The Cepia Club Blog

The Cepia Club Blog: The Cepia Club believes individual awareness and activism can lead to a peaceful and prosperous world. This blog contains the pertinent literature, both creative and non-fiction, produced by the Cepiaclub Director and its associates.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Rounding It Out Atta, Dale van. With Honor: Melvin Laird, in War, Peace and Politics.Madison, UW Press, 2008.

Rounding It Out
By Tim Krenz
April 7, 2016

Atta, Dale van. With Honor: Melvin Laird, in War, Peace and Politics. Madison, UW Press, 2008.

People in D.C. knew Melvin Laird as “the Man from Marshfied.” Growing up in that small Wisconsin city, Laird became a young state senator, a nine-time elected U.S. Congressman, and the reluctant Secretary of Defense from January 1969 to January 1973, who shrewdly comprehended that the United States needed to disengage from the divisive Vietnam War.

By his experience as a key member of the U.S. House Defense Appropriations Sub-Committee, Melvin Laird spent years learning the issues and politics, and the personalities and bureaucracies, of the nation's military affairs. Receiving a severe wounding by kamikaze air attack in 1945 while a serving officer in the United States Naval Reserve, Laird carried that moral courage needed to make hard, life and death decisions.

As a senior member of Nixon's cabinet, and friend of the President's, Laird held strong cards in how and when the pace of American redeployment from Indochina would occur. As the third ranking member his party's U.S. House of Representatives caucus, Laird ascended to the cabinet from his modest Middle American roots, and with a moderate Republican viewpoint, Laird felt the political hurricanes affecting U.S. policy like a feather-wane, and he persisted in guiding the United States out of the protracted stalemate versus the Vietnamese communists.

All of these attributes, according to biographer Dale van Atta, in his book, With Honor: Melvin Laird in War, Peace and Politics, came to focus as he outmaneuvered the stalwarts inside the U.S. Government, military and civilian, against disengagement. Countless times, it seems in the biography, Laird played strong cards, bet big, bluffed the bureaucracies and the White House (including the paragon opponent and friend, Henry A. Kissinger) and won the pot every time. In the bottom sum, in a democracy, where voting matters, Laird knew how to find votes, and knew the margins of support he had—and he counted votes very, very well.

Laird invented the term “Vietnamization,” whereby the U.S. allies in the Republic of (South) Vietnam would carry the burden of their own war against communist insurgents and against the communist Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam. To complement that strategy, the White House offered its own “Nixon Doctrine,” which told Asian nations that they needed to supply the majority of armed forces to defend themselves against aggressors, and that the United States would only provide military aid, and supporting air and naval assistance in their defense.

As the policy of Vietnamization took its precarious hold, Laird, with much force of politics, and a firm civilian control over the military and civilian policymakers, redesigned the armed forces of the U.S. Many consider Laird the “Father” of the “All-Volunteer Force,” as he determined early in his tenure to end the draft, which has not existed since 1973 when the last draft authorization law lapsed.

Laird also redirected and reinvented much of the military planning and investment into new forms, including the “Total Force Concept,” which integrates the Army and Air National Guards and the organized armed forces Reserves into any active deployment, as seen fit by the National Command Authority (i.e. the President and the Secretary of Defense). In his policies concerning Vietnam escalation, then-President Johnson from 1965 to 1969 had (with very limited exceptions) not used these vital components for the goals of U.S. policy, hoping to avoid domestic schism.

With his wrong and half-stupid commitment to intervention, Johnson had condemned his policy and the country to the very division in the country he sought to avoid. With Laird's system, during the 1990-91 Desert Shield/Desert Storm conflict, and during the present and ongoing, 15-year war, the guards and reserves have found themselves active and deployed, which might explain some of the overwhelming political commitment and public support for the enduring current conflicts. Other Laird-directed investments continue to this day, including the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, the KEY wild card in the United State's nuclear deterrent since its conception.

Aside from these important contributions to U.S. military history and policy, Laird during his terms in Congress supported and mentored many of the nation's leaders who have since guided the nation, including former Secretary of State General Colin Powell. Laird also did a great deal to further the health care and public health systems. As an untainted White House aide after serving in the Defense Department, according to author Atta, Laird proved instrumental in the nomination of Gerald Ford as Vice President. And when Nixon's presidency disintegrated over the Watergate investigations, Laird emerged with his Middle America integrity intact, and his friend, Gerald Ford, assumed the Office of President. For all these reasons alone, Laird has his place in American history, as “the Man from Marshfield.”