Mourning Al Haig

by Erin Solaro

This is a post I never thought I’d write. I’m (more or less) a liberal and a progressive, an unapologetic feminist. I intensely disliked President Reagan and disagreed with many of his policies, except for his attitude towards the Soviet Union. When he called the Union an evil empire, I didn’t understand the fuss: his was a simple, factual description.

And I certainly didn’t care for Secretary of State Haig declaring himself in control, even though I knew his words reflected the soldier’s understanding of the distinction between command (a legal status that cannot be delegated) and control (a function that can be) and that his was a rational misreading of the law that reflected the situation in DC.

I suspect Haig was also a hard man to work for: he conveyed the impression of being nervous, thinskinned, restless with physical energy, high-octane even by the standards of racehorses, vauntingly ambitious. I may be generous.

He was also very brave and a beautiful young man who kept a fine face and figure until late in his life, long past the time they have ceased to be a birthright and have been earned. I’ve read many nasty and ugly and foul comments on his passing, and I can only wonder how many who wrote such things envied him both his beauty and his courage.

For General Haig did one astonishing thing that matched both his virtues. He helped shepherd America through the unmatched Constitutional crisis that was the result of Richard Nixon’s contempt for the office of the President, the Constitution, the American Republic, and his fellow citizens. He helped ensure the peaceful transfer of power from President Nixon to President Ford and in so doing, General Haig saved the Republic for a generation.

General Haig was a man of ego and temper and ambition who thought he was sacrifing not only his military career but also his political hopes in order to serve as Nixon’s final chief of staff when it was very clear that Nixon was not only a crook but very likely a soon-to-be impeached and jailed crook. People in DC thought Haig was either an incredible idiot or an incredible patriot to do that, regardless of whatever else they thought of him.

General Haig’s subsequent appointments as Vice Chief of Staff of the Army and Supreme Allied Commander–Europe (SACEUR or NATO commander) were gifts of gratitude to a man no one had ever really thought was an idiot. (His final, brief, operational command before being appointed SACEUR in 1974 was a brigade in Vietnam in about 1967, after which he served as a regimental commander in the Corps of Cadets at West Point.)

But he saved the Republic for lesser men and women of both parties to squander. Watching as I am the ruination of our country and of many, many Americans who have done nothing but work hard all their lives, I wonder if, at the end of his life, General Haig regretted that peaceful transition of power. There were many things that were not brought to light at the end of Nixon’s tenure, out of fear that the country could not stomach any more political strife, that another scandal–a real one–would rip the nation apart. And so that refusal to examine the full magnitude of the Presidential abuse of power during the Vietnam War, a war that incinerated Cambodia and nearly did the same to Laos, paved the way for the Presidential abuse of power that has brought us to the present catastrophe in Iraq and Afghanistan. A wresting of power from President Nixon via impeachment and conviction might have forced us to seriously confront the disaster that was our war in Vietnam, and the harm it did the Republic, as well as Southeast Asia.

I don’t know if I could have borne to ask General Haig such a question, though. He cared for the Republic as best he could–and his best was very good indeed–in its time of peril. It is a pity he appeared never to have been content with the wonderful thing he had done and called himself happy.

To borrow an old and very sweet Marine Corps tradition of bidding farewell to the legendary Marine, Lieutenant General Lewis B. Puller, Goodnight, Al, wherever you are. (And I’m sure it’s in a pretty good place.)

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5 thoughts on “Mourning Al Haig”

  1. My own feelings about general Haig also spring back to those sad days of Viet Nam, Nixon (Let’s not forget his criminal VP either!) and I have a very different take on the situations as they were back then. I was also a twenty year old, and of course knew everything about anything, an 11 B P G and ten feet tall, not quite bulletproof, but oh well… My commander had also labeled Haig as a “Perfumed Price” That was enough, at least back then for me not to like the man.

    Some three decades later? I am more of a mind as you are.

    Being a Marine Corps brat as I am, I cannot give the same accolade as you. I reserve that only for Marines. It is a thing of pride, and the culture that I was raised into.

    Rest in peace General and Godspeed to your eternal memory of sacrifice, duty, and honor!

  2. Patrick:

    Always good to hear from you!

    I’ve been in the process of a major move and connectivity and writing is spotty for the next few days; I am also dealing with a massive time change.

    Part of Haig’s problem was he was quite pretty—and he knew it. But he kept the country together when it needed it the most. And I think a big part of his problem latter in life was the fact that he genuinely was one of the heroes of Watergate, and how dare he be? He was supposed to be a villain!

    Saw your comment to James. I don’t recall that one, but I’ll take a look at it. I’ll catch up as I can.

    Erin

    More later, as I can.

  3. As a young man, I was told by a history prof that during the Watergate crisis, Haig went to the Joint Chiefs and told them that if Nixon ordered the launch of nuclear weapons, they were not to do it without checking with someone else first. (I’m not sure what his source was for this.) Apparently there was some concern that Nixon might decide to take everyone with him. If true, the concern seems misplaced, Nixon resigned in the end, but I suppose better safe than sorry.

  4. Patrick:

    I can’t speak to Burke’s professor here, but at the time Nixon was a mess, drinking hard and using prescription allergy medication, and the word really did go out to the Pentagon, unless Kissinger or Haig countersigns it, don’t obey it. The President, after all, was wandering the halls of the White House from time to time, his aides trailing him, more than a little incoherent, and he enacted his madman theory. Actually, it was Kissinger’s, too, but Kissinger was in his right mind. That it was not a particularly good mind is, of course, a somewhat different matter.

    Erin

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