Remembering Cap Weinberger's Combat Doctrine

A year ago today, as I write this column, my father, Caspar Weinberger, whose resume included being Ronald Reagan’s Defense Secretary, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford’s HEW Secretary, Chairman of Forbes Magazine Group, world-class diplomat, lawyer, television commentator, newspaper columnist, gentle and reserved Harvard scholar, proud holder of the Army’s Bronze star for valor, and humble and loving family man, passed away at the age of 88 in Bangor, Maine.

While he was much more than just my Dad, he would have asked for no accolades, preferring instead to be only one in a long line of soldiers dedicated to doing good works in the army of humanity. In his early days he attended St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco, California where he was born. He heard and adored the song “Onward Christian Soldiers,” a hymn that describes the various human souls as “doctors, lawyers and Indian chief,” one also being “eaten by a fierce wild beast,” but “all of them soldiers,” all indeed marching as one being in the sea of humanity. Cap wanted to blend into that union by doing his individual part. But what a distinguished soldier he was. A few days from now, in Washington, D.C., our family shall formally dedicate Cap’s lifetime of papers and notes to the Library of Congress.

Those papers span over seven decades of active physical life and it is indeed an impressive collection. Occupying 525 linear feet of shelf space, the collection contains over 535,000 unclassified items and over 107,500 classified documents. Several thousand items are in Caspar’s personal handwriting.

Read through from beginning to end, the papers help to form the portrait of a truly extraordinary man whose devotion to duty and general knowledge on a wide variety of subjects cannot be denied. They have great value and we were offered large sums to put them in public and/or private university libraries and the like. But, we decided that money, while valuable, cannot be nearly as important as seeing that this collection is placed in the same house as the papers of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Oliver Wendell Holmes, George Washington, Ronald Reagan and the like. Similar to the MasterCard ads so popular on television, the honor of being mingled among the very greatest of our nation is indeed priceless and immeasurable by the yardstick of money.

Who was Caspar Weinberger and why is he worthy of our thoughts now, a year after his passing? Well one does not want to take away too much time from the really important news items such as what Paris Hilton was wearing or not wearing to last night’s celebrity toast in Las Vegas or who shall inherit Anna Nicole Smith’s hard earned millions, but a moment’s reflection on arguably one of America’s most important characters in the 20th century does seem in order.

He was born in San Francisco in 1917, the second son of Herman and Cerise Hampson formerly of Denver, Colorado. He grew up with a love of America and its politics largely instilled in him through the bedside reading of his lawyer father Herman Weinberger. He attended Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He was a Phi Beta Kappa graduating Magna Cum Laude and was a member of the Law Review. He was President of the Harvard Crimson and loved being a reporter and a newsman.

A member of the “greatest generation” he volunteered for duty in the Army in World War II, saw action in the Pacific, was placed on Gen. MacArthur’s intelligence staff, rose to the rank of captain and won the Bronze Star.

He returned to California, started his professional career as a law clerk, became a member of a successful San Francisco law firm and entered politics, winning three consecutive two year terms as San Francisco’s assemblyman to the state legislature from the 21st District. While in Sacramento, he helped found the California Water Resources Board while also voting for fair practices in the hiring of all Californians regardless of race, ethnicity or religion. He was twice voted by the state capitol press corps as the state’s outstanding legislator.

He became the Republican state party chairman and in 1968, then-Gov. Ronald Reagan named him state finance director. In 1970, President Nixon placed him as the head of the Federal Trade Commission. In 1973-1975 he was the United States Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. After serving at Bechtel Corporation in the private sector as a director and general counsel for five years, President-elect Ronald Reagan named Cap his secretary of defense.

My father’s accomplishments are far too numerous to describe in one news column, but perhaps his most important contribution to America should be mentioned here. As defense secretary, presiding during the successful end to the Cold War, he gave us the Weinberger Doctrine. In essence this doctrine contains six basic ideas:

  1. Don’t commit U.S. forces anywhere unless it is deemed vital to our national interest.
  2. If we do commit, commit completely fully and wholeheartedly.
  3. If we do commit, have fully and completely defined objectives.
  4. Be fluid and constantly analyze our needed troop strength and our end goals.
  5. Make sure of America’s support for any war before we engage. “We cannot fight a battle with Congress at home while asking our troops to win a war overseas…”
  6. The commitment of American combat troops must be only as a last resort.

Gee, Dee (as I always called my father), that sounds like the kind of advice we have need of right now. How I wish you were still here to give it, but your words my beloved sire and great American patriot, speak for you and they do indeed live on.


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