BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of Defense for seven years for this country and author of the new book, "Fighting for Peace." Why do you start your book by telling us about your father's bedtime story when you were a little kid?
CASPAR WEINBERGER, AUTHOR, "FIGHTING FOR PEACE": Well, it was such an interesting bedtime story. He told us, told my brother and me, the story of the Constitution, how the Constitution was formed and the various compromises that had to go into the creation of the House and the Senate, and this was not the sort of story that you would ordinarily think would hold the attention of anyone of fairly tender years -- I guess I was maybe seven or eight, nine, something like that -- and yet he told it in such a fascinating fashion. He was an attorney, but a very broad-gauge man and a great father, and I just became thoroughly fascinated with not only the Constitution and it's formation, but the legislative procedure, and indeed, everything connected with government.
LAMB: You obviously remember the details of it -- how, you say, it went on for weeks?
WEINBERGER: Yes, it was a long story -- he just took us right through the constitutional convention and all the problems in Philadelphia and how hot it was and how the delegates started to go home and the difficulty of keeping a quorum. It was --it was a remarkable performance in every way.
LAMB: Was he a political man?
WEINBERGER: Well, he was interested in it, he was very interested in it. He had his own law office. He didn't want to go in a large firm. He started there, but he wanted to run his own law office, and when you run your own law office and don't have any partners or associates, it's very difficult to do much on the outside, but he never lost his interest in it, and we had one of the very early radios and would listen to the conventions, and he had been -- one summer when he was in law school in Colorado --he had been a clerk of one of the Colorado legislative committees, and he told me about rallies at which Theodore Roosevelt would speak when he was running for a third term for President, and I always remember that because of course they didn't have public address systems, and Theodore Roosevelt apparently had a very -- he's one of my great heroes, incidently -- had apparently a very high squeaky voice, and you would have thought with his huge shoulders and this fierce -- and all that -- he would have a great deep throaty voice, but he didn't. He had a very high piping voice, but he managed to be heard three blocks away from the restaurant, and my father was always much impressed with that, and did a lot of speaking in a general way and learned to throw his voice out, which I have never quite learned.
LAMB: By the way, here's what the book looks like, "Fighting for Peace." You give your mother credit for teaching you about music.
WEINBERGER: Yes, she was a concert violinist -- very talented, very skilled. She studied in Germany. She went over to Leipzig when she was about 14, by herself. Her family sent her, sent her off, and she had a great influence on me. She had New England parentage and she was a fine musician and I learned to enjoy it thoroughly. I didn't care much for practicing the piano, but I loved to listen to it.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
WEINBERGER: In San Francisco.
LAMB: In this book, you suggest that there may be a difference, or there might be a difference, between historians and other people that write about history. What are you getting at?
WEINBERGER: Well, basically, I think it's very difficult probably to reconstruct an era from document resources, particularly if it's some time back. You have the problem of trying to create the kind of atmosphere that was there at the time, and I've always found eyewitness accounts tremendously interesting and with a great impact -- a lot more excitement is added to it. I started reading Churchill's "World Crisis," his story of World War I when I was, I guess, just about when I was starting high school, and that was, I thought, history the way it should be written. I still think so. This tremendous dramatic sweep. I know a lot of people now criticize him for using too flamboyant language and purple prose and all, but I must say I liked it, and it gives you a sense of being there. I didn't think a lot of the accounts that I read of some of the Reagan years really told the story as I saw it, and I set out a lot of my own prejudices and my own things that had influenced me, so that readers would know that every writer has his own prejudices, is his own, is influenced by his background, his family and all kinds of different things -- but even so, I had formed a quite different impression of those years and of some of the people than some of the accounts I had read, many of them by people who worked there. So I thought I should really set this down. That's what I wanted to do.
LAMB: You also give us the impression that this is just the first of maybe many volumes?
WEINBERGER: Well, 've been very fortunate and have served in government and in many other capacities, in Health, Education and Welfare, Director of the Budget, Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. I guess I could never hold a steady job, but all of those had a lot of things that were of great interest to me and might be part of what I would call a fully authorized autobiography that I might do some time, including some of these other things, service in the state legislature in California, which I enjoyed thoroughly. But I wanted to do these major events, as I saw them, that took place in President Reagan's administration involving security, while I still had some memory of then and could try to condense them into a book. The other things, depending on how it would be done, could take a very long time and fill several volumes.
LAMB: Anybody that get Forbes magazine today sees your picture in there periodically -- you're the publisher now?
LAMB: What does that mean?
WEINBERGER: Well, it means a different thing at each publication, I'm told. In my case, it means writing a column for each issue. It means meeting with a number of people who are friends of the magazine. I was down in Dallas and Houston a couple of days ago, and those were to get started on special supplements that we do for those areas in cooperation with the chambers of commerce, to help bring business to those areas, making talks of that kind, suggesting stories, serving as a sort of resource for people who are writing stories about government, and generally having a whole new career, which at my advanced age, is a lot of fun.
LAMB: We were talking just briefly before we went on the air, probably in the history of this network, which is about 11 years old, your face may have appeared on it, other than maybe, actually probably more than President Reagan when you think of the hundreds and hundreds of hours you testified ...
WEINBERGER: With hearings, yes.
LAMB: Do you miss that, and ...?
WEINBERGER: No, I don't miss the hearings very much. The hearings had -- many of the hearings kind of bothered and offended a little bit my sense of what legislative hearings should be. When I was in the legislature in California, for the most part, hearings were designed to help us formulate legislation -- in the case of appropriations, to find out what departments were doing, and, in the case I shepherded through some alcoholic beverage reform legislation in California, some water legislation, the hearings were held to enable us to write that, and it seems to me that there is comparatively little of that basic purpose here. That a lot of them have a heavy political content -- they're very long, they run six, five, six, seven hours sometimes. You have to sit there. The Congressmen and Senators come and go, which is understandable, they have a lot of other hearings too, but there's a tremendous amount of duplication, these authorization and appropriation hearings.
You see, I had ten committees that I had to report to, and you get long hearings for each one, with many of the same questions, and I would never dare go to a congressional hearing without very careful preparation. I suppose I put in at least two hours of preparation for each hour of testimony, and as you just said, there were many hours of testimony, so then you have to be very careful. It's a kind of, it's very much like trying a case. I tried cases when I was a lawyer, and I still do some practice with Roger and Wells here in Washington. Ah, but when you try a case, you cannot let your attention wander for a moment. My wife says frequently I tune out when she is talking to me, but at a trial you cannot tune out, and the hearing you can't, because all it takes out of seven hours of hearing, is one silly answer, and that's the only thing that's reported, that's the only thing, and that can ruin a whole case. It can ruin all of your careful built-up attempts to persuade to Congress to take a particular course of action, and I'm perfectly capable of many silly answers in the course of seven hours, so you have to be very careful. And it's a kind of draining process. You're really fairly exhausted at the end.
LAMB: I know you're a student of history; as a matter of fact, you point that out. Do you remember what year you started reading, in your love of history?
WEINBERGER: Well, I think I started -- I know I started reading the Churchill before I was in high school and I went to high school fairly early, so that would have probably been about 12, 11 or 12.
LAMB: What's this business about you going to Stanford when you were 12?
WEINBERGER: Well, we took an apartment on the Stanford campus, which was about 30 miles below San Francisco, south of San Francisco, and they had one apartment house that was largely for people, I think families going to summer school or something of that kind. My father always liked it -- it was a beautiful garden apartment, and we took that for three summers, and I would spend a lot of that time down there reading, and enjoyed it thoroughly. In the afternoons, I would play a lot of baseball in a sandlot nearby, but the reading was a big part of the summer, and then for awhile I would, I wandered over and crept into the back of some classes in political science, and things like that. I was noticed one day by the professor, who thought he'd have a little fun with some questions, and he, fortunately, was on one of the subject that I had just been reading about, so we had quite a spirited discussion. The class was much amused because I think I was extremely small, and looked even younger probably that I was.
LAMB: And I want to come back to some of this, but on the history thing, in any other nation in the world, does the Defense Minister or Secretary of Defense have to testify to ten different committees?
WEINBERGER: I don't think so. The houses or parliament in England are formed something like the committee structure, but there the Minister of Defense is a member of the parliament, and he would not have to go before them to justify his budget or anything of that kind, ordinarily. No, I don't know of any other legislative body where that would be the case. In the parliamentary system the ministers are members of the parliament, and members of the government, and they would answer a few questions during question time. You have these wonderful programs in the House of Commons with Mrs. Thatcher and others answering questions but that, difficult as it is, runs about half an hour or 45 minutes once a week, or twice a week, in her case. But, I don't know of anybody else who has that particular requirement. It's a very time-consuming thing. It's an important thing -- it's clearly a part of our legislative process. I didn't resent from that ground at all. It just seemed to me that there was an element of some futility in it.
LAMB: Do you think they ought to reform it in any way?
WEINBERGER: Oh yes, I've got a lot of ideas. It's always very presumptuous for a member, for a person who is not a member of the congress to talk about congressional reform, but, in the first place, I don't think the idea of having a full set of authorization committees and a full set of appropriation committees is very useful. In California, where I think we did these things much better, we had one committee that would hear the requests of the Department of Finance, the Department of Agriculture, or something of that kind, and they would make the recommendations. But, the problem of testifying before ten committees -- it's largely repetitive. I think we could streamline that very greatly.
LAMB: Here's a picture of you at a press conference in the Pentagon. And you did a number of those over the years. What did you think of those kind of confrontations?
WEINBERGER: Well, those are very good. That again is something that you have to prepare for very carefully. Sometimes there's a certain degree of hostility in the way the question is formed, but frequently that is, I think, intended to provok either an unwise answer or a newsworthy answer, but they're very good because in the preparation for those, as in the preparation for the hearings, you really get an extraordinarily good attempt, opportunity to review a great many things that the department is doing. When you prepare for a press conference, you probably get in a normal press conference maybe 15-20 questions -- they will cover perhaps eight or ten subjects. When you prepare for a press conference, you work from an enormous briefing book that has about 150 subjects in it, and you try to anticipate everything. I did miss once, in one of my first hearings on appropriations. When the first question was why had we abolished the laundry and dry cleaning service at some post in Florida. We hadn't abolished it. We had contracted it out, and I was not able to answer that one. I thought I was prepared for almost everything. That's kind of the degree of preparations you have to do. I got the answer later. It was to save money.
LAMB: When you were, when you were at Harvard, you were in a class -- you say that there was a professor in the class that used to turn to you periodically and say, "Now let's hear from the conservative in the class."
WEINBERGER: Yes, yes -- ha, ha.
LAMB: Were you the only conservative in the class?
WEINBERGER: Well, in a lot of the political science and governments classes, perhaps two or three out of maybe 50 or 100 people who took those subjects were much more interested in the New Deal and the Franklin Roosevelt approach and bigger government and all of that, and I was sort of the cross section. I was, but this was usually about five minutes before the end of the hour, and I would state my views, and people would laugh dutifully, and they we'd go on to the next class.
LAMB: In the back of the book, you have a letter that the President wrote you when you resigned.
LAMB: And the reason I want to mention it is because, and we were talking a little bit about history, and we'll get a shot of this a little closer, there's just one line in here where the President says, and I can't see it yet, but it's something like "I know of your great interest in Winston Churchill." You start out the book by saying you read Winston Churchill real early in your life. Why is he so important?
WEINBERGER: Well, I don't know. The book, of course, fascinated me, "The World Crisis", which I read, as I say, either just about the first year in high school or before that, and that was the way I thought history should be written, and it made a tremendous impression on me. It gave the whole war an immediacy that I didn't really get again until I read some books by Segfried Sasson on the memoirs of an infantry officer and things like that. And then, of course, I did have this interest revived, as I mentioned, during one of my early training days, when I was in the infantry and just after Pearl Harbor. When Mr. Churchill came over and made that famous speech to the joint session of Congress, in which he started by saying that he felt that if his mother had been English and his father American instead of the other way around, he might have gotten there on his own, and, in the congress. He, but then from all of that, that whole speech was developed with enormous eloquence. It was a very heartening speech, because Americans, having just been bombed at Pearl Harbor, were puzzled. We had always planned to stay out of the war, then here we were in the war, and it was a very traumatic time for a lot of people, and it was a most reassuring speech. Not that it said we wouldn't have to do any hard work, quite the contrary. But the voice, the eloquence, it was a tremendously moving experience to hear it. I heard it when I came from a very hard training day, in the infantry, and I had not done any infantry-type work before. I'd come right from law school, so it made a great impression on me, and then I got a lot of his other books and listened to as many of his speeches as military service of mine permitted, and I just got more and more interested in it. I think a lot of it was his willingness to take a very unpopular course and stick with it for many, many years, and obviously it was very, very gratifying, I'm sure to him, and to people who followed him, that in the end he became prime minister, after being written off the English political scene about five or ten times.
LAMB: You also mention the lonely Winston Churchill, standing in the House of Commons, warning about the possibility of World War II and the Germans.
WEINBERGER: He was booed and hissed and jeered at by people behind him, his own party, people across the aisle, and it was a very unpopular course for a politician to take.
LAMB: And then, a couple of days ago we had a speech on this network that was delivered by Michael Deaver, and he just said something that I wanted to ask you about, because it seemed, tell me if I'm wrong, that you did a lot of this when you were Secretary of Defense. He said, "Don't underestimate the importance in this society of repeating and repeating and repeating how you feel about something, and keep repeating it -- because you think that it gets boring to you," and he told a story about how Ronald Reagan got tired of giving the same speech, and he said, "Keep giving it because you're still speaking to new people out there." Did you do that when you were Secretary of Defense?
WEINBERGER: Well, yes -- you've mentioned the hearings, and a lot of what I said, I'm afraid, became very boring and repetitive to the Congress, and then I gave a great many more talks than I really wanted to, on television, went on a lot of the Sunday programs and things of that kin, because I felt it was so important for the American people to understand what we were doing and why we were doing it, because, in a democracy, military spending, military investment is very unpopular. We would infinitely rather spend it for other things. We'd rather not have the government spend it at all, keep it ourselves and dispose of it as we wished. But, the paradox of democracies is basically that they are very unwilling to invest the amount that they need in their military to keep them democracies, and I was very conscious of that and I knew that we'd never had or sustained a military buildup in peacetime for longer than 20 months before.
We did it for 5-1/2 years under President Reagan. And I think it was absolutely essential that we do it. We'd fallen really far behind. Our deterrent capability was eroding, so, I gave, not necessarily the same speech, I hope, but the same theme many, many times, and a lot of people used to laugh at this motto that someone gave me that was framed and in my office, and it said, "Never give in, never, never, never give in," and in anything large or small, if you're convinced in the rightness of your course. And I just felt that we were not going to be able to keep peace or keep our freedom, if we didn't have a great deal more military strength and get it very quickly, and that's very expensive, and it's very unpopular. But, we did it, and now, unfortunately, I'm worried that Congress is forcing a considerably greater dismantling of that strength than I think is warranted.
LAMB: I want to get back to that, but you also then say, and a lot of this is in the introduction, "I greatly admired Theodore Roosevelt, not for all his views, but for the passionate engagement and his scorn for those whose only role was that of a spectator."
WEINBERGER: Yes. I never like to be neutral about anything, and I always wanted really to participate in these matters and I think that was another of my father's influences and in that quotation Theodore Roosevelt speaks about those sort of aloof spectators who sit in the stands and never know the pain of defeat or the sense of winning -- and that you're always in a dull gray kind of situation without actually participating -- but if you participate and lose, at least you participated, and I felt very keenly that in a democracy, people do need to participate in public affairs, if we want to keep it a democrary.
LAMB: Another bit of history you read, "Present at the Creation" -- Dean Atcheson's book. Was that an important book to you?
WEINBERGER: Well, it was -- yet it was primarily because he was there, and what he was writing about were the events as he saw them. Didn't always agree with him on a lot of things. I certainly didn't agree with him on Korea, where we, in effect, advised the world that Korea lay outside the perimeter of our national interest, and it did for about six months after that statement, and then we found that we couldn't really avoid being drawn into that perimeter. Ah, but again it was the fact that he was there. He writes, he wrote extremely well, and he was writing about a participant's view, so I think that's one of the things I liked. The Theodore Roosevelt letters, which I reviewed many years ago, all eight volumes of them, gave a sense of immediacy. It was -- it's a better way to learn history, to learn what history actually was, I always felt, than even the best of the formal histories, which are based on written records, and of course, have to be written from a different point of view.
LAMB: This is a broad question, but in the end you have recommendations on the future and how to deal with the military and war and all that, and if you look at those recommendations and then go back to all you're talking -- there's a thread there, and I want to ask you kind of a general question, what in your lifetime have you changed you view on, and how often do you change your view?
WEINBERGER: Well, I'm sure that I have many times. People used to say how stubborn and obdurate and all those other terms there were that I was -- I think when you study a matter for quite awhile and you become convinced that a particular course of action has to be taken, then you do stick with that, at least I did. But, I think I changed my views on a number of things. I didn't care, for example, for some of the things that Churchill did, and I was perfectly willing to acknowledge that. I didn't think that his role in trying to keep King Edward VIII on the throne was a very noble role to have played. I have, over the years, become, I think, considerably less intense in my views.
I know that in college, I had really, I'm afraid, great intolerance for views of the other side, and I've tried to modify that and understand why other people are expressing views that are quite different than mine, but generally on these big issues, I did spend a lot of time coming to a conclusion and once you reach that, then unless there is some evidence presented that is very convincing, I would try to stay with that view. I have to confess that I'm not much interested in the compromises and compromising is a way of life in Washington, as you know, and on the defense budget and on the rebuilding our military strength, my fear was that if we compromised in the usual way, we would achieve whatever results I felt we had to achieve far too slowly and without any real signal to the world that America had changed from the '70s and now is a nation that had regained it's self-confidence and was capable of having it's influence felt in foreign affairs.
I thought a lot of the Vietnam war we went into a war -- we sent ultimately 500,000 or more troops over -- and it was not a war we ever intended to win. We never intended to support them. We never, never planned to win, and that, I think, is a terrible thing to do, to ask troops to go and commit their lives, risk their lives, in a war that you don't think is important enough to win, so I vowed that I never would do that. I was trained in the infantry, in 1940-41, without any equipment. Wooden rifles, little blocks of wood that had hand grenade written on them, and things of that kind, and it seemed to me that that was a terrible lesson in conjunction with the reading I was doing, about people who were unprepared for World War I and II, that that was a lesson and that I wanted to absorb. I never thought of having the opportunity of applying it myself, but when I was given these responsibilities, then I wanted to have the training and the equipment be of the very highest character, and I think that was an important factor in the turn around of morale and the success really of the all-volunteer program. That worked beautifully, is still working very well. We have more people trying to get into the military than we have slots for them, and that's a very vital thing. You have to want to do what you're doing.
LAMB: Excuse me for going back to the beginning, there are some other interesting things I want to ask you about. Your father actually took you into a voting booth in 1932? Was that allowed then or ...?
WEINBERGER: Yes. I was small enough so that it was quite clear that there weren't going to be two votes case, and we used the voting machines in San Francisco, and they had the curtain that you pulled across with a lever that started the count going, and I just watched him check all of his votes and ...
LAMB: Who did he vote for?
WEINBERGER: Oh, in 1932, he voted for Herbert Hoover, of course. And, he was an admirer of Hoover's and had known him slightly in California. I remember at an earlier election, a mayor of San Francisco was running for governor, and he said, "Well, I don't think he has much chance, but I've known him and he's the mayor of San Francisco, let's give him a vote." And he won. But he took a lot of care about this. We had the sample ballots distributed ahead of time, and he would take a lot of pains, marking up the ballot at home, so that he could vote quickly and not hold up a lot of people waiting to vote, and it was a big thing, and I was very excited on election day always.
LAMB: This next one is really hard to believe, and I want to ask you how old you were. You wrote your congressman at some age and said you wanted to get the daily congressional record.
WEINBERGER: Ha, ha -- congressional record, yes.
LAMB: How old were you when you did that?
WEINBERGER: Well, I think I was probably first or second year of high school, which would have meant about 12, 13, and what's more than that, I read it, and I read it every day, all the way through.
LAMB: He could sent them out, he or she could send them out free in those days?
WEINBERGER: Yes, I think they had something like 30 or 40 copies they could send, and I wrote and asked for one, and the congressman put me on his list, and it used to come eight or nine days late, but I grab this thing immediately and sit down and read it all the way through. It gave me, I think, quite a valuable ideal of congressional procedure. I even read the things in the back that were never said in congress. The remarks extended in the record, and I had favorites and villains that I always picked out on the floor based on the speeches that they made, and primarily it was in 1933, right after Franklin Roosevelt started putting in all of these new measures, and the New Deal, and I wanted to understand a lot more about what was in these bills. I couldn't seem to get much of an idea of it from the papers at the time, so ...
LAMB: How long did you do that?
WEINBERGER: Oh, I think I did that for a couple years, at least, three years, probably most of the way through high school.
LAMB: Did you ever know anybody else that did that?
WEINBERGER: No, I didn't, not even today -- ha, ha -- and I'm afraid that I wouldn't do it today.
LAMB: I should tell the audience that we're talking about some of the background on your life and all, but in this book, Mr. Weinberger deals with a lot of substantive issues, and what did you figure, about 12 different chapters?
WEINBERGER: Yes I decided that I would write in episodic rather than chronological order, and so one of the reasons I wanted to do that was because a lot of these things were happening on separate tracks, but at the same time. For example, that horrible tragedy in Beirut, where the Marines' were lost by a terrorist bombing -- that took place on a Sunday, which was the climactic day before the action in Grenada, and so we were doing all of those things at the same time, and so what I did was take about 12 different events -- Grenada, Libya, Lebanon, Iran, the Falklands, the Gulf War -- and try to write the story of that particular episode, as an episode, and then trying to point out that you couldn't really separate them because you had to realize that they were taking place against the background of many other events. You always had about eight or ten balls in the air at one time, and congressional hearings come along in the middle of it, and of course, anything like Grenada had enormous congressional interest, so that you just had this simultaneity of activity, and I thought the best way to portray that was to take a separate chapter, although warning in the beginning that crises and combat don't fit into nice tidy boxes. They get to be very untidy, and they are very, very sprawling sort of events, and particularly when they overlap each other. Sometimes you had three or four things that you had to deal with in one day that were quite separate, but you couldn't keep them separate in your mind.
LAMB: We've got a picture here in the book of you and your wife. When you left the Secretary of Defense position, one of the things you say was you left because your wife was not in good health. How is she doing today?
WEINBERGER: Pretty well. She has this osteoporosis, which is a very painful, miserable kind of disease. It's a thinning of the bone, and it makes walking very, very difficult. She has tremendous courage and she runs her own publishing company. She was the first publisher in the family, and she publishes children's books up in our home in Maine, and does very well with it. She takes some trips with me and all that, and I think she's quite a bit better than when we left office. She was getting very tired, very tired of the strains and stresses that went with the Department too.
LAMB: When you got the call from President Reagan, or President-elect Reagan, saying he wanted you to be the Secretary of Defense, you say that you called your wife and said, "For the first time, now I outrank you."
WEINBERGER: Ha, ha -- yes.
LAMB: What, how did ...
WEINBERGER: Yes, she was in Army Nurse Corps and she was a Lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps, and her commission out pre-dated mine and she outranked me in the military and I met her when we were on a boat going over as replacements for the first set of replacements for the South Pacific. I was a replacement to bring up to full strength the 41st Infantry division and she was going to, I think, the 155th Station Hospital it was at that time, and that is where we met and we married in Australia. And, but she, I think, suspected that the President was interested in having me come back to Washington. I had been there for several years before, and then had five years out of Washington, and when President Reagan asked me to take this position, why, I then let her know that she could now salute me, as I saluted her.
LAMB: Of all the jobs you've had in government -- and before I ask you that, by the way, you write here you owe a debt to the country and you wanted to give the country something back. Why do people say those things?
WEINBERGER: I don't know particularly. Maybe my New England ancestry or something, but it seemed to me that in a democracy, and I've made a lot to talks about this, people really have to participate in the government, at some level, at some time. It's the only way we can keep it a self-governing democracy, and when I graduated from high school, I was president of the student body in San Francisco at the high school, and I made a speech, as was normal for that time in the commencement ceremonies, and the subject I chose was the honorable profession of politics, and I remember that distinctly because I had been quite astonished by a poll that had been published in the papers a few weeks before I graduated, and that showed that something like, I think, 70-80% of the parents did not want their children to participate in politics in any way, and my speech was designed to show that it could be an honorable profession if we participated in it and made it such. It could be a dishonorable profession if we left to others and didn't do any of it ourselves. I have always had a sort of a sense that you should devote some of your time to keeping the government we had and helping keep the enormous privileges that we enjoy as members of a great democracy.
LAMB: I started to ask you, of all the jobs you've had, Secretary of HEW when it was Health, Education and Welfare, now it's HEW, head of the Office of Management and Budget, was it called that then?
WEINBERGER: Yes, OMB.
LAMB: You were head of the Federal Trade Commission?
LAMB: Am I missing something?
WEINBERGER: Well, I was in the California legislature and I was Director of Finance for California, then the Secretary of Defense. No, I think that's the full category.
LAMB: Which of those was the most satisfying and which of those was the most difficult?
WEINBERGER: They were all satisfying. I think Defense was the most difficult because of the unpopularity of the subject matter for people in democracies, but Defense was also in many ways the most stimulating, the most exciting, because it was a big job, a very big job, the department is a huge department, but the task had to be done and it had to be done, I think, very quickly and it had to be done in a way that brought us back publicly and let the Soviets and everyone else know that we had regained great military capability and strength. It was part of the President's campaign and all the rest, and so I think that was not only the most difficult, but perhaps the most exciting, and in many ways, perhaps the most rewarding.
LAMB: What do you say to -- and there are a lot of people, we hear them on our call in shows, that think that this town just doesn't work any more?
WEINBERGER: Well, I've found that you can get things done -- you have to be willing to take a tremendous amount of personal criticism -- you can't really go about any of it with the idea that you are going to help yourself onto some great future governmental post or something of that kind -- you have to, I think, be convinced that what you're doing is right and is necessary, not in a stubborn way or not in a conceited way, but simply as a basis, as a result of study of the matter as carefully as you can. There are a lot of obstacles to being able to do things in government -- there's no question about it. Not just in Washington, in Sacramento and every place. But, I think it can work, and I think that one of the ways of our insuring that it can work is if more and more people will actually participate -- that's one of the reasons I like that quote we were talking about from Theodore Roosevelt again. You really can accomplish things and move the process and do all the rest if you're down there on the field playing and part of it, and so that's why I thought and still think that all of us should do something for the government that has given us all these tremendous privileges.
LAMB: If you read between the lines in your book, I think I kept hearing you say, "I really don't like the State Department."
WEINBERGER: No, there's an institutional basic difference between the State Department and the Defense Department. Sometimes people said we reversed it. I've known George Schultz for years and consider myself a good personal friend. I disagreed with a lot of the things that he had as his policies, and I'm sure he did with mine. We agreed on a few things. One thing we did agree on was that the Iran-Contra thing was a very unfortunate event to have happened, and I told him later, I said "George, we must never agree on anything again, because look what happened when we did on this one." But there are differences of policy. These don't translate into differences of personal differences or dislikes or anything of that kind. The State Department fulfills an enormously important function, but some of the things they did I disagreed with, some of the things they did, I agreed with and supported very vigorously.
LAMB: Speaking of Iran and the hostages, Chapter 12 -- and it's been written about a lot in the press -- it's the odd man out. "This is the most difficult and disagreeable chapter for me to write because I feel that the Iran hostage activity was the one serious mistake the administration made."
WEINBERGER: Yes, I'm afraid that is the way I feel, and I think that the President saw that and ended the policy, very manfully acknowledged that it had been a wrong policy, and I was particularly pleased that he was able to finish his second term with approval ratings far higher than any other president, and after eight years I think they were deserved approval ratings. I do think that this was a chapter that I wish I hadn't had to write.
LAMB: You're not very kind to Robert McFarland.
WEINBERGER: Well, I do feel that there was a considerable amount of blame to be attached there, yes.
LAMB: What did he do wrong?
WEINBERGER: Well, I think that the idea came from him. I think it came from others, and he was influenced by it, and felt that this would be an exciting success, if it could be brought off. I think that the President was poorly advised in the sense that there was not really, in my opinion any possibility of any negotiations of agreement being made with the government that was run like Iran was and is. And, I didn't think we could have any possibility of their keeping agreements or of our negotiating with them or working with them, and I thought that the constant advice that this whole arrangement was a way in which we could improve our relationships with Iran was quite wrong.
LAMB: Are you still in contact with President Reagan?
WEINBERGER: Yes, I see him from time to time. He looks fine and is an amazing man and I still think one of the most underrated men in the world. He's really had a remarkable Presidency and a remarkable governorship. When you have eight years in that and eight years as President, it's not by accident.
LAMB: When did you first meet him?
WEINBERGER: About a year before he decided to run for governor, in the campaign in which Senator Goldwater ran for President. That was the first time he participated as a Republican, and he then helped the party very much. I was party vice-chairman and party chairman in California, and he would go anywhere, do anything that anybody wanted, to the smallest kind of town to make a speech, a fund-raising speech. He was so popular then and so well-known that just the announcement of his name would insure the success of any of these events, and as party chairman responsible for helping to raise the funds, I was extraordinarily grateful to him. He had an electric, almost magic effect when he walked in a room. He could have people turn all of their attention right to him, and he had an enormous ability to work well with people. It was one of the things that served him best during his Presidency.
You could find people who disagreed with his policies, who had not met him, who decided they disliked him, and thought he was just a shallow sort of person without any understanding of the issues, and a man who told a lot of jokes, and all that. We always used to call people like that the more difficult cases, because they took 10 to 15 minutes before they were converted as warm admirers and supporters of the President. When he was dealing with many heads of state, literally hundreds of heads of state, and others in important negotiations, this was an enormously important ability, because in a very short time, he could get the confidence and the support and the admiration, the friendship, of these people, and that helped the United States enormously. This is a side of him that I don't think has been very much noted, and it's one of the reasons that I wanted to set it out as I saw it, because there are a lot of people who have written books about the President, that portray him as disengaged and only peripherally concerned or knowledgeable about these events, and that's just plain wrong. That was not the kind of President I saw or worked with.
LAMB: Did he change at all when it comes to attention to detail, near the end of his Presidency?
WEINBERGER: No, I don't think so -- I think he was always very interested in the details, but he had a management philosophy which I think is perfectly well-recognized and worked very well for him, and that basically was to choose people as carefully as you could, decide that, after watching them in action, that they had his confidence, he let them know what broad things he wanted to achieve and he would give them the responsibility and the authority to do that -- but he wouldn't forget all about them. He wouldn't delegate to them and walk away and pay no attention to them.
And a lot of these very good ideas, when he was in California, he promoted -- an initiative measure which would have, I think, been very helpful over the years. It was on which would have tied the expenditures to the amount of receipts that you received. We had a balanced budget requirement in California. But he recognized that you would only be able to balance the budget, under that requirement, if you continued your expenditures by raising taxes, always very much higher, and he felt that would interfere with and reduce the amount of liberty available to each individual. So, his proposal was to limit the amount of revenue that the state could collect, and it was defeated because all of the public groups wanted more and more state appropriations boosted -- but that would have helped us very much now, with deficit reduction and all the rest. He also had the line item veto, and he used it to save three or four billion dollars in California, over his eight years. He was never overridden on that.
And in Washington, one of his great contributions was the Strategic Defense Initiative. Again, it violates the conventional wisdom. The conventional wisdom is that you shouldn't have any defense, that you're only safe if you're completely vulnerable. He didn't believe that, and this was a whole new strategic concept. In my opinion, it's the most hopeful strategic concept that's been put out in some 40 years, because it would, for the first time, give us an ability to rest our defense, not on an assumption, but on an actual defensive capability. The mutual assured destruction rests on an assumption. That is, that neither side will attack the other if both can be destroyed, and they know that, and so, what President Reagan said was, he didn't think this assumption was valid. He didn't think the assumption that the Soviets would always behave exactly as we would, was necessarily a valid assumption. And, so he brought forth the strategic defense idea, and while it was laughed at a great deal, and sneered at and all the rest, we now have had enough research work done to know that we actually can do this. And, I just hope Congress will continue to fund it.
LAMB: You said that he finished very popular which, the polls showed 62% or something like that, and the popularity, at least according to the polls, has gone down some since then, and I wanted to ask you whether you thought it was wise for the President to go to Japan for the two million dollars?
WEINBERGER: Well, obviously he is going to be governed by what he thinks is best in each of these situations, but I think that it was for a lot more than that. Ah, it wasn't just getting paid for that or anything of that kind. By Japanese standards now, that's a comparatively modest payment. What the President wanted, what he'd always wanted, was to have a better relationship with Japan, and he knew, without being in any sense arrogant or conceited, that there were few things that any American could do that would be more welcome, more perceived by the Japanese, than going himself over there and making appearances and all the rest, and he did that, and my impression is that that funding was not excessive by Japanese standards. But what he did, really, was to accomplish a great deal in helping to keep together American and Japanese relationships, which I agree are very important. I spent a lot of time when I was Secretary, trying to improve and strengthen those relationships, the military relationships with Japan, with China, with Korea, because I think we need all of these friends in that enormously important Pacific rim region.
LAMB: How much should Japan spend on defense?
WEINBERGER: Well, they're spending more now on defense, and that's a curious problem. There are a great many people in the United States who will tell you that they don't spend nearly enough -- they're getting a free ride. For many years, they limited their spending to 1% of their gross national product. They're spending well above that now. They're spending now amounts that give them a very strong self-defense force, a force that's capable of doing great damage to any invading force in Japan. But, whenever they do that, whenever they respond to our request to spend more in their own defense, then some of their neighbors -- in Australia, in Indonesia, the Philippines, Korea -- will all start worrying very much that they're getting militaristic again. So they have this very difficult task of trying to do the things that we think they should do, in the United States, and carry more of the burden, which they're actually doing, and worrying their neighbors. I don't think they have any more aggressive tendencies. I think that was completely eliminated from the whole Japanese psyche. Bu it is vital that they do help maintain their own defense. It can free us for a lot of other very vital tasks.
LAMB: We're talking with Caspar Weinberger and he has a new book called "Fighting for Peace, Seven Critical Years in the Pentagon." Did you have much help writing this book, or did you do it yourself?
WEINBERGER: No, I did this one myself. I had research assistants, people who would help me run down some of the records and the documents, and I mention all of them in the preface. The publisher two or three times suggested that it would be quicker and better written if it were an as-told-to book -- that is, that someone writes it and then you go over and edit it and that kind of thing. But I didn't really want to do that, and I said that even it I'm not a trained historian or anything of the kind, I would rather it be my story, and it took close to two years.
LAMB: How did you do it?
WEINBERGER: Well, first of all, I decided on this plan of having about 12 chapters, to cover each of these events, and then I would draft -- talk to a little dictating machine -- a first draft of what I remembered about that event. And then I would try to go back through the Department of Defense's records, which are very complete. I had all of the talks that I had made, all the committee hearings that I had attended, the text of all of those the department had as part of their official records. And I would make revisions in these things. I would go back through the newspapers clippings of those events. The department publishes a summary of the news every day, and I had all of those bound and used those. Then I would circulate the drafts after I had edited them three or four times, to people who were in the department, and they would make very valuable suggestions. Some of them would put in the margin, "This is just plain wrong." So then I would talk to them and find out what was wrong about it. It was usually my memory. And so then we would try to get it as accurate as possible. I suppose each chapter was probably drafted and redrafted and rewritten about 20 times. And that's not the kind of think I normally do, with my speeches or something of that sort, but I wanted this to be accurate, and I suppose there maybe some errors in it now. I hope not. But it was essentially a process of trying to remember, trying to go back to the records and trying to get some of the flavor of the days into it, so that people could have an idea of what it's like to work in these exciting, interesting jobs.
LAMB: Did you write it here or in Maine?
WEINBERGER: I did it both. I did it on airplanes quite frequently -- just a small dictating machine and would talk to it. And then the editing I did in Maine a good bit. I did it here in Washington and some in New York.
LAMB: How much has your days as a writer for the Harvard Crimson impacted your ability to write through the rest of your life?
WEINBERGER: Well, I enjoyed the Crimson work thoroughly. I had a lot of fun with it. I enjoyed it in a number of ways, and I think it was very valuable because I think it did give me an idea of the problems and the difficulties of covering events, and it gave me a feeling that proper reporting was to be a mirror of what had happened and reflect that to the people, and we were on a very strict rule at the Crimson, that your own opinions could not intrude themselves into the news stories. Those were reserved exclusively for what we called then "Page Two." We had four pages and the editorials were on page two. But, opinions were supposed to be on that page and not in the news stories, and that is, I suppose, a somewhat old fashioned view of reporting now, but I enjoyed the writing thoroughly and I did a column for about seven or eight years for about 20 California newspapers after I left the legislature in 1958, and I enjoyed that very much too.
LAMB: Is this the first time, in this book, that you told your version of what happened the day that the President was shot?
WEINBERGER: Yes, we were asked about a week after that event to dictate for historical purposes, for the White House and also to see what ways in which we might change our, our policies or our procedures, in case any were needed. We were asked to dictate a summary of what we remembered happened that day, and so I did that, in some detail, and then I used that as the basis for this chapter. I quoted in some places verbatim from it, but it was a memorandum for the President, so I didn't think I should use the whole thing. But, basically, all the essential elements of that went into the chapter, and that was therefore much more of a contemporaneous account of those events than other things in the book.
LAMB: You, correct me if I'm wrong, you point out in your chapter that Al Haig was wrong to assume control, that he wasn't the next person in control, that you were had the responsibility.
WEINBERGER: Well, there are two different types of things. My responsibility was limited entirely to the National Command Authority, which is the command and the disposition of the military forces. That evolves from the President to the Vice-President to the Secretary of Defense. And, pursuant to that, because the President was on the operating table and the Vice-President was in the air coming back from, I think, Texas, and I had the responsibility, I increased the alert status because we didn't know whether this was just a single madman trying to shoot the President, or whether it was something broader or deeper, and I thought, until we found out, it was better to increase the alert. Al Haig was talking about an old statute which has been superseded since, that the Presidential duties evolve from President to Vice-President to Secretary of State -- and indeed they did 20 or 30 years ago -- but now it goes from President to Vice-President to the Speaker of the House and President Pro-tem of the Senate and so on. But I didn't have any particular quarrel with his making that statement. I was down in the situation room and he was up in the press room, and someone there, when he said that, was listening to him, and they said, "Well, that's just wrong," when he said he was in charge. But the impression had been given that there was violent quarrel or fight or something of that kind. There wasn't -- there was a perfectly low-key discussion. He was very concerned that I had raised the alert of the military forces because that contradicted something that he had just said on the air, to the effect that we weren't taking any kinds of steps and we didn't regard this as anything other than just this single incident. I didn't know. I thought it was probably that, but I also thought that the only way I could carry out my responsibilities was to have an increased alert for the military.
LAMB: There's more to that story and it's in this book and we want to thank our guest, Caspar Weinberger, for seven years as Secretary of Defense. This is what the book looks like. It's called "Fighting for Peace." Thank you for joining us.
WEINBERGER: Thank you very much.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.