American Statesmen: Secretaries of State from John Jay to Colin Powell

By Edward S. Mihalkanin | Go to book overview
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Served 1981-1982

Appointed by President Ronald Reagan


Alexander Meigs Haig chose Inner Circles as the title for his memoirs and in doing so may have given ammunition to the followers of C. Wright Mills and others of the elitist school of American politics who posited that decision making is dominated by a small interlocking set of elites at the highest levels of American business, government, and military. Haig circulated at the highest levels of American political life as a governmental official, as a military officer, and as a corporate executive, but he was no scion of privilege. His rise to prominence in American political life started from modest beginnings and was marked throughout by significant adversity—his short tenure as secretary of state being only one small chapter in a remarkable life that, when captious criticism is placed to one side, shows him to be a man of significant accomplishment, talent, and character.

Haig was born on December 2, 1924. His father, Alexander Meigs Haig, was a respected lawyer who died of cancer in 1933 in the midst of the Depression, exhausting much of the family's financial assets. Haig's mother, Regina, a former English teacher, struggled financially following this tragedy to provide for Alex, Jr., and his younger brother and older sister. Haig worked at numerous odd jobs to supplement the family income, and with the help of generous uncles, the family managed to get along. Haig, whose father had soldiered in World War I, aspired from his boyhood to a military career. His mother urged him to follow his father's footsteps in the law, but his own instincts prevailed. He sought an appointment to West Point on graduation from high school, but was not selected. He went to Notre Dame until his sophomore year, when he secured, through the intercession of an uncle, a congressional appointment to West Point. He graduated 214th out of a class of 310 in 1947. Although his less than stellar academic performance led no one to predict his later success, Haig embarked on a military career at a time when the heightening Cold War was changing the role of the military from a war-fighting operation into a defense and peacekeeping business, dominated by theories of limited war, peacekeeping activity, and administrative organization. In such a con-text, Haig's toughness of character, determination, ambition, and not a little good


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American Statesmen: Secretaries of State from John Jay to Colin Powell
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