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Alexander Meigs Haig, Jr. (December 2, 1924 – February 20, 2010) was a United States Army general who served as the United States Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan and White House Chief of Staff under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. In 1973 Haig served as Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, the number-two ranking officer in the Army. Haig served as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, commanding all U.S. and NATO forces in Europe.
A veteran of the Korean War and Vietnam War, Haig was a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star with oak leaf cluster, and the Purple Heart.
On February 20, 2010, Haig died from complications from an infection after being hospitalized at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore on January 28, 2010.
Early life and education
Haig was born in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia. He was the middle of three children of Alexander Meigs Haig, Sr., a Republican lawyer, and his wife Regina Anne Murphy. When Haig was 10, his father died of cancer, and his Irish American mother raised her children in the Catholic religion. He attended Saint Joseph's Preparatory School in Philadelphia and graduated from Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. He then studied at the University of Notre Dame for two years, before transferring to the United States Military Academy, where he graduated in 1947. Haig earned a master's degree in business administration from Columbia Business School in 1955, and a master's degree in international relations from Georgetown University in 1961. His thesis was on the role of military officers in making national policy.
Serves with MacArthur in Korea
As a young officer, Haig served on the staff of General Douglas MacArthur in Japan. In the early days of the Korean War, Haig was responsible for maintaining General MacArthur's situation map and briefing MacArthur each evening on the day's battlefield events. Haig later served (1950–51) with the X Corps, as aide to MacArthur's Chief of Staff, the controversial General Edward Almond, who awarded Haig two Silver Stars and a Bronze Star with Valor device. Haig participated in four Korean War campaigns, including the Battle of Inchon, the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, and the evacuation of HÅngnam as Almond's aide.
Haig served as a staff officer in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations (DCSOPS) at the Pentagon (1962–64), and then was appointed Military Assistant to Secretary of the Army Stephen Ailes in 1964. He then was appointed Military Assistant to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, continuing in that service until the end of 1965, whereupon he took command of a battalion of the 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam.
Distinguished Service Cross in Vietnam
On May 22, 1967, Lieutenant Colonel Haig was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the US Army's second highest medal for valor, by General William Westmoreland as a result of his actions during the battle of Ap Gu in March 1967. During the battle, Haig's troops (of the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division (United States) became pinned down by a Viet Cong force that outnumbered U.S. forces by three to one. In an attempt to survey the battlefield, Haig boarded a helicopter and flew to the point of contact. His helicopter was subsequently shot down. Two days of bloody hand-to-hand combat ensued. An excerpt from Haig's official Army citation follows:
When two of his companies were engaged by a large hostile force, Colonel Haig landed amid a hail of fire, personally took charge of the units, called for artillery and air fire support and succeeded in soundly defeating the insurgent force...the next day a barrage of 400 rounds was fired by the Viet Cong, but it was ineffective because of the warning and preparations by Colonel Haig. As the barrage subsided, a force three times larger than his began a series of human wave assaults on the camp. Heedless of the danger himself, Colonel Haig repeatedly braved intense hostile fire to survey the battlefield. His personal courage and determination, and his skillful employment of every defense and support tactic possible, inspired his men to fight with previously unimagined power. Although his force was outnumbered three to one, Colonel Haig succeeded in inflicting 592 casualties on the Viet Cong... (HQ US Army, Vietnam, General Orders No. 2318 (May 22, 1967)
Haig was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart during his tour in Vietnam, and was eventually promoted to Colonel, becoming a brigade commander of the 1st Infantry Division (United States) in Vietnam.
At the end of his one-year tour, Alexander Haig returned to the continental United States to become Regimental Commander of the Third Regiment of the Corps of Cadets at West Point, under the also newly arrived Commandant, Brigadier General Bernard W. Rogers. (Both had served together in the 1st Infantry Division, Rogers as Assistant Division Commander and Haig as Brigade Commander.)
Security Adviser (1969–1972)
In 1969, he was appointed Military Assistant to the Presidential Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry Kissinger, a position he retained until 1970 when President Richard Nixon promoted Haig to Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. In this position, Haig helped South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu negotiate the final cease-fire talks in 1972. Haig continued in this position until 1973, when he was appointed to be Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, a post he held until the last few months of President Nixon’s tenure, during which he served as White House Chief of Staff.
White House Chief of Staff (1973–74)
Haig served as White House Chief of Staff during the height of the Watergate affair from May 1973 until September 1974, taking over the position from H.R. Haldeman, who resigned on April 30, 1973, while under pressure from Watergate prosecutors.
Haig has been largely credited with keeping the government running while President Nixon was preoccupied with Watergate, and was seen as the "acting president" in Nixon's last months. Haig also played an instrumental role in finally persuading Nixon to resign. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Nixon had been assured of a pardon by then-Vice President Gerald Ford if he would resign. In this regard, in his 2001 book "Shadow," author Bob Woodward describes Haig's role as the point man between Nixon and Ford during the final days of Watergate. According to Woodward, Haig played a major behind-the-scenes role in the delicate negotiations of the transfer of power from President Nixon to President Ford.
Haig remained White House Chief of Staff during the early days of the Ford Administration until Donald Rumsfeld replaced him in September 1974. By that time, Ford, in a highly controversial move, had pardoned Nixon for any crimes he may have committed as president. Author Roger Morris, a former colleague of Haig's on the National Security Council early in Nixon's first term, wrote that when Ford pardoned Nixon, he in effect pardoned Haig as well.
NATO Supreme Commander (1974–79)
Gen. Haig as SACEUR, photo taken on June 1, 1977
From 1974 to 1979, Haig served as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), the Commander of NATO forces in Europe, and Commander-in-Chief of United States European Command (CinCUSEUR). A creature of habit, Haig took the same route to SHAPE every day – a pattern of behavior that did not go unnoticed by terrorist groups. On June 25, 1979, Haig was the victim of an assassination attempt in Mons, Belgium. A land mine blew up under the bridge on which Haig's car was traveling, narrowly missing Haig's car, but wounding three of his bodyguards in a following car. Authorities later attributed responsibility for the attack to the Red Army Faction (RAF). In 1993 a German Court sentenced Rolf Clemens Wagner, a former RAF member, to life imprisonment for the assassination attempt.
Alexander Haig retired as a four-star general from the Army in 1979, and moved on to civilian employment. In 1979, he became President, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), and Director of United Technologies, Inc., a job he retained until 1981.
Secretary of State (1981–1982)
In January 1981, Haig was tapped by President Ronald Reagan to be Secretary of State. Confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee focused on Haig's role during Watergate. Haig was confirmed by a Senate vote of 93-6. His speeches in this role in particular led to the coining of the neologism "Haigspeak", described in a dictionary of neologisms as "Language characterized by pompous obscurity resulting from redundancy, the semantically strained use of words, and verbosity", leading ambassador Nicko Henderson to offer a prize for the best rendering of the Gettysburg address in Haigspeak.
Reagan assassination attempt
Secretary of State Haig speaks to the press after the attempted assassination on President Ronald Reagan
In 1981, following the March 30 assassination attempt on Reagan, Haig asserted before reporters "I am in control here" as a result of Reagan's hospitalization.
Constitutionally, gentlemen, you have the President, the Vice President and the Secretary of State in that order, and should the President decide he wants to transfer the helm to the Vice President, he will do so. He has not done that. As of now, I am in control here, in the White House, pending return of the Vice President and in close touch with him. If something came up, I would check with him, of course.
—Alexander Haig , Alexander Haig, autobiographical profile in TIME Magazine, April 2, 1984
Haig was incorrect by an interpretation of the U.S. Constitution concerning both the presidential line of succession and the 25th Amendment, which dictates what happens when a president is incapacitated. The holders of the two offices between the Vice President and the Secretary of State, the Speaker of the House (at the time, Tip O'Neill) and the President pro tempore of the Senate (at the time, Strom Thurmond), would be required under U.S. law (3 U.S.C. § 19) to resign their positions in order for either of them to become acting President. This was an unlikely event, considering that Vice-President Bush was merely not immediately available. Haig's statement reflected political reality, if not necessarily legal reality. Haig later said,
I wasn't talking about transition. I was talking about the executive branch, who is running the government. That was the question asked. It was not, "Who is in line should the President die?"
—Alexander Haig, Alexander Haig interview with 60 Minutes II April 23, 2001
In April 1982 Haig conducted shuttle diplomacy between the governments of Argentina in Buenos Aires and the United Kingdom in London after Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. Negotiations broke down and Haig returned to Washington on April 19. The British fleet then entered the war zone.
1982 Lebanon War
Haig's report to Reagan on January 30, 1982, shows that Haig feared that the Israelis might start a war against Lebanon. Critics have accused Haig of "greenlighting" the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June 1982. Haig denies this and says he urged restraint.
A military hawk, Haig caused some alarm with his suggestion that a "nuclear warning shot" in Europe might be effective in deterring the Soviet Union. His tenure as Secretary of State was often characterized by his clashes with the more moderate Defense Secretary, Caspar Weinberger.
President Reagan accepted Haig's resignation from State on July 5, 1982. Haig was succeeded by George P. Schultz, who was confirmed on July 16, 1982, and left office on January 20, 1989.
1988 Republican presidential nomination
Haig ran unsuccessfully for the Republican Party nomination for President in 1988. Although he enjoyed relatively high name familiarity, Haig never broke out of single digits in national public opinion polls. He was a fierce critic of then Vice PresidentGeorge H. W. Bush, often doubting Bush's leadership abilities, questioning his role in the Iran Contra Scandal, and using the word wimp in realtion to Bush in an Oct. 1987 debate in Texas. Despite extensive personal campaigning and paid advertising in New Hamphshire, Haig remained stuck in last place in the polls. Four days before the February 1988 NH primary election, Haig withdrew his candidacy and endorsed Senator Bob Dole, who made an appearance at the press conference, heavily covered by political reporters partly because a snow storm had limited travel by candidates and reporters. Dole, steadily gaining on Bush after beating him handily a week earlier in the Iowa caucus, ended up losing to Bush in NH by ten percentage points. With his momentum regained, Bush easily won the nomination.
Later life and death
Haig was the host for several years of the television program World Business Review. At the time of his death, he was the host of 21st Century Business, with each program a weekly business education forum that included business solutions, expert interview, commentary and field reports. Haig served as a founding member of the advisory board of Newsmax Media, which publishes the nation's leading conservative web site, Newsmax.com. Haig was co-chairman of the American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus, along with Zbigniew Brzezinski and Stephen J. Solarz. A member of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) Board of Advisors, Haig was also a founding Board Member of America Online.
On January 5, 2006, Haig 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. On May 12, 2006, Haig participated in a second White House meeting with 10 former Secretaries of State and Defense. The meeting including briefings by Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice, and was followed by a discussion with President George W. Bush. Haig's memoirs – Inner Circles: How America Changed The World – were published in 1992.
On February 19, 2010, a hospital spokesman revealed that the 85-year-old Haig had been hospitalized at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore since January 28 and remained in critical condition. On February 20, Haig died at the age of 85 from complications from a staphylococcal infection that he had prior to admission.
Alexander Haig was married to Patricia (nee Fox) from 1950 until his death. She is the mother of his three children, all of whom survive him: Alexander, author Brian Haig and Barbara Haig, who is currently the Deputy to the President for Policy & Strategy at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, DC. Haig's younger brother, Frank – a Jesuit priest – served as the seventh president of Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, and is now teaching physics at Loyola University in Maryland. Haig's older sister Regina Haig Meredith was a practicing attorney licensed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and was a co-founding partner of the firm Meredith, Meredith, Chase and Taggart, located in Princeton and Trenton, New Jersey; she died in 2008.
Haig has been portrayed by the following actors in film and television productions:
- John Pochna in the 1982 film Inchon.
- Stanley Grover in the 1987 Warner Bros. Television drama The Betty Ford Story.
- David Ogden Stiers in the 1989 US television drama The Final Days.
- Matt Frewer in the 1995 Canadian TV drama Kissinger and Nixon.
- Powers Boothe in Oliver Stone's 1995 film Nixon.
- Richard Dreyfuss in the 2001 US television drama The Day Reagan Was Shot.
- Colin Stinton in the 2002 BBC production of Ian Curteis's controversial The Falklands Play.
- Bill Smitrovich in the 2003 CBS/Showtime miniseries The Reagans.
- Dress Grey, by Lucian K. Truscott IV, 1978, ISBN 0385134754. Truscott, scion of a longtime military family (his grandfather Lucian Truscott Jr. was an important World War II general), was a cadet at West Point during Haig's late 1960s stint there; this book is a novel, in which a thinly-disguised Haig is portrayed as a central character in a murder and cover-up mystery at West Point. Truscott had earlier (1974) spoken out in The Village Voice, about problems at West Point.
- Haig: The General's Progress, by Roger Morris (American writer), Playboy Press, 1982, ISBN 0872237532. Morris, a respected author, was a colleague of Haig's on the National Security Council, early in President Richard Nixon's first term. Morris presents important material on Haig's early life and Army career, as well as deeper and darker material than the official line, on the often seamy dealings of the Nixon White House, including Watergate.
- The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House, by Seymour Hersh, Summit Books, New York, 1983, ISBN 0671506889. The book focuses on U.S. foreign policy, directed mainly from the White House by Nixon and Henry Kissinger during Nixon's first term; since Haig eventually became Kissinger's deputy during that era, there is also plenty of material on Haig here, often at variance with the official, sanitized versions.
- Caveat: Realism, Reagan and Foreign Affairs, by Alexander Haig, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1984. The book is Haig's account of what happened while he was Secretary of State.