Alexander Meigs "Al" Haig Jr. (/heɪɡ/; December 2, 1924 – February 20, 2010) was a United States Army general who served as the United States Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan and White House Chief of Staff under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. He also served as Vice Chief of Staff of the Army and as Supreme Allied Commander Europe.
Born in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, Haig served in the Korean War after graduating from the United States Military Academy. In the Korean War, he served as an aide to General Alonzo Patrick Fox and General Edward Almond. After the war, he served as an aide to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. During the Vietnam War, Haig commanded a brigade and later a battalion of the 1st Infantry Division. For his service, Haig was a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star with oak leaf cluster, and the Purple Heart.
In 1969, Haig became an assistant to National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger. He became Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, the second highest ranking position in the Army, in 1972. After the 1973 resignation of H. R. Haldeman, Haig became President Nixon's Chief of Staff. Serving in the wake of the Watergate scandal, he became especially influential in the finals months of Nixon's tenure, and played a role in persuading Nixon to resign in August 1974. Haig continued to serve as Chief of Staff for the first month of President Ford's tenure. From 1974 to 1979, Haig served as Supreme Allied Commander Europe, commanding all NATO forces in Europe. He retired from the Army in 1979 and pursued a career in business.
After Reagan won the 1980 presidential election, he selected Haig as Secretary of State. After the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, Haig asserted "I am in control here," later stating that he meant that he was functionally in control of the government. During the Falklands War, Haig sought to broker peace between the United Kingdom and Argentina. He resigned from Reagan's cabinet in July 1982. After leaving office, he unsuccessfully sought the presidential nomination in the 1988 Republican primaries. He also served as the head of a consulting firm and hosted the television program World Business Review.
Haig was born in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, the middle of three children of Alexander Meigs Haig Sr., a Republican lawyer, and his wife Regina Anne (née Murphy). When Haig was 9, his father, aged 41, died of cancer. His Irish-American mother raised her children in the Catholic faith. Haig initially attended Saint Joseph's Preparatory School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on scholarship; when it was withdrawn due to poor academic performance, he transferred to Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, from which he graduated in 1942.
Initially unable to secure his desired appointment to the United States Military Academy (with one teacher opining that "Al is definitely not West Point material"), Haig studied at the University of Notre Dame (where he reportedly earned a "string of As" in an "intellectual awakening") for two years before securing a congressional appointment to the Academy in 1944 following the intercession of his uncle, who served as the Philadelphia municipal government's director of public works.
Enrolled in an accelerated wartime curriculum that deemphasized the humanities and social sciences, Haig graduated in the bottom third of his class (ranked 214 of 310) in 1947. Although a West Point superintendent characterized Haig as "the last man in his class anyone expected to become the first general," other classmates acknowledged his "strong convictions and even stronger ambitions." Haig later earned a Master of Business Administration degree from Columbia Business School in 1955 and a Master of Arts degree in international relations from Georgetown University in 1961. His thesis examined the role of military officers in making national policy.
As a young officer, Haig served as an aide to Lieutenant General Alonzo Patrick Fox, a deputy chief of staff to General Douglas MacArthur; in 1950, Haig married Fox's daughter. In the early days of the Korean War, Haig was responsible for maintaining General MacArthur's situation map and briefing MacArthur each evening on the day's battlefield events. Haig later served (1950–51) with the X Corps, as aide to MacArthur's Chief of Staff, General Edward Almond, who awarded Haig two Silver Stars and a Bronze Star with Valor device. Haig participated in four Korean War campaigns, including the Battle of Inchon, the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, and the evacuation of Hŭngnam, as Almond's aide.
Haig served as a staff officer in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations (DCSOPS) at the Pentagon (1962–64), and then was appointed Military Assistant to Secretary of the Army Stephen Ailes in 1964. He then was appointed Military Assistant to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, continuing in that service until the end of 1965.
In 1966, Haig took command of a battalion of the 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam. On May 22, 1967, Lieutenant Colonel Haig was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the U.S. Army's second highest medal for valor, by General William Westmoreland as a result of his actions during the Battle of Ap Gu in March 1967. During the battle, Haig's troops (of the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division) became pinned down by a Viet Cong force that outnumbered U.S. forces by three to one. In an attempt to survey the battlefield, Haig boarded a helicopter and flew to the point of contact. His helicopter was subsequently shot down. Two days of bloody hand-to-hand combat ensued. An excerpt from Haig's official Army citation follows:
When two of his companies were engaged by a large hostile force, Colonel Haig landed amid a hail of fire, personally took charge of the units, called for artillery and air fire support and succeeded in soundly defeating the insurgent force ... the next day a barrage of 400 rounds was fired by the Viet Cong, but it was ineffective because of the warning and preparations by Colonel Haig. As the barrage subsided, a force three times larger than his began a series of human wave assaults on the camp. Heedless of the danger himself, Colonel Haig repeatedly braved intense hostile fire to survey the battlefield. His personal courage and determination, and his skillful employment of every defense and support tactic possible, inspired his men to fight with previously unimagined power. Although his force was outnumbered three to one, Colonel Haig succeeded in inflicting 592 casualties on the Viet Cong ... HQ US Army, Vietnam, General Orders No. 2318 (May 22, 1967)
Haig was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart during his tour in Vietnam, and was eventually promoted to Colonel, becoming a brigade commander in the 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam.
Following his one-year Vietnamese tour, Haig returned to the United States to become Regimental Commander of the Third Regiment of the Corps of Cadets at West Point under the newly-appointed Commandant, Brigadier General Bernard W. Rogers. (Both had previously served together in the 1st Infantry Division, Rogers as Assistant Division Commander and Haig as Brigade Commander.)
In 1969, he was appointed Military Assistant to the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, Henry Kissinger, a position he retained until 1970 when President Richard Nixon promoted Haig to Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. During this period, he was promoted to Brigadier General (September 1969) and Major General (March 1972).
In this position, Haig helped South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu negotiate the final cease-fire talks in 1972. Haig continued in this position until 1973, when he was appointed to be Vice Chief of Staff of the Army. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in October 1972 as Vice Chief of Staff, a four-star position, thus skipping the rank of Lieutenant General. By appointing him to this billet, Nixon "passed over 240 generals" who were senior to Haig.
After only four months as VCSA, Haig returned to the Nixon administration at the height of the Watergate affair as White House Chief of Staff in May 1973. Retaining his Army commission, he remained in the position until September 26, 1974, ultimately overseeing the transition to the presidency of Gerald Ford following Nixon's resignation on August 9, 1974.
Haig has been largely credited with keeping the government running while President Nixon was preoccupied with Watergate, and was essentially seen as the "acting president" during Nixon's last few months in office. During July and early August 1974, Haig also played an instrumental role in finally persuading Nixon to resign. Haig presented several pardon options to Ford a few days before Nixon eventually resigned. In this regard, in his 1999 book Shadow, author Bob Woodward describes Haig's role as the point man between Nixon and Ford during the final days of Nixon's presidency. According to Woodward, Haig played a major behind-the-scenes role in the delicate negotiations of the transfer of power from President Nixon to President Ford. Indeed, about one month after taking office, Ford did pardon Nixon, resulting in much controversy.
Following the transition, Haig was replaced by Donald Rumsfeld. Author and Haig biographer Roger Morris, a former colleague of Haig's on the National Security Council early in Nixon's first term, wrote that when Ford pardoned Nixon, he effectively pardoned Haig as well.
From 1974 to 1979, Haig served as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), the Commander of NATO forces in Europe, and Commander-in-Chief of United States European Command (CinCUSEUR). Haig took the same route to SHAPE every day – a pattern of behavior that did not go unnoticed by terrorist groups. On June 25, 1979, Haig was the target of an assassination attempt in Mons, Belgium. A land mine blew up under the bridge on which Haig's car was traveling, narrowly missing Haig's car and wounding three of his bodyguards in a following car. Authorities later attributed responsibility for the attack to the Red Army Faction (RAF). In 1993 a German court sentenced Rolf Clemens Wagner, a former RAF member, to life imprisonment for the assassination attempt.
Haig retired as a four-star general from the Army in 1979, and moved on to civilian employment. In 1979, he worked at the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute briefly, and later served on that organization's board. Later that year, he was named President and Director of United Technologies Corporation (UTC) under Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Harry J. Gray, a job he retained until 1981.
Haig was the second of three career military officers to become Secretary of State (George C. Marshall and Colin Powell were the others). His speeches in this role in particular led to the coining of the neologism "Haigspeak", described in a dictionary of neologisms as "Language characterized by pompous obscurity resulting from redundancy, the semantically strained use of words, and verbosity", leading ambassador Nicko Henderson to offer a prize for the best rendering of the Gettysburg address in Haigspeak.
On December 11, 1980, president-elect Reagan was prepared to publicly announce nearly all of his candidates for the most important cabinet-level posts. Singularly absent from the list of top nominees was his choice for Secretary of State, presumed by many at the time to be Al Haig. Haig's prospects for Senate confirmation were clouded when Senate Democrats questioned his role in the Watergate scandal. In Haig's defense, North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms claimed to have phoned former President Nixon personally to inquire whether any material on Nixon's unreleased White House tapes could embarrass Haig. According to Helms, Nixon replied, "Not a thing." Haig was eventually confirmed after hearings he described as an "ordeal", during which he received no encouragement from Reagan or his staff.
Several days earlier, on December 2, 1980, as Haig faced these initial challenges to the next step in his political career, four American Catholic missionary women in El Salvador, two of whom were Maryknoll sisters, were beaten, raped and murdered by five Salvadoran national guardsmen ordered to surveil them. Their bodies were exhumed from a remote shallow grave two days later in the presence of then U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Robert White. In spite of this diplomatically awkward atrocity, the Carter administration soon approved $5.9 million in lethal military assistance to El Salvador's oppressive right-wing regime, a figure the incoming Reagan administration expanded to $25 million less than six weeks later.
Throughout the 1980 US presidential campaign, Reagan and his foreign policy advisers faulted the Carter administration's over-emphasis on the human rights abuses committed by "authoritarian" regimes allied to the US, labeling it a "double standard" when compared to Carter's treatment of communist-bloc regimes. Haig, who described himself as the "vicar" of US foreign policy, believed the human rights violations of an American ally such as El Salvador should be given less attention than the ally's successes against American enemies, and thus found himself downplaying the nun killings before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in March 1981:
I'd like to suggest to you that some of the investigations would lead one to believe that perhaps the vehicle the nuns were riding in may have tried to run through a roadblock, or may have accidentally been perceived to have been doing so, and there may have been an exchange of fire, and then perhaps those who inflicted the casualties sought to cover it up.
The outcry that immediately followed Haig's insinuation prompted him to emphatically withdraw his speculative suggestions the very next day before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Similar public relations miscalculations, by Haig and others, continued to plague the Reagan administration's attempts to build popular American approval for its Central American policies.
In 1981, following the March 30 assassination attempt on Reagan, Haig asserted before reporters "I am in control here" as a result of Reagan's hospitalization, indicating that, while President Reagan had not "transfer[red] the helm", Haig was in fact directing White House crisis management until Vice President Bush arrived in Washington to assume that role.
Constitutionally, gentlemen, you have the President, the Vice President, and the Secretary of State in that order, and should the President decide he wants to transfer the helm to the Vice President, he will do so. He has not done that. As of now, I am in control here, in the White House, pending return of the Vice President and in close touch with him. If something came up, I would check with him, of course.
Haig was incorrect: The US Constitution, including both the presidential line of succession and the 25th Amendment, dictates what happens when a president is incapacitated. The Speaker of the House (at the time, Tip O'Neill, Democrat) and the President pro tempore of the Senate (at the time, Strom Thurmond, Republican), precede the Secretary of State in the line of succession. Haig later clarified,
I wasn't talking about transition. I was talking about the executive branch, who is running the government. That was the question asked. It was not, "Who is in line should the President die?"
In April 1982 Haig conducted shuttle diplomacy between the governments of Argentina in Buenos Aires and the United Kingdom in London after Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. Negotiations broke down and Haig returned to Washington on April 19. The British fleet then entered the war zone. In December 2012 documents released under the UK "30 Year Rule" disclosed that Haig planned to reveal British classified military information to Argentina in advance of the recapture of South Georgia. The information, which contained British plans for the retaking of the island, was intended to show the military junta in Buenos Aires that the United States was a neutral player and could be trusted to act impartially during negotiations to end the conflict.
Haig's report to Reagan on January 30, 1982, shows that Haig feared that the Israelis might start a war against Lebanon. Critics accused Haig of "greenlighting" the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June 1982. Haig denied this and said he urged restraint.
Haig caused some alarm with his suggestion that a "nuclear warning shot" in Europe might be effective in deterring the Soviet Union. His tenure as Secretary of State was often characterized by his clashes with the Defense Secretary, Caspar Weinberger. Haig, who repeatedly had difficulty with various members of the Reagan administration during his year-and-a-half in office, decided to resign his post on June 25, 1982. President Reagan accepted his resignation on July 5. Haig was succeeded by George P. Shultz, who was confirmed on July 16.
Haig ran unsuccessfully for the 1988 Republican Party presidential nomination. Although he enjoyed relatively high name recognition, Haig never broke out of single digits in national public opinion polls. He was a fierce critic of then Vice President George H. W. Bush, often doubting Bush's leadership abilities, questioning his role in the Iran Contra Scandal, and using the word "wimp" in relation to Bush in an October 1987 debate in Texas. Despite extensive personal campaigning and paid advertising in New Hampshire, Haig remained stuck in last place in the polls. After finishing with less than 1% of the vote in the Iowa caucuses and trailing badly in the New Hampshire primary polls, Haig withdrew his candidacy and endorsed Senator Bob Dole. Dole, steadily gaining on Bush after beating him handily a week earlier in the Iowa caucus, ended up losing to Bush in the New Hampshire primary by ten percentage points. With his momentum regained, Bush easily won the nomination.
In the 1982 Police Squad! episode "Testimony of Evil (Dead Men Don't Laugh)", Detectives Drebin and Hocken are looking at a small photograph of Alexander Haig on a slab in a morgue where Drebin states: "This is disgusting!" and Hocken states: "Yeah, I can't take looking at that sort of thing."
In the 1982 film Airplane II: The Sequel, the bomber, Joe Seluchi (Sonny Bono), is briefly seen reading a magazine titled Psycho of the Month with Haig on the front cover.
In the 1982 episode "The Moral Dimension" of Yes Minister, a plan is concocted to sneak alcohol into a strict Muslim country, necessitating the use of coded terminology. At one point, Bernard Woolley approaches Jim Hacker with a phone call from "Mr Haig", to which Jim queries "General Haig?", at which Bernard replies, "No, Mr. Haig. You know, with the dimples."
In the 1986 Sledge Hammer! episode "Over My Dead Bodyguard", Captain Trunk is announced dead after several failed assassinations to prevent further attempts. Sledge Hammer then declares in a takeover ceremony in the precinct "But, in the words of the immortal Alexander Haig: 'As of now, I am in control.'".
Haig was played by Powers Boothe in the 1995 film Nixon, by Matt Frewer in the 1995 TV miniseries Kissinger And Nixon, by Richard Dreyfuss in the 2001 cable film The Day Reagan Was Shot, by Bill Smitrovich in the 2003 TV movie The Reagans, by Colin Stinton in the 2002 The Falklands Play, by Matthew Marsh in the 2011 film The Iron Lady and by Patrick St. Esprit in the 2016 television film Killing Reagan.
Haig was also mentioned in the last level of Interstate '82, where Ronald Reagan claims that Haig was pressured to resign from office by the president himself.
In the fourth episode of the first season of The Americans, Haig's remark that he was "in control" after the attempted assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan is treated by the Soviets as indicative of a potential coup in the U.S. government.
In 1980, Haig had a double heart bypass operation. In the 1980s and '90s, being the head of a consulting firm, he served as a director for various struggling businesses, the best-known probably being computer manufacturer Commodore International. He also served as a founding corporate director at AOL.
Haig was the host for several years of the television program World Business Review. At the time of his death, he was the host of 21st Century Business, with each program a weekly business education forum that included business solutions, expert interview, commentary and field reports. Haig served as a founding member of the advisory board of Newsmax Media, which publishes the conservative web site, Newsmax.com. Haig was co-chairman of the American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus, along with Zbigniew Brzezinski and Stephen J. Solarz. A member of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) Board of Advisors, Haig was also a founding Board Member of America Online.
On January 5, 2006, Haig participated in a meeting at the White House of former Secretaries of Defense and State to discuss United States foreign policy with Bush administration officials. On May 12, 2006, Haig participated in a second White House meeting with 10 former Secretaries of State and Defense. The meeting included briefings by Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice, and was followed by a discussion with President George W. Bush. Haig's memoirs – Inner Circles: How America Changed The World – were published in 1992.
On February 19, 2010, a hospital spokesman revealed that the 85-year-old Haig had been hospitalized at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore since January 28 and remained in critical condition. On February 20, Haig died at the age of 85, from complications from a staphylococcal infection that he had prior to admission. According to The New York Times, his brother, Frank Haig, said the Army was coordinating a mass at Fort Myer in Washington and an interment at Arlington National Cemetery, but both had to be delayed by about two weeks due to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A Mass of Christian Burial was held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. on March 2, 2010. Eulogies were given by Henry Kissinger and Sherwood D. Goldberg.
President Barack Obama said in a statement that, "General Haig exemplified our finest warrior-diplomat tradition of those who dedicate their lives to public service." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described Haig as a man who "served his country in many capacities for many years, earning honor on the battlefield, the confidence of Presidents and Prime Ministers, and the thanks of a grateful nation."
Alexander Haig was married to Patricia (née Fox), with whom he had three children: Alexander Patrick Haig, Barbara Haig, and Brian Haig. Haig's younger brother, Frank Haig, is a Jesuit priest and professor emeritus of physics at Loyola University in Baltimore, Maryland. Alexander Haig's sister, Mrs. Regina Meredith, was a practicing attorney licensed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and was a co-founding partner of the firm Meredith, Chase and Taggart, located in Princeton and Trenton, New Jersey. She died in 2008.
|Combat Infantryman Badge|
|Distinguished Service Cross|
|Defense Distinguished Service Medal with bronze oak leaf cluster|
|Army Distinguished Service Medal with bronze oak leaf cluster|
|Navy Distinguished Service Medal|
|Air Force Distinguished Service Medal|
|Silver Star with bronze oak leaf cluster|
|Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters|
|Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters|
|Bronze Star with "V" Device and two bronze oak leaf clusters|
|Air Medal with award numeral 27|
|Army Commendation Medal|
|Valorous Unit Award|
|American Campaign Medal|
|World War II Victory Medal|
|Army of Occupation Medal|
|National Defense Service Medal with oak leaf cluster|
|Korean Service Medal with four service stars|
|Vietnam Service Medal with two service stars|
|National Order of Vietnam, Knight|
|Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm|
|Grand-Cross of the Portuguese Order of Christ|
|Order of Leopold (Officer)|
|Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (Member)|
|Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation|
|Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation|
|Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Medal Unit Citation|
|United Nations Korea Medal|
|Vietnam Campaign Medal|
|Republic of Korea War Service Medal|
Richard V. Allen
|Deputy National Security Advisor
H. R. Haldeman
|White House Chief of Staff
|United States Secretary of State
George P. Shultz
Bruce Palmer Jr.
|Vice Chief of Staff of the Army
Frederick C. Weyand
|Supreme Allied Commander Europe
Bernard W. Rogers