Caspar Weinberger, RIP

In recognition of the death of Caspar Weinberger today, NRO’s Corner has pointed readers to Jay Nordlinger’s review of Weinberger’s autobiography In the Arena. Jay beautifully summarizes Weinberger’s life and accomplishments, and notes some of the personal attributes evidenced in the text:

He expresses great love: for his parents, for his brother, for his wife, for his children – and that’s not to mention other objects of love, such as California and country (and cooking — Weinberger is always critiquing the food, from the Army to the Bohemian Grove). The author, throughout, is modest, self-deprecating, amusing, candid, earnest, and naturally patriotic. There is in these pages an overarching sense of decency. Weinberger is a throwback (high compliment). He is a Frank Capra American, though never naive. He reminds one a lot of Reagan: a more detail-oriented Reagan, without the Hollywood past.

I love Nordlinger’s conclusion:

It is impossible — at least I found it so — not to read this book in the light of September 11. It is also impossible — at least I found it so – not to conclude that this is exactly the kind of man we could use right now, many times over. But then, he is the kind of man this country can always use.

One of his best anecdotes involves a college visit to the home of a buddy’s fiancee:

The fiancee was a younger sister of Katharine Hepburn. Mrs. Hepburn — the mother — “was a vigorous, earthy woman,” and also a staunch political liberal.

At dinner one night, she listened to me defend, in a rather halting and shy way, some of my conservative beliefs, and finally she grabbed my hand and said, “Let me see your palm! Where do you get all this?!” She studied it for quite a while, and then, with great irritation, pronounced, “My God, you’re going to live forever!”

If only.

Also at the Corner, Iain Murray digs out Oliver Kamm’s comments on Weinberger’s autobiography:

I have no doubt…of the highlight of the book. Weinberger recounts a debate he took part in at the Oxford Union in 1984 with the Marxist historian E.P.Thompson, then a leading figure in the British and European anti-nuclear movement. Weinberger gives a nice vignette of the debate – in which Thompson proposed the motion that there was no moral difference between the foreign policies of the United States and the Soviet Union – and quotes his own speech at length on the fundamental difference between an open society and a totalitarian one. Weinberger remarks accurately and with incontrovertible logic, “[Y]ou can’t have a moral foreign policy if the people cannot control it.”

I attended this debate and recall Weinberger’s speech well. He was outstanding; to the surprise of many, and against the advice of the US Embassy not to take part, he won the debate. I was Chairman of the Oxford University Labour Club at the time, when the Labour Party was far to the Left of where it stands now and was formally committed to removing American nuclear bases from British soil. I am relieved to recount that, having already made my break with the Marxist and anti-American Left, I had just enough grasp on reality to vote on Weinberger’s side that evening. But never before had I heard so plausible and articulate a defence of western defence and foreign policy, and so principled a grounding of collective security in the very notion of political liberty. It is this aspect of Weinberger – his willingness to take on the intellectual arguments of his opponents, wherever they may be, and defeat them with cool rationality – that is a particularly attractive feature of the man. (Famously, Weinberger did the same with the historian Theodore Draper – a far more formidable critic of US defence policy than Thompson – in the pages of the New York Review of Books, where he presented a cogent and effective refutation of the many misconceptions Draper had been labouring under.)



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