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Caspar Weinberger

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Caspar Weinberger

Caspar Weinberger
15th United States Secretary of Defense
In office
January 21, 1981 – November 23, 1987
President Ronald Reagan
Deputy Frank Carlucci
Paul Thayer
William Taft
Preceded by Harold Brown
Succeeded by Frank Carlucci
10th United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare
In office
February 12, 1973 – August 8, 1975
President Richard Nixon
Gerald Ford
Preceded by Elliot Richardson
Succeeded by David Mathews
20th Director of the Office of Management and Budget
In office
June 12, 1972 – February 1, 1973
President Richard Nixon
Preceded by George Shultz
Succeeded by Roy Ash
42nd Chairperson of the Federal Trade Commission
In office
December 31, 1969 – August 6, 1970
President Richard Nixon
Preceded by Paul Dixon
Succeeded by Miles Kirkpatrick
Personal details
Born Caspar Willard Weinberger
(1917-08-18)August 18, 1917
San Francisco, California, U.S.
Died March 28, 2006(2006-03-28) (aged 88)
Bangor, Maine, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Jane Dalton (1942–2006)
Children 2
Alma mater Harvard University
Religion Episcopalianism
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1941–1945
Rank Captain
Unit 41st Infantry Division
Battles/wars World War II

Caspar Willard "Cap" Weinberger, GBE (August 18, 1917 – March 28, 2006), was an American politician and businessman. As a prominent Republican, he served in a variety of prominent state and federal positions for three decades, including Chairman of the California Republican Party, 1962–68. Most notably he was Secretary of Defense under Republican President Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1987.[1]

Born in San Francisco, California, Weinberger served in the 41st Infantry Division in the Pacific theater of World War II. His entry into politics was as a California State Assemblyman from 1953 to 1959, and he would go on to serve as Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission and Director of the Office of Management and Budget under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. An accomplished private sector businessman, he later became vice president and general counsel of Bechtel Corporation, and still later Chairman of Forbes.

His tenure as Secretary of Defense is the third longest in U.S. history, and spanned the final years of the Cold War. He is also known for his key role in the administration's Strategic Defense Initiative and later indictments in the Iran–Contra affair. He was awarded both the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1987 and an honorary British knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II.


  • Early life 1
    • Education 1.1
  • Military service 2
  • Political career 3
  • Secretary of Defense 4
    • Iran–Contra affair 4.1
  • Later career 5
  • Family 6
  • Death 7
  • Awards 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Early life

Weinberger was born in San Francisco, California, the younger of two sons of Herman Weinberger, a Colorado-born lawyer. His mother, the former Cerise Carpenter Hampson, was an accomplished violinist. His father was of Jewish Bohemian descent, while his maternal grandparents were immigrants from England.[2] Weinberger had stated that his mother's Episcopal religion was "an enormous influence and comfort all my life".[3] Weinberger was named "Caspar" for a friend of his mother's; his father began calling him "Cap", a nickname that stuck into adulthood.

Weinberger was a first cousin of the nationally-broadcast radio personality Don McNeill of Don McNeill's Breakfast Club. Caspar Weinberger's father Herman was the younger brother of Luella Weinberger McNeill, mother of Don McNeill. The 1910 Census shows Herman and Luella living in the household of Nathan Weinberger, the grandfather of Caspar Weinberger.

Weinberger's paternal grandparents had left Judaism because of a dispute at a Bohemian synagogue. He was reared in a home with no denominational ties, though with a general Christian orientation. Weinberger would later become an active Episcopalian and often expressed his faith in God.[4]


Although Weinberger was a sickly child and required close nurturing from his mother (though he would overcome his poor health and shyness), he attended San Francisco Polytechnic High School. He was academically gifted and gained admission to Harvard University.

When he enrolled at Harvard College, Mrs. Weinberger rented an apartment nearby for the first semester that Weinberger and his older brother, Peter, attended Harvard. She then returned to her husband in San Francisco. Weinberger received his Bachelor of Arts in anthropology, magna cum laude, in 1938 and a Juris Doctor degree in 1941, both from Harvard. He edited the Harvard student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, and recalls in his memoirs entitled In the Arena: A Memoir of the 20th Century two specific interviews of which he was most pleased: one with the highly decorated soldier Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., and another with Alabama-born actress Tallulah Bankhead.

Prior to his attending Harvard Law School, Weinberger had been offered a scholarship to study at the University of Cambridge.[5]

Military service

He entered the 41st Infantry Division in the Pacific. At the end of the war he was a captain on General Douglas MacArthur's intelligence staff. Early in life, he developed an interest in politics and history, and, during the war years, a special admiration for Winston Churchill, whom he would later cite as an important influence in his life. From 1945–1947, Weinberger worked as a law clerk for a federal judge before joining a San Francisco law firm.

Political career

In 1952, Weinberger entered the race for California assemblyman in the San Francisco Bay area as a Republican at the persuasion of his wife, California Department of Water Resources and was instrumental in the creation of the California State Water Project. Weinberger also unsuccessfully opposed the construction of the Embarcadero Freeway, saying it would ruin the view of the Bay and damage property values.[8] Weinberger felt vindicated when the freeway was removed after the 1989 earthquake. Although unsuccessful in his 1958 campaign for California Attorney General, Weinberger continued to be active in politics and was chosen by Nixon in 1962 to become chairman of the California Republican Party.

Federal Trade Commission. He is credited for having revitalized the FTC by enforcing consumer protection.[9]

He subsequently served under President Richard Nixon as deputy director (1970–1972) and director (1972–1973) of the Office of Management and Budget and Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare (1973–1975). While serving in the Office of Management and Budget, Weinberger earned the nickname "Cap the Knife" for his cost-cutting ability. For the next five years, Weinberger was vice president and general counsel of the Bechtel Corporation in California.

Secretary of Defense

Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger (left) with Israeli Minister of Defense Arik Sharon, 1982

Although not widely experienced in defense matters, Weinberger had a reputation in Washington as an able administrator; his powers as a cost cutter earned him the sobriquet "Cap the Knife." He shared President Reagan's conviction that the Soviet Union posed a serious threat to the United States, and that the defense establishment needed to be modernized and strengthened. Belying his nickname, at the Pentagon Weinberger became a vigorous advocate of Reagan's plan to increase the Department of Defense budget. Readiness, sustainability, and modernization became the watchwords of the defense program. In his early years at the Pentagon, Cap Weinberger was known as "Cap the Ladle" for advocating large increases in defense spending.

Caspar Weinberger inspecting new hardware, Fort Lewis, Washington on April 22, 1983

As Secretary of Defense, Weinberger oversaw a massive rebuilding of US military strength. Major defense programs he championed included the B-1B bomber and the "600-ship Navy". His efforts created economic and military-industrial pressures that were associated with the beginning of Perestroika and the beginning of the end of both the Cold War and the Soviet Union.[10] However, this thesis was contested by the extensive study on the causes of the collapse of the Soviet Union by two prominent economists from the World Bank – William Easterly, and Stanley Fischer from MIT: "… the study concludes that the increased Soviet defense spending provoked by Mr. Reagan's policies was not the straw that broke the back of the Evil Empire. The Soviet war in Afghanistan and the Soviet response to Mr. Reagan's Star Wars program caused only a relatively small rise in [USSR] defense costs. The massive US defense effort throughout the period from 1960 to 1987 contributed only marginally to Soviet economic decline."[11]

The same study points out the key reason for the economic decline of the USSR was relying on centrally-planned industrial-expansion to drive economic growth, rather than driving growth by increasing worker productivity via incentives; France and Japan were also mentioned (in 1994) as other centrally-planned economies that could soon experience similar troubles.[11] While the Reagan Doctrine was not a key factor in causing the economic implosion of the USSR, which was driven by internal contradictions, the Reagan proxy-rollback policy of the 1980s (which replaced Détente that Nixon and Carter generally pursued during the 1970s) was the key factor[12] in preventing expansion of the Soviet economic empire, and sustenance of their declining domestic economy from external sources. Reagan was one of the few people to predict this possibility. The final piece of the puzzle was the Soviet leadership: Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko were hardline Communists, and prevented any significant changes, but Gorbachev was a reformer—and once economic reforms and political reforms began, they became unstoppable, as foreseen in 1977:

I do not believe it possible that the thirst for freedom and decency in the countries of the Soviet Empire can remain much longer unslaked, and that any attempt... to satisfy it by real reforms, will be cataclysmically destructive of the eroded foundations of the entire State system. ...there will be no stopping the tide once the first sluice has been opened. Memories of the Czech tragedy of 1968 will still be fresh … the most significant element of the Prague Spring was the way in which, once Mr Dubcek had shown that he supported the Czech desire for liberation, no attempt by him and his equally brave colleagues to go slowly proved availing — the scent of freedom in the nostrils of his people was too strong.[13]

These events came at the cost of helping to triple the US national debt, and funding radicals. Weinberger pushed for dramatic increases in the United States' nuclear funding, and was a strong advocate of the controversial SDI, an initiative which proposed a space- and ground-based missile defense shield. [14] [1]

Weinberger was reluctant to commit the armed forces, keeping only a token force of American marines in Lebanon that then became victims in the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing.[15]

Unlike President Shultz, Weinberger did not regard any of Gorbachev's actions—whether it was perestroika or glasnost—as reassuring indicators of his stated intentions.[16] "Not only did Gorbachev give up all of the Soviet 'non-negotiable' demands [regarding the INF Treaty], but he gave us precisely the kind of treaty that the President had sought for seven years. That act of course does not mean—any more than does the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan—that the USSR has given up its long-term aggressive designs."[16] Initially, Reagan's views were in line with Weinberger's views, but he began to reevaluate his perception of Gorbachev's intentions in 1987, the year Gorbachev accepted the U.S. proposal on INF.[17]

Iran–Contra affair

The Iran–Contra affair concerned the selling of US missiles to Iran. The funds received from Iran were then channeled to guerilla rebels known as Contras, who were fighting the socialist government of Nicaragua.[18] Such funding had been specifically denied by the US Congress. Though he claims to have been opposed to the sale on principle, Weinberger participated in the transfer of United States Hawk and TOW missiles to Iran during the Iran–Contra affair.

This resulted in scandal and several investigations which resulted in fourteen administration officials being indicted, including Caspar Weinberger who resigned before trial.[19][20][21] Following his resignation as Secretary of Defense, legal proceedings against him were brought by Independent Counsel Lawrence E. Walsh. A federal grand jury then indicted Weinberger on two counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice on June 16, 1992.[22] He was defended by defense attorney Carl Rauh.

Prosecutors brought an additional indictment four days before the 1992 presidential election. This was controversial because it cited a Weinberger diary entry contradicting a claim made by President George H.W. Bush. Republicans claimed that it contributed to President Bush’s defeat. On December 11, 1992, Judge Thomas F. Hogan threw out the indictment because it violated the five-year statute of limitations and improperly broadened the original charges.[23]

Before he could be tried on the original charges, Weinberger received a [20]

Later career

Weinberger had been Secretary of Defense for six years and ten months, longer than any man except for Robert McNamara and more recently Donald Rumsfeld. After Weinberger left the Pentagon, he joined Forbes, Inc., in 1989 as publisher of Forbes magazine. He was named chairman in 1993. Over the next decade, he wrote frequently on defense and national security issues. In 1990, he wrote Fighting for Peace, an account of his Pentagon years. In 1996, Weinberger co-authored a book entitled The Next War, which raised questions about the adequacy of US military capabilities following the end of the Cold War.

He was a member of the Founding Council of the Rothermere American Institute at the University of Oxford.


In 1942, Weinberger married Rebecca Jane Dalton, who was born on March 29, 1918 in Milford, Maine.[7] A World War II Army nurse, and later author and publisher, she "coaxed her husband ... into politics and was a loyal Washington wife during three Republican administrations before she began to write and publish children's books".[6] Jane Weinberger, a uterine cancer survivor, died on July 12, 2009, aged 91, at Bar Harbor, Maine, following a stroke.[6] The couple had a daughter, Arlin, and a son, Caspar.


Weinberger's funeral at Arlington National Cemetery

While residing on Mount Desert Island, Maine, Weinberger was treated for and died from complications of pneumonia at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Maine, aged 88. He was survived by his wife, the former Rebecca Jane Dalton, their two children and several grandchildren.

He was buried in Section 30, Grave 835-1 at Arlington National Cemetery on April 4, 2006.

Shortly after his death President George W. Bush in a public statement said:

"Caspar Weinberger was an American statesman and a dedicated public servant. He wore the uniform in World War II, held elected office, and served in the cabinets of three Presidents. As Secretary of Defense for President Reagan, he worked to strengthen our military and win the Cold War. In all his years, this good man made many contributions to our Nation. America is grateful for Caspar Weinberger's lifetime of service. Laura and I send our condolences and prayers to the entire Weinberger family."[24]

Then United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stated:

"Cap Weinberger was a friend. His extensive career in public service, his support for the men and women in uniform and his central role in helping to win the Cold War leave a lasting legacy ... He left the United States armed forces stronger, our country safer and the world more free."[25]



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  2. ^ BBC NEWS Obituary
  3. ^
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  6. ^ a b c
  7. ^ a b
  8. ^
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  11. ^ a b
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  16. ^ a b
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  18. ^ Understanding the Iran-Contra Affairs – The Iran-Contra Affairs
  19. ^
  20. ^ a b
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  22. ^ Weinberger charged in Iran-Contra matter
  23. ^ Johnston, David, “Charge in Weinberger Case That Caused Furor Before Election is Thrown Out,” New York Times, December 12, 1992. Link:
  24. ^ Statement by President George W. Bush on Weinberger's death
  25. ^ DefenseLink News Article: Former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger Dies at 88 Archived November 27, 2014 at the Wayback Machine

External links

  • magazineFortuneObituary in
  • An interview with Caspar Weinberger (MP3)
  • Interview about the MX missiles for the WGBH series
  • Appearances on C-SPAN
    • , July 15, 1990.Fighting for Peace interview with Weinberger on Booknotes
  • BBC News obituary
  • Caspar Weinberger at Find a Grave
  • obituaryBaltimore Sun
  • Caspar Weinberger at the Internet Movie Database
  • Oral history interview on California politics [2]
Political offices
Preceded by
Paul Dixon
Chairperson of the Federal Trade Commission
Succeeded by
Miles Kirkpatrick
Preceded by
George Shultz
Director of the Office of Management and Budget
Succeeded by
Roy Ash
Preceded by
Elliot Richardson
United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare
Succeeded by
David Mathews
Preceded by
Harold Brown
United States Secretary of Defense
Succeeded by
Frank Carlucci
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