End of an era, end of the draft: Melvin Laird passes away at 94

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by LizKat, Nov 16, 2016.

  1. LizKat macrumors 68040


    Aug 5, 2004
    Catskill Mountains
    Melvin Laird was the only US Defense Secretary with a hand in the Vietnam War who ended up with his reptuation in one piece, drawing down the American forces from 550k to 69k by the time the Paris accords were signed. Also memorably, he ended the military draft, which certainly made a change in the way American men could plan their lives going forward after 1973. Laird made yet more news when he resigned from the Nixon administration upon learning of Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate coverup.



    During the war, Mr. Laird was a rare public voice for American military personnel held prisoner by the North Vietnamese. During the Paris peace talks between the United States and North Vietnam, Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, were muted on the subject of POWs. According to Van Atta’s biography of Mr. Laird, the State Department, which was handling negotiations with the North, did not want prisoners to become bargaining chips and thus scuttle progress.

    In May 1969, after meeting the wives of POWs, Mr. Laird held a nationally televised news conference to reveal the atrocities that American prisoners faced.

    “The North Vietnamese have claimed that they are treating our men humanely,” Mr. Laird said. “I am distressed by the fact that there is clear evidence that this is not the case.”

    He showed photographs of beaten and emaciated military personnel, including John McCain, later a U.S. senator from Arizona and Republican presidential candidate. Mr. Laird called for North Vietnam to release the names of prisoners and immediately free the sick and injured.

    After Mr. Laird’s news conference, POWs saw improvements. The changes started slowly; a few prisoners were released, torture decreased, and many were grouped in community cells rather than placed in solitary confinement. By 1973, all the POWs were home.

    “There are many of us who believe that perhaps we wouldn’t have returned from the war if [it] had not been for Secretary Laird publicizing the plight of the POWs,” McCain said later. “Conditions changed dramatically afterwards. Those of us who fought in Vietnam, and those of us who were held prisoner, will always have a special place in our hearts for this marvelous man, Mel Laird.”

    I was going to stick this post in current events but if there was ever a controversial subject in the USA in the lifetime of Melvin Laird, it had to be the Vietnam War. Maybe the Watergate investigation and subsequent events are a close second... anyway not sure much of anything about Laird himself was controversial, he seemed like a pretty good guy, respected on both sides of the aisle in the House whence he had hailed as a Congressman from Wisconsin.

    Personally I'm grateful to the man, even though my brothers had already had to deal with the draft lottery of Vietnam days hanging over their heads and one volunteered to avoid certain draft. We're better off since then with an all volunteer force even if that has had --and still has-- some detractors. Conscription in time of war had surely proved a dicey thing as the Vietnam War dragged on.



    It was the culmination of months of work to overhaul the United States' military personnel policies, which also eventually brought more robust National Guard and reserve rosters, pay raises and major programs to fight racial and sexual discrimination in the military.

    Laird had promised to serve only four years at the Pentagon, and he stepped down as scheduled in January 1973 with his reputation intact — in stark contrast with that of his predecessor, Robert McNamara, who was considered the architect of the Vietnam War.

    Laird returned to the Nixon administration as domestic policy adviser after Nixon was forced to fire domestic policy adviser John Ehrlichman and chief of staff H.R. Haldeman as the extent of the Watergate scandal became known — and then he quit when he learned of Nixon's personal involvement.

  2. yaxomoxay macrumors 68020


    Mar 3, 2010
    Oh, I am sorry to hear that. Thank you for sharing the news.
    Laird was responsible of the following funny event during a visit to the pope:

    The visit to the Vatican led to one of those scenes that are comic in retrospect but mortifying when experienced. Our advance men had conceived the extraordinary idea that the President should leave for the Sixth Fleet directly from St. Peter’s square in a US military helicopter. The Curia, feeling that this represented enough martial trappings for one day, tactfully suggested that the Secretary of Defense not be included in the general audience that the Holy Father would offer to the members of the President’s party after his private audience with Nixon. The schedule was made accordingly, and Mel Laird was not with the group that engaged in separate talks while the Pope and Nixon were secluded. However, to exclude a practicing politician of Laird’s ingenuity from a papal audience required more than the distribution of a printed schedule. As the official party was moving into the papal chamber for the general audience, Laird suddenly appeared, chewing on his ubiquitous cigar. Asked what he was doing there, he mumbled something about looking for the helicopters, though it was not clear what he thought these might be doing inside the Vatican when they were so conspicuously parked on either side of the obelisk in St. Peter’s square at the entrance to the Vatican. I urged Laird at least to do away with the cigar while we were in the papal presence.

    The American group was placed into two rows at right angles to Nixon and the Holy Father, who were seated side by side. The Pope was making a graceful little speech when suddenly smoke came pouring out of the pocket of Laird’s suit. Laird attempted to quell the fire caused by his cigar, at first inconspicuously, but he finally gave up and started slapping his side. Some of the others whose angle of vision prevented them from grasping the full drama of the Secretary of Defense immolating himself in front of the Pope took Laird’s efforts at fire‐extinguishing as applause, into which they joined. Only wisdom accumulated over two millennia enabled the Vatican officials to pretend that nothing unusual was going on and thus permit events to reach their planned conclusion.
  3. aaronvan Suspended


    Dec 21, 2011
    República Cascadia
    Melvin Laird didn't draw down American forces in Vietnam; that was Richard Nixon, the Commander in Chief.

    In fact, American forces in Vietnam shrank every year during the Nixon administration.

    That said, Secretary Laird was a good and noble man. R.I.P.

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