Weinberger, Caspar W. 1917-2006

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Weinberger, Caspar W. 1917-2006


See index for CA sketch: Born August 18, 1917, in San Francisco, CA; died of kidney disease and pneumonia, March 28, 2006, in Bangor, ME. Government official, lawyer, and author. Best remembered as President Ronald Reagan's former secretary of defense, Weinberger presided over what was one of the largest peacetime military buildups in American history. A Harvard Universityalumnus, he earned his law degree there in 1941, just before America entered World War II. Joining the army, he served under General Douglas MacArthur as an intelligence officer in the South Pacific, where he rose to the rank of captain. After the war, Weinberger clerked for a U.S. Court of Appeals judge for two years and then joined the law firm of Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe in San Francisco. He remained there through 1969, including ten years as a partner. Interestingly, around the same time he hosted the television show Profile: Bay Area on a local station from 1959 to 1968. Weinberger started to be involved in politics in 1952, when he was elected to the twenty-first seat of the California state assembly. Losing his seat in 1958, he focused on his law firm work until 1967, when he chaired California's Government Organization and Economy Commission for a year, followed by a year as director of finance. In the latter position, Weinberger worked to balance the state budget, which he did through cost cutting and the help of a tax increase. Also in the mid 1960s, Weinberger was chair of the Republican State Central Committee, backing Ronald Reagan for the governorship. His work on California's finances led to an appointment, in 1970, as chair and deputy director of the Federal Trade Commission; he also directed the FTC's Office of Management and Budget from 1972 to 1973. During his tenure at the FTC, Weinberger ended up not only balancing the budget but coming up with a three hundred million dollar surplus, thanks largely to cuts in many federal social programs. Perhaps somewhat ironically after these cuts, he was made secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1973. Weinberger left government work in 1975 to join the Bechtel Group in San Francisco, but after Reagan was elected president, he was tapped for the job of secretary of defense. Over the next seven years, Weinberger reversed the Carter administration's course of reducing military spending to instead support an arms buildup, including reinstituting the B-1 bomber program that had been abandoned and supporting enormous spending for the MX missile and theStrategic Defense Initiative—sometimes called "Star Wars"—that was a plan to form a missile shield to protect the United States from nuclear attack. Though the defense budget soared into the trillions of dollars, Weinberger held that his goal was not to use the buildup for war but rather as a preventive measure against military conflict. This was in keeping with President Reagan's ideas on defense, and some have credited the military growth with helping to bring an end to the Cold War. Indeed, during Weinberger's time as defense secretary, America was involved in only two relatively minor military operations: one in Libya and one on the island of Granada. On the other hand, Weinberger became a target of some criticism by those who said military spending had taken a wasteful turn, citing such items as hammers for which the military was charged a hundred dollars a piece. Receiving a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1987, Weinberger stepped down from office that year. Returning to law for a time, he was a counsel for Washington & Wells International Law Firm in Washington, DC, until 1994. Next, he switched his focus to publishing, serving as the publisher forForbes magazine from 1989 to 1993, and also writing his own books. Among his titles are Fighting for Peace: Seven Critical Years in the Pentagon (1990), and the cowritten works The Next War (1996), In the Arena: A Memoir of the Twentieth Century (2001), and Chain of Command (2005).



Chicago Tribune, March 29, 2006, section 2, p. 13.

New York Times, March 29, 2006, p. A21.

Times (London, England), March 29, 2006, p. 59.

Washington Post, March 29, 2006, p. B7.