basically, this has served America since the time of George Washington, civilian control. But it is dependent on a strong bond and trust between the civilians and the military. >> Jeremi Suri: I agree with the Senator. I think there are a number of occasions I was thumbing through where to find them where joint chiefs either don't inform Secretary Laird of what they're doing or deceive him of what they are doing. Now, I understand that some of this is politics. But I think it is very worrisome when we see that and very worrisome when a NSC advisor who is not confirmed by Congress is actually encouraging the joint chiefs to do this. And this includes double booking on different air missions, etcetera. I think this is a very worrisome thing and it is something we should worry about when we have a unified military service that develops its own interests. Civilian control is crucial. And I say from this we need to be more vigilant about it. >> George Herring: There are times when joint chiefs and Laird's office tried to figure out what was going on at the White House. It works both ways to some extent. But the divide does get much worse as it goes on because during the eastern offensive, in particular, Laird is kind of odd man out and is odd man out. Then Nixon is working with the joint chiefs and sometimes not even with the joint chiefs. He is picking out certain people to handle certain aspects particularly of the bombing of North Vietnam. >> Honorable John Warner: It's interesting. Each of us that take on these positions have military assistance assigned to them. Believe me, they are pivotal to the successful operation to your respective responsibilities. I had such a fine group all through my career. General Percy, you were Mel Laird's military assistant. How did you watch him deal with this question of the joint chiefs not giving him full support? >> Erin Mahan: You probably should come to the mic. >> Mel Laird was a student in so many ways. And he knew pretty well just by experience when somebody was trying to go around and otherwise perhaps not play the game straight. The first experience I had with Mel Lair and this was before he was sworn in he spent Bill P. one of his long time assistants over to talk to me about this relationship of the chairman of the joint chiefs having an envoy to the White House. A young fellow I had known had been doing that kind of job repeatedly and it was a position that had just stood for quite some time. But it depend on the personality of the people and how loyal they were. But in any event, Mel's sending Bill P. over was to see if it wouldn't be a good idea to write a memo to Henry Kissinger even before the new administration came in to argue against having that envoy be part of the program. In other words, let's discondition that. Mel new people coming into the White House well enough, and he knew Henry Kissinger exceptionally well because he was the one that had hired Henry Kissinger to help him on the Republican platform in 1964. He had a long memory and knowledge about Henry. He felt we better not have this enjoy back and forth. And Bill P. and I put together a memo about what was one of the first things that Henry turned down. He thought that was a grand idea. In any event, Mel was alert to those kinds of things and the alertness and the skill in people allowed him to handle that. Let me just say to carry that forward to the strategic arm limitation talks were supposedly Jared Smith was the main negotiator. It was very clear that Henry Kissinger was the main negotiator. But Mel Laird was astute enough to hire Paul Nitsa to be his counsel on the strategic arm limitation talks and that was seminal because Paul Nitsa could keep his informed of what the back channels really were and he also had Noel Giler at NSA very skilled at letting him know. So it goes both ways. >> Honorable John Warner: Noel was handling all the communications. He could read it. Mahan and Dr. Suri to comment on that. More is the towering figure. John Carlin said they joined before talking about joining. Don't you think you understated Admiral Moore's history by focusing so much on Vietnam policy, Dr. Hunt? >> Richard Hunt: I bring out, I think, quite a bit of Moore's end runs and his inclusion with the White House and Henry Kissinger, particularly in the operational chapters. That was I would agree that Laird worked better with Wheeler. But Moore could be a real problem. In the episode I mention in the book, there was an episode with Ratfer. I came across somewhere a memo, I think Nixon rather Laird wrote himself trying to debate whether he should fire Moore for this. But he's preempted. Laird gets a phone call on Christmas morning from the President. And it is kind of awkward because Laird's figuring out why is this man calling me Christmas morning. He wished Laird a Merry Christmas. He goes on a little bit and he says I think we ought to keep Moore in place. We don't want to disturb things. I trust Moore. That was kind of kind of tied Laird's hands on that comment. I would like to ask one question about the relationship with the joint chiefs. When Laird came in, he instituted this idea of participatory management and wanted to involve the joint chiefs in decisionmaking and budget decision to a greater extent than they had with McNamara. So I think he made an effort to work with the joint chiefs as well as worry about the private channels. >> Jeremi Suri: I agree with everything that was said. But the point I was making was slightly different. When you have a President or an administration that discounts people who bring them opinions that are wellinformed, that don't match with what they want to hear and valorizes those, who bring them opinions that speak to their preconceived notions, it creates a dangerous dynamic, a dynamic that I think actually undermines civilian control even when it is the President doing that because in this case, you have the Secretary of Defense who thought deeply about these issues, telling the President and advisor Henry Kissinger what they don't want to hear. And they're looking to incentivize someone else with a uniform on to tell them what they want to hear. That's a very dangerous dynamic. >> Do I have any more minutes left on my (laughter). Okay. Interestingly enough a little vignette here. If you were to ask Mel today, name, at least one mistake or thing that happened that you would do today, it would be very much to this point. He regretted not nominating Leonard Chapman to be chairman of the joint chiefs of staff rather than Admiral Moore. He had already arranged with Nixon to have that happen. This is when we weren't even part of the joint chiefs at that time. That would have made the rest of the operation with the joint chiefs a lot different if it had happened that way. Leonard Chapman was a very different personality, very trustworthy and a incredible military mind. So Mel might have said that. If I could back up to what came up in our discussions with our very learned guests from academia here, it was my impression and I would say this just as firmly as I could say it that Mel Laird believed that if the objective in the Vietnam was selfdetermination, that Vietnamization that would work. And he believed that if we went through where the program and then ground forces, it was working. Where we fell down some was in the support on the air side that would have been needed. And if that could have been extended, he still believes to this day, I'm absolutely certain that Vietnamization could have been a success and was a success. So it wasn't just a way of diminishing or getting out. Vietnamization to Mel Laird was a derivative of a much broader national security approach. Vietnamization was necessary in order to resolve a situation that was bleeding as our author has said during the period of the Vietnam War where roughly a third of our national of our defense budget was oriented toward things in southeast Asia. The Soviet Union was catching up rapidly in many strategic ways. And Mel wanted to free resources to get us oriented back on enemy Numberone. Part of the national security strategy that Mel had in mind involved getting the very vital and tangible resource of major public support. The draft was just destroying news that arena, and it was necessary to get that back. And so All Volunteer Force and the start of a program, of a very artfully designed program to finally convince people that the All Volunteer Force was the most immediate and the best way to solve the ills of conscription. >> Honorable John Warner: Thank you, very much. I appreciate that. >> Erin Mahan: George or Jeremi, would you like to respond? >> No, I was just going to say there were many other parts of this that were important. >> George Herring: The real problem from the time Nixon takes office you have two conflicting things. Any anything you try to resolve the situation at home is likely to reduce your ability to deal with Vietnam. The things you do in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, are designed to help in Vietnam diminish support at home. I don't know how you resolve that. I don't know if there was a resolution to it. >> Perhaps not. But going ahead, I think one other major pillar of this was the introduction of arms control as a real strength in our whole national security posture. In 1969, most of arms control had centered around testing and they were small baby steps. But the major big step was getting strategic arm limitation talks going in a prerequisite for that is to have a treaty negotiation. And Mel single handedly got that vote. So there were big major steps in this reviving the whole national security posture which Vietnamization was a big major seminal part but it was just part. He thought I think to this day that that could have succeeded. >> Erin Mahan: Thank you. I think we have time for the last at least two more questions and you have been waiting very patiently sir. >> Appreciate it. Thank you so much. I'm curious Secretary of Defense Laird when he was selected and asked to take that position what experience you know of, what he relied on as far as counsel from other secretaries of defense that came before him and even if it was across partisan lines, if he relied on people for counsel during his term. >> Honorable John Warner: I can't hear the question. >> The question is what other secretaries of defense did Secretary of Defense rely on for counsel as he was preparing to take the office? Is that a fair >> Right. Was that friendships or anything that his position whether they suede what the prior Secretary of Defense was before. >> Jeremi Suri: I don't know the answer to that. >> He had extensive discussions with Clifford to make the transitions move. Laird said those went very well. He cultivated Clifford in his experience and kept, as has been pointed out, retained a number of Clifford's people in office. >> Richard Hunt: It's interesting to add that he and Clifford was on the same page for Vietnam. In 1965, Clifford was hawkish on the bombing but opposed to sending additional ground troops. Clifford goes to Johnson with Johnson to Camp David right before the decision is made and with uncanny precedence warns that 500,000 troops in Vietnam, 50 killed in action, of course, Johnson goes the other direction. But his attitude at that point was really rather close to Laird's. >> (speaker off microphone.) Obviously Admiral Moore was not picked to the CSO. I see Zumwald personifying a lot of themes we discussed here as far as Vietnamization and transition to the All Volunteer Force and maintain that force structure. Could we discuss a little bit about the selection for Zumwald. I presume he was Laird's man and how he reflected the themes you were talking about here in this book. >> Honorable John Warner: I was sort of in the middle of that one because John Chaffey I never had a more valued friend in my life he had he was a 18yearold marine grunt on Guadal canal. He was sent to officer school and a platoon leader at Okinawa and then he stayed in reserves and we all got called up again for another conflict in Vietnam. He was a wonderful man. But I got to be really careful here. He had a little bit of a liberal streak in him. (laughter). Melvin Laird had a little bit of a liberal streak in him. That Wisconsin water, you know, it produces >> Jeremi Suri: We call that beer. (laughter). >> Honorable John Warner: And the string cheese and so forth. And I was three months away from taken over from Chaffey when this dialogue was going on and he brought me in because he knew I would have to deal with the next CNO, of course. I was pushing for Clarey. He was twotime Navy crosswinner in World War II. He had come up through the ranks of the Navy and he was vice chief under Tom Moore for years. And he knew how to deal with Tom Moore. And he would have made a remarkable he was very beloved by the sailors and everything. But Bud Zumwald had a mission early on when he took office. I think it was that streak of liberalism, and there was a fraction of it in Melvin Laird and John Chaffey. They very nicely said, Mel, we are not going to take your candidate. But then he is your CNO to deal with for years. So Zumwald had his pluses and his minuses like everybody else. And he had proven himself in combat. He was chief gunnery officer at one time aboard the USS Wisconsin. So that's all history. But he had an agenda. It was beer, broads beer and beards and broads was his nickname. The sailors grew their beards and he was very anxious, called a lot of things. I gave him credit. He put his heart into it, best he could. I don't know that I have answered your question, but I did take up a little time. (laughter). >> Erin Mahan: Anyone else like too respond? >> Jeremi Suri: I wanted to come back to Vietnamization if we have time. I think General Percy, I appreciate your comments. I talked to Secretary Laird a little bit myself about this. He believed Vietnamization was working. He had the courage to move forward with it, believing it was working but willing to do it even if it wasn't going to work which is to say even if South Vietnam was not going to stand because Kissinger's criticism was always that this was not going to work. Later on Kissinger changed his position on this. And I fear we've done a disservice to our society today when we don't tell Americans that sometimes a war we've been in we have to get out of even if we cannot sustain the regime we would like to sustain when we leave. And so we need to tell this history fairly. So, yes, Secretary Laird thought it would work. But I give him credit for having the courage for to doing even if he wasn't absolutely certain that it wasn't going to work. I don't think we should blame Congress for selling out a policy that I don't think was working in '75. I'm with George on this. I appreciate your insights on this. Thank you. >> Erin Mahan: I think we actually have time for one more question, if there are any remaining ones. If not, I'll let each of the speakers perhaps have one last word. I guess we have covered >> Honorable John Warner: I will simply say it was a remarkable chapter in my life. To the extent I went on to achieve anything, it was a foundational experience that enabled me to do what I did in later life. And many years I was either chairman or ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, I'd call up old Mel. I'd say, Mel, I'm between a crack and a hard place here. Give me some of your thoughts. He would unload on me pretty big. (laughter). But those of us who are blessed with the opportunity to serve with him, I mean, we'll always cherish those memories. And he just loved America and gave up everything to do that tough job. And more should be written about that transition between Nixon and bringing in Ford which was a stroke of brilliance to bring Gerald Ford in. He had such a calming influence over America. And he began to gain trust because he was faced with the decision and he did what was right with the pardon. And I think that ended his presidency. But he made it. Another example. He was a sailor. I remember him very well. He was on board carriers in World War II. He just absolutely understood duty, honor and country, even if it cost you your own ambitions. >> Erin Mahan: I think that's a good note to end on. And this concludes our program. Dr. Hunt's book is available electronically on the OSB historical Web site. Please join me again in thanking each of our speakers. (applause). Thank you for coming. >> Honorable John Warner: And we thank you.


Early life

Laird was born in Omaha, Nebraska, the son of Melvin R. Laird Sr., a politician, businessman, and clergyman.[4] He grew up and attended high school in Marshfield, Wisconsin,[4] although in his junior year he attended Lake Forest Academy in Lake Forest, Illinois. He was nicknamed "Bambino" (shortened to "Bom" and pronounced like the word 'bomb') by his mother.[citation needed]

Laird was the grandson of William D. Connor, the Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin from 1907 to 1909, and the great-grandson of Robert Connor, a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly. His niece is Jessica Laird Doyle, wife of former Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle.[4]

He graduated from Carleton College in Minnesota in May 1944, having enlisted in the United States Navy a year earlier. Following his commissioning as an ensign, he served on a destroyer, the USS Maddox, in the Pacific during the end of World War II. A recipient of the Purple Heart and several other decorations, Laird left the Navy in April 1946.

Legislative career

Laird entered the Wisconsin State Senate at age 23, succeeding his deceased father.[5] He represented a legislative district encompassing Stevens Point, Wisconsin. He remained in the Senate until his election in November 1952 to the United States House of Representatives representing Wisconsin's 7th District in central Wisconsin, including the areas of Marshfield, Wausau, Wisconsin Rapids and Stevens Point. In the 1964 Republican presidential primaries, Laird was an "unannounced" supporter of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, and chaired the Platform Committee at that year's Republican convention, at which Goldwater was nominated.[6]

Laird was re-elected eight consecutive times and he was chairman of the House Republican Conference when Nixon selected him for the cabinet. He was known for his work on both domestic and defense issues, including his service on the Defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. He left Congress reluctantly, making it clear when he became secretary on January 22, 1969, that he intended to serve no more than four years.

As a congressman Laird had supported a strong defense posture and had sometimes been critical of Secretary McNamara. In September 1966, characterizing himself as a member of the loyal opposition, he publicly charged the Johnson administration with deception about Vietnam war costs and for delaying decisions to escalate the ground war until after the 1966 congressional elections. Laird also criticized McNamara's management and decision-making practices. Laird voted in favor of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957,[7] 1960,[8] 1964,[9] and 1968,[10] and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.[11]

Laird was reportedly the elder statesman chosen by the Republicans to convince Vice President Spiro Agnew to resign his position after Agnew's personal corruption became a public scandal. He also had a prominent role in the selection of Gerald Ford as Agnew's successor as Vice President.

Secretary of Defense

Laird with President Richard Nixon, under whom he served as Secretary of Defense.
Laird with President Richard Nixon, under whom he served as Secretary of Defense.

After he became Secretary of Defense, Laird and President Nixon appointed a Blue Ribbon Defense Panel that made more than 100 recommendations on DoD's organization and functions in a report on July 1, 1970. The department implemented a number of the panel's proposals while Laird served in the Pentagon.

Managerial style

Laird did not depart abruptly from the McNamara–Clifford management system, but rather instituted gradual changes. He pursued what he called "participatory management", an approach calculated to gain the cooperation of the military leadership in reducing the Defense budget and the size of the military establishment. While retaining decision-making functions for himself and the deputy secretary of defense, Laird somewhat decentralized policymaking and operations. He accorded the service secretaries and the JCS a more influential role in the development of budgets and force levels. He revised the PPBS, including a return to the use of service budget ceilings and service programming of forces within these ceilings. The previously powerful systems analysis office could no longer initiate planning, only evaluate and review service proposals.

Laird noted this in his FY 1971 report, "Except for the major policy decisions, I am striving to decentralize decisionmaking as much as possible ... So, we are placing primary responsibility for detailed force planning on the Joint Chiefs and the Services, and we are delegating to the Military Departments more responsibility to manage development and procurement programs." The military leadership was enthusiastic about Laird's methods. As the Washington Post reported after his selection as secretary of defense, "Around the military-industrial complex these days they're singing 'Praise the Laird and pass the transformation.'"

Laird did not shrink from centralized management where he found it useful or warranted. His tenure saw the establishment of the Defense Investigative Service, the Defense Mapping Agency, the Office of Net Assessment, and the Defense Security Assistance Agency (to administer all DoD military assistance programs). In October 1972 Congress passed legislation creating a second deputy secretary of defense position, a proposal Laird strongly supported, even though he never filled the position. Laird paid special attention to two important interdepartmental bodies: the Washington Special Action Group (WSAG), composed of senior Defense, State, and CIA officials, which gathered information necessary for presidential decisions on the crisis use of U.S. military forces; and the Defense Program Review Committee (DPRC), which brought together representatives from many agencies, including DoD, State, the Council of Economic Advisers, and the Office of Management and Budget, to analyze defense budget issues as a basis for advising the president, placing, as Laird commented, "national security needs in proper relationship to non-defense requirements."

Pentagon budget

Laird succeeded in improving DoD's standing with Congress. As a highly respected congressional veteran, Laird had a head start in his efforts to gain more legislative support for Defense programs. He maintained close contact with old congressional friends, and he spent many hours testifying before Senate and House committees. Recognizing the congressional determination, with wide public support, to cut defense costs (including winding down the Vietnam War), Laird worked hard to prune budgetary requests before they went to Congress, and acceded to additional cuts when they could be absorbed without serious harm to national security. One approach, which made it possible to proceed with such new strategic weapon systems as the B-1 bomber, the Trident nuclear submarine, and cruise missiles, was agreement to a substantial cut in conventional forces. As a result, total military personnel declined from some 3.5 million in FY 1969 to 2.3 million by the time Laird left office in January 1973. Those weapon platforms, as well as the F-15, F-16, A-10, and Los Angeles-class nuclear submarine were all programs started by the Laird Pentagon.

Other initiatives, including troop withdrawals from Vietnam, phasing out old weapon systems, base closures, and improved procurement practices, enabled the Pentagon to hold the line on spending, even at a time when high inflation affected both weapon and personnel costs. In Laird's years, total obligational authority by fiscal year was as follows: 1969, $77.7 billion; 1970, $75.5 billion; 1971, $72.8 billion; 1972, $76.4 billion; and 1973, $78.9 billion.

Vietnam War

Secretary Laird (center) before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1970
Secretary Laird (center) before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1970

Vietnam preoccupied Laird as it had McNamara and Clifford. Right from the moment he entered office, Laird clashed with the National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger over access to the president.[12]:587 Kissinger as much as possible tried to exclude Laird from the decision-making process, in order to ensure he and he alone was the man advising the president on foreign affairs, which created much tension between him and Laird.[12]:587 Kissinger established a direct channel from the National Security Adviser's office to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in an effort to isolate Laird from the decision-making process, which further increased the tension between the two men.[12]:587

In 1968 Nixon campaigned on a platform critical of the Johnson administration's handling of the war and promised to achieve "peace with honor". Nixon's strategy when he came into office in 1969 was to impose an armistice that would preserve South Vietnam, but at the same time owing to the unpopularity of the Vietnam War, he planned to reduce American casualties in Vietnam to reduce the appeal of the antiwar movement, whose most potent slogan was that Americans were dying senselessly in Vietnam.[12]:593 The North Vietnamese knew that the war was unpopular with the American people, and to counter the assumption in Hanoi that they merely had to wait until American public opinion forced him to withdraw American forces, Nixon planned a complex strategy of on one hand of maintaining military pressure by keeping the war going while on the other hand of reducing American casualties to counter the antiwar movement.[12]:593-4 To force the North Vietnamese to agree to American peace terms, Nixon planned a dual approach of the "Madman theory" that he would pose as a fanatical anti-Communist who was eager to use nuclear weapons to scare the North Vietnamese while at the same time he make overtures to the Soviet Union and China to persuade those nations to stop supplying North Vietnam with weapons.[12]:582-3

Although not receptive to demands for immediate withdrawal, Laird acknowledged the necessity to disengage U.S. combat forces gradually. In an interview with Stanley Karnow in 1981, Laird stated that he came into the Defense Department in 1969 believing the American people were "fed up with the war".[12]:595 Thus he developed and strongly supported "Vietnamization", a program intended to expand, equip, and train South Vietnam's forces and assign to them an ever-increasing combat role, at the same time steadily reducing the number of U.S. combat troops. The original term was "de-Americanizing" the war, but Laird substituted the term "Vietnamization" as it sounded better.[12]:596 In March 1969, Laird visited South Vietnam and upon his return to Washington told Nixon that the American people would "not be satisfied with less than the eventual disengagement of American men from combat".[12]:596 As such, Laird felt it was "essential to decide now to initiate the removal from Southeast Asia of some U.S. military personnel".[12]:596 Laird strongly pressed Nixon to agree to a timetable to decrease the number of American forces in South Vietnam down from half-million to two hundred and six thousand by the end of 1971.[12]:595 During Nixon's first year in office from January 1969 to January 1970, about 10, 000 Americans were killed fighting in Vietnam.[12]:601 As these losses contributed to the antiwar movement, Laird ordered the U.S. commander in Vietnam, General Creighton Abrams, to go on the defensive and cease offensive operations as much as possible.[12]:601

In February 1969, Nixon first discussed plans to start bombing Cambodia, ostensibly to destroy the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese bases in that country, but in fact to send a message to North Vietnam that he was prepared to resume the bombing of North Vietnam, that had been halted in the autumn of the previous year.[12]:591 Nixon would have very much liked to resume the bombing of North Vietnam, but he was warned by Laird that this would lead to the North Vietnamese ending the peace talks in Paris, which in turn would lead to Nixon being branded as the man who ruined any chance of peace in Vietnam.[12]:591 Thus, from Nixon's viewpoint, bombing Cambodia was a way of warning the North Vietnamese that he was indeed serious about his threats to resume bombing North Vietnam if no concessions to the American viewpoint were not forthcoming.[12]:591 Laird was opposed to the bombing of Cambodia, telling Nixon that it would upset Congress and the American people as it would appear that Nixon was escalating the war.[12]:591 In a meeting at the White House on 16 March 1969 attended by Nixon, Laird, the Secretary of State William P. Rogers, Kissinger and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Earle Wheeler, Nixon announced that he had decided to start bombing Cambodia while at the same time not telling the American people that Cambodia was being bombed.[12]:591 The next day, Operation Menu as the bombing of Cambodia was code-named, started.[12]:591

As Cambodia was a neutral nation, the bombing was kept secret and officially denied.[12]:591-2 Laird created a dual reporting system at the Pentagon so that the reports from bombing raids over Cambodia was not be reported via the normal channels with both the secretary of the air force and Air Force chief of staff being kept out of the loop.[12]:592 As North Vietnam professed to respect Cambodia's neutrality, Hanoi did not protest against the American bombing of the North Vietnamese forces that were violating Cambodia's neutrality. Laird told a few members of Congress that the United States was bombing Cambodia, but to the American people, it was denied in 1969 that Cambodia was being bombed.[12]:592 Several legal and constitutional experts were to subsequently testify that as Nixon did not inform the majority of Congress that he was bombing Cambodia, let alone ask for permission of Congress for the bombing, that this was illegal as the U.S. constitution gave Congress, not the president, the power to declare war.[12]:592 The bombing campaign against Cambodia which started in March 1969 and ended in August 1973, is considered by most legal experts to be an act of war which was waged without being sanctioned by Congress, making the bombing campaign to be a matter of questionable legality at best and downright illegal at worst.[12]:592

Under the constitution, Congress has the control of the budget and the president can only ask Congress to appropriate money. Starting in 1969, Laird put the assumption that U.S. forces in Vietnam would be lower in the next fiscal year into the Defense Department's budget request to Congress.[12]:595 Given that Nixon was a Republican and the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, passing a budget required much torturous negotiation. By putting the anticipated lower number of troops in Vietnam into the Pentagon's budget request for the next fiscal year, Laird in effect tied Nixon's hands as not to withdraw these troops would greatly upset relations with Congress and could potentially threaten the entire defense budget.[12]:595 Once Congress passed the budget, Nixon had to withdraw the troops as it would otherwise cause a major constitutional crisis that would as Karnow put it threaten "...the defense establishment's entire financial equilibrium".[12]:595 Karnow wrote that Laird's "...contribution to America's departure from Vietnam has been underestimated".[12]:595

Under the Johnson administration, the issue of American POWs in North Vietnam had been generally ignored out of the fear that signaling concern about their status would make them into hostages that could be used to extract concessions.[13]:206 The families of the Air Force and Navy pilots shot down over North Vietnam and taken prisoner found that the Pentagon was often savagely unsympathetic to their plight, taking the view that the best thing these families could do was to be silent. Starting in May 1969, Laird did his best to publicize the POW issue, launching on 3 May a "Go Public" campaign to draw attention to the mistreatment and torture of American POWs in North Vietnam.[13]:207-8 Laird believed in drawing attention to the POW issue for humanitarian reasons, but officials such as Vice President Spiro Agnew saw the issue more as a way of mobilizing public support for Nixon's Vietnam policy.[13]:207-11 Agnew calculated that the American people did not care much for South Vietnam, but that presenting the war as a struggle to free American POWs being mistreated in North Vietnam would increase public support for the war.

Laird often clashed with Kissinger in 1969 over the correct policy to follow in Vietnam.[12]:595 Kissinger argued to Nixon that the continued presence of American soldiers in South Vietnam "remains one of our few bargaining weapons" and that to start withdrawing forces from Vietnam would become "like salted peanuts" to the American people as "the more U.S troops come home, the more will be demanded".[12]:596 Kissinger still believed if only North Vietnam was bombed hard enough, then concessions could still be won as he maintained: "I can't believe that a fourth-rate power like North Vietnam doesn't have a breaking point".[12]:596 By contrast, Laird argued to Nixon that a steady reduction in U.S. forces from Vietnam was the best way of ensuring his re-election in 1972.[12]:594 Before 1969, Kissigner was a professor of political science at Harvard University whereas Laird had been a Republican Congressman. Owing to these very different backgrounds, Laird was considerably more sensitive to American public opinion while Kissigner belonged more to the traditional Primat der Aussenpolitik school which saw foreign policy as belonging only to a small elite.[12]:587

In the summer of 1969, Laird told the press that Vietnamization was the Nixon administration's "highest priority" while also stating that the U.S troops in South Vietnam were moving from "maximum pressure" to "protective reaction".[12]:599 In September 1969, when Kissinger drafted Duck Hook, a plan which in his own words called for a "savage, punishing blow" against North Vietnam in form of renewed bombing, Laird persuaded Nixon to reject the plan.[12]:596 Laird argued to the president that Kissinger's "savage" bombing plan would kill a massive number of innocent North Vietnamese civilians and thus increase popular support for the anti-war movement.[12]:596 At the same time, Laird doubted that Kissinger's plans for a "savage" bombing of North Vietnam would yield the desired results and predicated that it would cause the North Vietnamese to break off the peace talks going on in Paris.[12]:596 For all these political reasons, Laird was able to convince Nixon not to go ahead with Kissigner's plans for a "savage" bombing offensive.[12]:596

During 1969 the new administration cut authorized U.S. troop strength in Vietnam from 549,500 to 484,000, and by May 1, 1972, the number stood at 69,000. During this same period, from January 1969 to May 1972, U.S. combat deaths declined 95 percent from the 1968 peak and war expenditures fell by about two-thirds. Laird publicized Vietnamization widely; in his final report as secretary of defense in early 1973, he stated: "Vietnamization ... today is virtually completed. As a consequence of the success of the military aspects of Vietnamization, the South Vietnamese people today, in my view, are fully capable of providing for their own in-country security against the North Vietnamese."

On 15 October 1969, the first Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam demonstration took place, and one of those protesting was John Laird, the son of the Defense Secretary.[13]:228 At the time, the younger Laird told the press "I think everybody should be against the war", through he also praised his father for "doing the best job I think he possibly can".[13]:228 John Laird's participation in the Moratorium march attracted much media attention who chose to spin it as a generational battle, in the same way that Robert Craig McNamara had publicly criticized his father Robert McNamara when he was Defense Secretary, through John Laird expressed much admiration for his father even as he stated his opposition to the war.[13]:228 Later that day on 15 October, Nixon asked Laird to stay behind at a meeting of the National Security Council.[13]:228-9 Both Nixon and Kissinger criticized him for his "softness", saying he should have found a way to silence his son.[13]:228-9 Laird replied "that's the way John felt and I supported him".[13]:229 Nixon's statement that Laird was a poor father who should have found a way to "muzzle" his son angered him so much that the president never criticized him on that point again.[13]:229

However, Laird helped to contribute ideas for Nixon's "Silent Majority speech" of 3 November 1969, where the president asked for the support of the "silent majority" of Americans for his Vietnam policy.[13]:230 During the second Moratorium protest on 15 November 1969, Laird asked two of his more hawkish officials, the Navy Secretary John Chafee and his undersecretary John Warner to go "undercover" with the demonstrators.[13]:231-2 Both Chafee and Warner came back to Laird saying the demonstrators were far from the conservative caricature of anti-social drug-crazed, sex-obsessed hippies intent upon destroying everything good in the United States, saying the demonstrators were thoughtful and patriotic young people who just thought the Vietnam War was misguided.[13]:233 Laird later recalled: "They were a little shaken because I don't think they realized the extent of some of the feelings of those young people. That's what I was tying to get them to understand. But I couldn't get the White House to understand that".[13]:233 Laird believed that America by late 1969 was becoming a dangerously polarized society and it was the best interests to have hawks who despised the anti-war movement to try to understand the young people demonstrating against the war on the streets of Washington.[13]:233-4

In October 1969, at the urging of Laird, the American Red Cross began "Write Hanoi" campaign, urging the American people to sent letters to POWs.[13]:209 In November 1969, at Laird's instigation, the lead story in Reader's Digest was about the POWs together with detachable Christmas cards to be mailed to North Vietnam.[13]:209 At the same time, Laird recruited an eccentric Texas millionaire, H. Ross Perot, to start a fundraising campaign to sent Christmas presents to the POWs languishing in the "Hanoi Hilton" prison.[13]:209-10 Through the North Vietnamese refused to allow the presents to be delivered, the resulting story gave maximum publicity to the POW issue as Laird had hoped it would.[13]:210 Perot caused an international incident in December 1969 when he flew to Moscow together with the Christmas presents and tried to book a flight to Hanoi. As intended, the refusal to allow Perot to go to Hanoi made the North Vietnamese look cruel and mean and increased support for Nixon's policies. Laird's "Go Public" campaign did lead to an improvement in the conditions for American POWs from mid-1969 onward as stories of Americans being tortured increased support for hawkish policies in the United States and thus led the North Vietnamese to improve conditions to assist the dovish section of American opinion.[13]:210

In this same report Laird noted that the war had commanded more of his attention than any other concern during his four-year term. Upon becoming secretary he set up a special advisory group of DoD officials, known as the Vietnam Task Force, and he met with them almost every morning he was in the Pentagon. He also visited Vietnam several times for on-the-scene evaluations. Although his program of Vietnamization could be termed a success, if one considers the progress of troop withdrawals, U.S. involvement in the conflict became perhaps even more disruptive at home during Nixon's presidency than during Johnson's. The U.S. incursion into Cambodia in May 1970 to eliminate North Vietnamese sanctuaries, the renewed bombing of North Vietnam and the mining of its harbors in May 1972 in response to the North Vietnamese Easter Offensive and another bombing campaign against the North in December 1972 brought widespread protest. Nixon's Vietnam policy, as well as that of previous administrations, suffered further criticism when, in June 1971, the Pentagon Papers, a highly classified narrative and documentary history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967, prepared at Secretary McNamara's order, was leaked and published in part in several major newspapers.

On the night of 21 February 1970, as a secret counterpart to the official peace talks in Paris, Kissinger met the North Vietnamese diplomat Lê Đức Thọ in a modest house located in an undistinguished industrial suburb of Paris, largely as a way of excluding the South Vietnamese from the peace talks as Kissinger had discovered that the South Vietnamese president Nguyễn Văn Thiệu had a vested interest in ensuring the peace talks failed and that the United States should not withdraw from Vietnam.[12]:623-4 Reflecting his disdain for both Laird and Rogers, Kissinger did not see fit until a year later in February 1971 to first inform the Defense Secretary and the Secretary of State that he had been talking with Thọ in Paris off and on for the last year.[12]:624 Laird publicly supported Nixon's Vietnam course, although Laird privately opposed the deception used to mask the Cambodian bombing from the American populace.

In early 1970, Laird was opposed to Nixon's plans to invade Cambodia.[12]:607 Nixon as part of his "madman theory" believed if he behaved as a rash leader capable of any action such as invading Cambodia that would show North Vietnam that "we were still serious about our commitment in Vietnam", and thus intimidate the North Vietnamese into a making peace on American terms.[12]:607 Additionally, General Abrams was arguing to Washington that the troop withdrawals of 1969 had undermined the American position in South Vietnam, and to regain control of the situation required destroying the COSVN (Central Office for South Vietnam), the supposed headquarters of the Viet Cong, said to be located just over the border in Cambodia.[12]:607 Once Laird learned that the president was determined to go ahead, he reconciled himself to invading Cambodia, through he tried to minimize the operation by having it limited to the South Vietnamese forces with their American advisers invade the Parrot's Beak area of Cambodia.[12]:608 Nixon rejected Laird's recommendation as he later put it as "the most pusillanimous little nitpicker I ever saw".[12]:608 Nixon decided instead on the evening of 26 April 1970 to "go for broke" with the "entire package" by having U.S. troops invade both the Parrot's Beak and the Fish Hook areas of Cambodia that bordered South Vietnam.[12]:608 On 28 April 1970, South Vietnamese forces entered Cambodia starting the Cambodian Campaign and on the evening of 30 April 1970, Nixon went on national television to announce that the "incursion" into Cambodia had started with 20, 000 American and South Vietnamese troops entering Cambodia.[12]:609 The operation was successful in the sense that the Americans and South Vietnamese occupied the Fish Hook and Parrot's Beak areas, but the majority of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces had withdrawn in the previous weeks, and were to return after the Americans and South Vietnamese withdrew from Cambodia in June 1970.[12]:610

The new Cambodian leader Lon Nol had supported the Cambodian "incursion" through he had not been consulted in advance, and as a result, the North Vietnamese increased their support for the Khmer Rouge guerrillas who were fighting to overthrow him. As Laird had warned, the United States now had the responsibility of supporting not only the South Vietnamese government, but also the Cambodian government as well in their struggle against Communist guerrillas.[12]:610 The Cambodian "incursion" set off massive protests in the United States, as Karnow wrote that the "biggest protests to date" against the war took place all across the nation in May 1970 as it seemed to many Americans that Nixon was recklessly escalating the war by invading Cambodia.[12]:610 Nixon as part of his "madman theory" liked to portray himself to the world as a reckless, dangerous leader capable of anything, but as Laird noted most of the American people wanted their president to be a statesman, not a "madman". Many Republican politicians complained to Nixon from May of 1970 that his policies on Vietnam would hurt their chances for the congressional elections in November 1970, leading Nixon to comment to Kissinger "when the Right starts wanting go get out, for whatever reason, that's our problem".[12]:626 In an address on national television aired on 7 October 1970, Nixon changed tactics as he toned down his rhetoric as he stressed his interest in peace, saying he would pull out 90,000 American soldiers from South Vietnam by the spring of 1971 and wanted an immediate ceasefire.[12]:627 The speech on 7 October was the beginning of a remodeling of Nixon's image from being Nixon the "madman" president over to Nixon the statesman president.[12]:627

In 1970, Laird approved of planning for a commando raid on a North Vietnamese POW camp at Son Tay.[13]:211-2 On 24 September 1970, he asked for Nixon's approval, which was granted.[13]:212 On 19 November 1970, the camp was raided, but there were no POWs present, having been moved to another camp in July.[13]:213 At a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the raid, Laird testified: "I could not ignore the fact that our men were dying in captivity. Mr. Chairman, I want this committee to know that I have not faced a more challenging decision since I have been Secretary of Defense".[13]:214

In October 1970, Laird approved of an increase in bombing along the section of the Ho Chi Minh Trail running through neutral Laos.[13]:345 The bombing hindered, but did not stop the supply of weapons and men going down from North Vietnam to South Vietnam, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff proposed that the United States invade Laos to sever the trail once and for all.[13]:346 Since the Cooper–Church Amendment passed by Congress in December 1970 forbade American troops from fighting in Laos, this plan was illegal, but fearing that Nixon would approve it anyway, Laird preemptively proposed that South Vietnamese troops invade Laos with American air support.[13]:346 On 23 December 1970, Nixon approved of the plan, and in January 1971, Laird went to Saigon to persuade the South Vietnamese president Thiệu to approve it as well.[13]:346 The plan for the invasion of Laos was named Operation Lam Son 719 after a famous victory won the Vietnamese over the Chinese in 1427.[13]:346 On 8 February 1971, South Vietnam invaded Laos.[13]:346 To assist the South Vietnamese who proved incapable of taking the town of Tchepone, Laird approved of the largest helicopter assault of the entire Vietnam war.[13]:349 On 6 March 1971, 276 American helicopters took two battalions of South Vietnamese infantry into Laos.[13]:349 Unlike the invasion of Cambodia the previous year, the invasion of Laos caused few protests in the United States mostly because Lam Son was perceived as a South Vietnamese operation, not an American one, which for Laird was a sign of the success of Vietnamization.[13]:351

In June 1971, the Pentagon Papers, as a secret history of the Vietnam War was informally known, started to be serially published by the New York Times, after having been leaked by Daniel Ellsberg.[13]:370-1 Nixon was enraged by the leaking of the Pentagon Papers, and went to court to force the New York Times to stop publishing the papers under the grounds that national security was threatened.[13]:373 After failing to persuade Nixon that trying to ban the Pentagon Papers was unwise, Laird changed tack. Laird secretly informed the Solicitor General, Erwin Griswold, who was prosecuting the New York Times for threatening national security, that there were only "six or seven paragraphs in the whole thing that were a little dangerous" and those paragraphs had already been published.[13]:374 As Griswold had not read the Pentagon Papers in their entirety, he needed advice from the Defense Department about just what precisely was in the 2.5 million words that made up the papers that were allegedly threatening the national security of the United States.[13]:374 Griswold agreed with Laird, and when arguing for the president before the Supreme Court he undermined his own case by saying the list of material to be banned was "much too broad".[13]:374 The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the New York Times on 30 June 1971, stating the publication of the Pentagon Papers did not threaten national security, and the next day the Times resumed publishing the Pentagon Papers.[13]:374 As Laird predicted, the attempt to ban the Pentagon Papers drew far more public attention to their contents than would have otherwise been the case.

In December 1971, the Third Indo-Pakistani war broke out, and the United States despite being neutral was as Kissinger put it "tilted" towards Pakistan, doing everything within its power short of intervention to support Pakistan.[13]:301 Laird was dubious about the plans to support Pakistan, the weaker of the two powers, all the more so as the Soviet Union was supporting India, which would thus make Pakistan's inevitable defeat look like a defeat for the United States as well.[13]:301 The fact that the West Pakistani-dominated government of Pakistan led by General Yahya Khan was waging a genocidal campaign against the Hindu minority in East Pakistan (modern Bangladesh) made Pakistan a morally repugnant ally as well, but Nixon and Kissinger both greatly valued Yahya Khan's help as a "honest broker" who served as the back channel to China.[13]:300-1 Nixon, sensing Laird's lack of enthusiasm for Pakistan, ordered Kissinger on 6 December 1971 to get Laird to "follow the White House line".[13]:301

A bizarre aftermath to the crisis occurred when the columnist Jack Anderson in his Washington Merry-Go-Around column broke the news on 13 December 1971 of the "tilt", which led to an investigation of who had leaked the news.[13]:301 A Navy stenographer, Charles Radford, was accused of leaking the information; Radford denied leaking, but admitted that he stole documents from Kissinger on orders of Admiral Robert Welander who passed on the documents to Admiral Thomas Hinman Moorer, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.[13]:302 The commander of the Navy, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, summed up the scene by late 1971: "Kissinger telling me that he distrusted Haig; Haig telling me and others that he distrusted Kissinger; Haldeman/Ehrlichman trying to bushwack Kissinger; Kissinger and the President using Moorer to help them make plans without Laird's knowledge and therefore pretending to keep Moorer fully informed while withholding some information from him...What I find hard to believe is that rational men could think running things like that could have any other result other than "leaks" and spying, an all round paranoia. Indeed they had created a system in which "leaks" and "spying" were everyday and essential elements".[13]:302-3 Laird did not fire Radford as Kissinger demanded while Admiral Moorer was given a verbal dressing-down for unprofessional conduct.[13]:303 Laird felt that firing Moorer as Kissinger wanted would resulted in the atmosphere of fear and distrust in the Nixon administration being made public as undoubtedly the sacked admiral would have leaked the reasons for his dismissal to the press.[13]:303 By this point, the entire atmosphere in the Nixon administration of intrigue and paranoia was becoming too much for Laird.[13]:303

Laird counted on the success of Vietnamization, peace talks that had begun in 1968 in Paris and the secret negotiations in Paris between Kissinger and North Vietnamese representatives to end the conflict. On 27 January 1973, two days before Laird left office, the negotiators signed the Paris Peace Accords. They agreed to an in-place cease-fire to begin on 28 January 1973, complete withdrawal of U.S. forces within 60 days, the concurrent phased release of U.S. prisoners of war in North Vietnam, and establishment of the International Commission of Control and Supervision to handle disagreements among the signatories. Although, as time was to demonstrate, South Vietnam was not really capable of defending its independence, Laird retired from office satisfied that he had accomplished his major objective, the disengagement of United States combat forces from Vietnam.

Cold War and nuclear war planning

Vietnam preoccupied Laird, but not to the exclusion of other pressing matters. Although not intimately involved in the development of strategic nuclear policy as McNamara had been, Laird subscribed to the Nixon administration's program of "Strategic Sufficiency" - that the United States should have the capability to deter nuclear attacks against its home territory and that of its allies by convincing a potential aggressor that he would suffer an unacceptable level of retaliatory damage; it should also have enough nuclear forces to eliminate possible coercion of its allies. The policy, not much different from McNamara's except in name and phrasing, embraced the need both to avoid mass destruction of civilians and to seek mechanisms to prevent escalation of a nuclear conflict. The administration further refined its strategic ideas in July 1969 when the president issued a statement that came to be known as the "Nixon Doctrine", stressing "pursuit of peace through partnership with our allies." Instead of the previous administration's "2½ war" concept - readiness to fight simultaneous wars on two major fronts and one minor front - the Nixon Doctrine cut back to the "1½ war" level. Through military aid and credit-assisted sales of military equipment abroad, the United States would prepare its allies to take up a greater share of the defense burden, especially manpower needs, in case of war. U.S. military forces would be "smaller, more mobile, and more efficient general purpose forces that ... [would] neither cast the United States in the role of world policeman nor force the nation into a new isolationism." Laird supported the strategic arms talks leading to the SALT I agreements with the Soviet Union in 1972: a five-year moratorium against expansion of strategic nuclear delivery systems, and an antiballistic missile treaty limiting each side to two sites (later cut to one) for deployed ABM systems. As Laird put it, "In terms of United States strategic objectives, SALT I improved our deterrent posture, braked the rapid buildup of Soviet strategic forces, and permitted us to continue those programs which are essential to maintaining the sufficiency of our long-term strategic nuclear deterrent."

Conscription suspended

Other important Laird goals were ending conscription by June 30, 1973, and the creation of an All Volunteer Force (AVF). Strong opposition to selective service mounted during the Vietnam War and draft calls declined progressively during Laird's years at the Pentagon; from 300,000 in his first year, to 200,000 in the second, 100,000 in the third, and 50,000 in the fourth. On January 27, 1973, after the signing of the Vietnam agreement in Paris, Laird suspended the draft, five months ahead of schedule.

Later career

Laird completed his term of office as secretary of defense on January 29, 1973. Because he had stated repeatedly that he would serve only four years (only Charles Erwin Wilson and Robert McNamara among his predecessors served longer), it came as no surprise when President Nixon on November 28, 1972, nominated Elliot Richardson to succeed him. In his final report in January 1973, Laird listed what he considered to be the major accomplishments of his tenure: Vietnamization; achieving the goal of strategic sufficiency; effective burden-sharing between the United States and its friends and allies; adequate security assistance; maintenance of U.S. technological superiority through development of systems such as the B-1, Trident and cruise missiles; improved procurement; "People Programs" such as ending the draft and creating the AVF; improved National Guard and Reserve forces; enhanced operational readiness; and participatory management. One of Laird's most active initiatives was his persistent effort to secure the release of the American captives held by the enemy in Vietnam.

During his tenure as Defense Secretary, Laird did not share President Nixon's lingering timetable for withdrawal from Vietnam. He publicly contradicted the administrations policy, which upset the White House. Laird wished to return to the political arena, and was said to be planning a run for president in 1976. After Watergate, this proved implausible. There was also talk of a Senate run and perhaps a return to his old House seat in hopes of becoming Speaker.

Laird (left) with one of his successors, Donald Rumsfeld, and biographer Dale Van Atta, 2001
Laird (left) with one of his successors, Donald Rumsfeld, and biographer Dale Van Atta, 2001

In spite of Vietnam and the unfolding Watergate affair, which threatened to discredit the entire Nixon administration, Laird retired with his reputation intact. Although not a close confidant of the president and not the dominant presence that McNamara was, Laird had been an influential secretary. He achieved a smooth association with the military leadership by restoring some of the responsibilities they had lost during the 1960s. His excellent relations with Congress enabled him to gain approval for many of his programs and budget requests.

After a brief absence, Laird returned to the Nixon administration in June 1973 as counselor to the president for domestic affairs, concerning himself mainly with legislative issues. In February 1974, as the Watergate crisis in the White House deepened, Laird resigned to become senior counselor for national and international affairs for Reader's Digest. Following Richard Nixon's resignation, Laird was reported to be the first choice of successor Gerald Ford to be nominated Vice President, a position ultimately filled by Nelson Rockefeller.

In 1974, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Since 1974, he wrote widely for Reader's Digest and other publications on national and international topics.

Laird was quietly opposed to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and tried to use his influence together with that of the former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft to persuade President George W. Bush not to invade Iraq.[13]:520-1 In November 2005, Laird published an article in Foreign Affairs that was highly critical of the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war, through in the same article that Laird advised against an immediate pull-out from Iraq as that would cause more chaos.[13]:525 Laird advised a strategy of Iraqization along the same lines as Vietnamization, arguing that the American people would not tolerate endless war in Iraq anymore than they did in Vietnam.[13]:525 Laird argued that as long the American forces were doing the majority of the fighting in Vietnam, the South Vietnamese government had no reason to try to improve its military, and it was only in 1969 when the South Vietnamese were informed that the United States was pulling out in stages that the South Vietnamese finally became serious by trying to make its military actually fight. He argued that the same strategy of Iraqization was needed, stating that as long as the American forces were doing the bulk of the fighting in Iraq that the Iraqi government had no reason to try to improve its military. Laird criticized human rights abuses, writing: "For me, the alleged prison scandals reported to have occurred in Iraq, in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay have been a disturbing reminder of the mistreatment of our own POWs by North Vietnam".[13]:525 He argued that for the United States to retain its moral leadership required that the "war on terror" be conducted with the standard humanitarian norms of the West and that the use of torture was a disgrace.[13]:525 About President Bush, Laird wrote: "His west Texas cowboy approach-shoot first and answer questions later, or do the job first and let the results speak for themselves-is not working".[13]:526 Laird's article attracted much media attention, all the more because he was a Republican and former Defense Secretary who had been a mentor to Donald Rumsfeld.[13]:526

On January 5, 2006, he participated in a meeting at the White House of former Secretaries of Defense and State to discuss United States foreign policy with Bush administration officials. Laird was disappointed by the meeting, which was a photo-op, as neither he nor the others present were allowed hardly time to speak with the bulk of the conference consisting of video calls from servicemen in Iraq.[13]:526 Laird felt that Bush had squandered a chance to listen and learn, stating the entire format of the conference was mean to silence him as he allowed to speak for only 15 minutes before being cut off.[13]:526 In 2007, Laird came very close to endorsing the presidential bid of his former intern, Hillary Clinton, saying in an interview she had been one of his best interns and he felt certain she would make for an excellent president.[13]:528

Journalist Dale Van Atta has written a biography of Laird entitled, "With Honor: Melvin Laird in War, Peace, and Politics," published by the University of Wisconsin Press in 2008.[13]:

Role in health care research

Laird played a key role in advancing medical research, although this part of his biography is often overshadowed by his political achievements. "Laird's position on the House Appropriations subcommittee handling health matters allowed him to play a key congressional role on many medical and health issues. He often teamed up with liberal Democrat John Fogarty of Rhode Island to pass key legislation on education or health matters. Their impact on the National Institutes of Health was pivotal in a vast expansion of health research programs and facilities. They also sponsored the buildup of the National Library of Medicine, the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, the National Environmental Center in North Carolina, and the nation's eight National Cancer Centers, later part of the National Institutes of Health. Laird received many awards for his work on health matters, including the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award (1964) and the American Public Health Association award for leadership." This account of his role is noted in the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library biography.[14]

Between 1956 and 1967, Laird was appointed a member of the U.S. Delegation to the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, by three U.S. Presidents – Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

In fact, President Eisenhower so admired Laird's work in Congress for world health and national security that he described Congressman Laird as "one of the 10 men best qualified to become President of the United States."

Laird's interest in medical research is documented by his co-authoring legislation to finance the construction of the National Library of Medicine, and important centers for medical research on many university campuses (among them the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research and the University of Wisconsin Cancer Center in Madison) and the major institutes of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Laird, Congressman Fogarty and Senator Lister Hill (D-Alabama) also authorized legislation which funded the building of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) in Atlanta, GA.[15]

Death and legacy

Following the death of Clarence Clifton Young on April 3, 2016, Laird became the last surviving member of the 83rd Congress, as well as the last surviving member elected in either the 1952 or 1954 elections.[16] Laird died of congestive heart failure in Fort Myers, Florida on November 16, 2016, at the age of 94.[17][18]

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said in a statement: "Secretary Laird led the Defense Department through a time of great change in the world and within our department. Through it all, he demonstrated an unfailing commitment to protecting our country, strengthening our military, and making a better world."[19]

"Those of us who fought and those of us held prisoner in Vietnam will always have a special place in our hearts for Sec Melvin Laird," tweeted Senator John McCain, after learning of Laird's death.[19]

The Laird Center for Medical Research (dedicated in 1997), located in Marshfield, Wisconsin is named after him.[4] It is a medical research and education facility on the campus of Marshfield Clinic.


Laird was buried in Arlington National Cemetery (Section 34) after a 3 PM service in the Post Chapel.[20]

See also


  1. ^ "Melvin R. Laird - Richard Nixon Administration". Office of the Secretary of Defense - Historical Office.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ "404 Error: File Not Found - Wisconsin Historical Society".
  4. ^ a b c d "Melvin Laird, Defense Secretary under Nixon, dead at age 94".
  5. ^ 'Wisconsin Blue Book 1948,' Biographical Sketch of Melvin R. Laird, Jr., p. 36.
  6. ^ Nation: What the Platform Says, Time Magazine (July 24, 1964).
  7. ^ "HR 6127. CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1957".
  8. ^ "HR 8601. PASSAGE".
  9. ^ "H.R. 7152. PASSAGE".
  11. ^ "TO PASS H.R. 6400, THE 1965 VOTING RIGHTS ACT".
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba Karnow, Stanley (1983). Vietnam: A History. Penguin. ISBN 978-0140265477.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh Van Atta, Dale (2008). With Honor: Melvin Laird in War, Peace, and Politics. University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 978-0299226800.
  14. ^ "Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum".
  15. ^ BenchMarks Magazine, Fall 1994 "BenchMarks".
  16. ^ "Congressional Biographical Directory (CLERKWEB)". Archived from the original on April 23, 2010.
  17. ^ "Melvin Laird, Nixon defense secretary at the height of the Vietnam War, dies at 94".
  18. ^ "Nixon's Secretary of Defense Dead at 94". November 16, 2016.
  19. ^ a b
  20. ^

External links

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Reid F. Murray
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Wisconsin's 7th congressional district

Succeeded by
Dave Obey
Party political offices
Preceded by
Gerald Ford
Chair of the House Republican Conference
Succeeded by
John B. Anderson
Political offices
Preceded by
Clark Clifford
United States Secretary of Defense
Succeeded by
Elliot Richardson
Preceded by
John Ehrlichman
White House Domestic Affairs Advisor
Succeeded by
Kenneth Reese Cole Jr.
This page was last edited on 7 January 2020, at 18:26
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