Biography

Youth

Caspar Weinberger was born August 18, 1917, in San Francisco.  His parents were Herman and  Cerise Weinberger.   He was named Caspar after a dear friend of his mothers, Mrs. Stanley Casper who resided in Denver and was honored by becoming his godmother.   He was later nicknamed “Cap” by his father. Caspar also had an older brother, Peter who was born on October 31, 1914. His father worked his way through college and earned a law degree.  Shortly after graduating Herman and Cerise moved their family to San Francisco where his father secured a job as a junior attorney with Chickering and Gregory. His brother Peter was very athletic and outgoing.  One of Caspar and his brother Peter’s favorite sports was baseball.  Later both Caspar and Peter roomed together at Harvard.   Cerise Weinberger was a devoted mother to both of her sons and they enjoyed a very close-knit family.   Most of Caspar’s childhood took place during the “depression”.  In the early 1920’s his parents enrolled both he and Peter at the Palo Alto Military Academy.  The years spent at the Academy ended in 1925 when the boys returned to San Francisco and Caspar was enrolled in the Frederic Burk School.  In 1930 he joined his brother at Polytechnic High School.

College Years

Upon graduation from Polytechnic in December 1933 he applied for and was accepted into Harvard University.  Harvard proved to be much more rigorous in both academics and athletics, which was a huge change from his years at Polytechnic.  One of the requirements at Harvard was swimming.  Caspar suffered all of his life with ear infections and after two years of trying to learn to swim, Harvard finally gave him a waiver.  He continued his studies at Harvard and most of his papers were written on government and politics.  It was noted early on that Caspar had an intense interest with “the virtues of democracy and the inherent evils of communist repression.”  In the summer of 1936 Caspar and a friend got their first real taste of politics, though limited in its scope.  They served as ushers for the Republican National Convention, which was held that year in Cleveland.  They were also invited to a small dinner hosted by Nelson Rockefeller.  In his senior year at Harvard he was elected president of the student body.  By his senior year he knew he would find a place in politics and his graduation speech was on “The Honorable Profession of Politics.”  He earned a B.A in 1938 and graduated magna cum laude.  Caspar was also awarded the Lionel de Jersey Harvard Studentship, which would allow him a year of study in Cambridge, England.  Instead he entered law school at Harvard.  In the summer of 1940 Caspar worked for the law firm Simpson, Thatcher, and Bartlett in New York.  During his last year of law school Caspar was stricken with a severe ear infection, which required him to receive treatment and lay flat for four weeks.  Caspar graduated from Harvard with a J.D. in June 1941, and passed the New York Bar exam.

Military Service

Not more than a few months after graduation Caspar enlisted in the Army infantry in September 1941.  His first assignment was to the Presidio of Monterey, which is a holding site for new recruits.  Three weeks later he was assigned to Camp Roberts.  On December 7, 1941 during one of his few leaves from Camp Roberts, the news came out that an unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor was under way by the Japanese.  All leaves were cancelled and all military personnel had to return to their bases immediately.  On December 8, 1941 the US declared war on Japan.  A few weeks after retuning to Camp Roberts, Caspar applied for and was accepted to the Infantry Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, Georgia.  The training at Fort Benning was much more rigorous than at Camp Roberts, however, Caspar gave it his all.  In May of 1942, Caspar was commissioned as a second lieutenant.  Before deployment Caspar had to complete a questionnaire asking where he would prefer to deploy.  His answers were first England, and second Northern Ireland, since it was common knowledge that the U.S. was in the process of building air bases in both countries.  Within 5-6 weeks he was deployed on a ship to Australia via the USS Mt. Vernon.  During this 18-day journey he met Lieutenant Rebecca Jane Dalton.   When the ship disembarked in Sydney, Caspar was sent to Randwick Racetrack, which was temporary barracks.  Jane Dalton remained in the city.  They managed to see each other and were secretly married in Sydney.  Soon they were again parted when Caspar was sent on a train to Rockhampton and Jane to Southport.  Soon after they met again in Brisbane where Jane was sick with dengue fever. Exams indicated that Jane was pregnant and hence the news of their “secret” marriage became public.  Since spouses were not allowed to be in the same war zone, Jane was on the next available transport home.  On April 27, 1943 their first child was born in Maine, which was Jane’s hometown.  Shortly thereafter Jane and the new baby moved to San Francisco to stay with Caspar’s family and await the end of the war and his return home.  Caspar was moved to various cities throughout Australia including New Guinea.  His law school education even came into play during his tour of duty.  He handled several court martial cases, which were the foundation for a new Code of Military Justice, which was enacted after the war.  Most of his regiment became ill with Malaria and Caspar was hospitalized for three weeks in New Guinea.  In the fall of 1943 he was promoted to captain and was transferred to General Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters, in Brisbane, Australia, where he served in the Combined Operational Intelligence Center.  At first Caspar objected to this move but later found it interesting analyzing intelligence reports and writing situation briefs for the general.  MacArthur’s Intelligence Headquarters was relocated from Australia to New Guinea and then to the Philippines.  In 1945 Caspar was offered the opportunity to go home which was based on the number of points he earned for the number of months served overseas, length of time in the service, number of dependents, etc., or to go to Japan with MacArthur.  Caspar chose to go home.  His father died a year before from a massive coronary occlusion.  By the end of September 1945 after 4 years of military service, Caspar was home with his family.  Caspar’s years of military service proved invaluable when he later became Secretary of Defense.  His military service gave him insight into our military that would make immeasurable changes for future military personnel as well as strengthen the U.S. military forces.

Law Practice

In less than a month from overseas, Caspar was offered a clerkship with the newly appointed Judge for the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco.  He studied and took the California Bar exam in January 1946 and was notified in May 1946 that he passed.  He enjoyed working with Judge Orr but realized rather quickly that there was no advancement.  Within a few months, he was offered a position as junior associate at the prestigious San Francisco law firm of Heller, Ehrman, White and McAuliffe.  Most of his initial work was research, which he found not much to his liking.  However, as time went on he started writing legal briefs and eventually worked on actual cases and trials.  Several years went by and Caspar decided that he needed more to do. On the suggestion of his brother Peter, he starting teaching one class a week at Golden Gate College, where he taught “Practice and Procedure”.  He also took a teaching position at Hastings College of Law, which was part of the University of California, where he taught “Bills and Notes” and “Negotiable Instruments”.  At both colleges, Caspar was caught off guard with numerous unexpected questions.  Although into his second year of teaching he knew what to expect and always had the answers.  This experience was good for future experience with political and legislative debates.  As if his schedule wasn’t full enough he also did book reviews for the Chronicle Sunday edition.  This went on for years.  In the summer of 1948 he was able to finally afford to buy a car with the help of his brother Peter.  By this time he had earned two weeks vacation from the law firm so he took the train to his 10th Harvard reunion and then on to Detroit.  He literally drove the “Horizon Blue” DeSoto sedan off the assembly line.  In January 1947 they welcomed their second child, Caspar Jr., into this world.  They moved form their hillside home in Sausalito into a large three-story house on the end of Pacific Avenue, which overlooked the Presidio Wall.

Politics

In 1948 Governor Thomas Dewey lost the presidential election to President Harry Truman.  This was the turning point for Caspar and the start of an active career in politics.  In 1952 Caspar ran for an open state assembly seat, which was previously held by Arthur Connaly who chose to retire.  The law firm was initially against Caspar running for office, however the head of the firm came around and strongly supported him.  He campaigned against Milton Parks and won the Republican nomination by a mere 800 votes.   In the general election he ran against Democratic nominee William Blake.  Caspar won the election by about 16,000 votes.  Dwight Eisenhower was elected president in 1952 and the Republican Party won control of both the houses of Congress.

In 1980 Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States.  One of his promises was to increase military strength through spending since it had fallen below safe limits during the Carter administration.  He wanted to strengthen the US.  Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of Defense held that his job was “to re-arm America”.  This was based on past failed efforts with the Soviet Union “the Soviet prison wall”  which spanned the eastern European countries, and the inability or failure of US military to rescue American hostages from Iran in 1980.  Something was wrong.  During the Reagan administration he put a heavy hand on cutting social programs, while Weinberger was able to increase the defense budget.  Troops were given pay increases and they were given new weapons and equipment, including the MX missile and the Strategic Defense Initiative, nicknamed “Star Wars” and the B-1 bomber resumed a flight path.  Weinberger was very aware of what American learned in Vietnam and chose and deployed troops abroad very cautiously.  The major strikes he oversaw were in Grenada in 1983 and Libya in 1986.  Despite Weinberger’s cautious advise Reagan went ahead and sent troops into Lebanon.  The bombing that occurred and killed 241 US soldiers pushed Weinberger to successfully withdraw all troops.  His comments written in his book “In the Arena” “I did not arm to attack.”  “We armed so that we could negotiate from strength, defend freedom and make war less likely.”  The cost of everything from nails, hammers and screws skyrocketed into a $2 trillion spending spree for the Defense Department.  Weinberger set in motion a military force that would eventually make a major impact on the Soviet Union and end the Cold War.  He was highly criticized for his spending which was a catastrophy on the stock market crash in 1987.  In 1993 criticism from the General Accounting Office noted that Weinberger had “overly exaggerated” the Soviet Union and their threat.  Weinberger was quoted as saying “You should always use a worst-case analysis in this business”. “In the end, we won the Cold War, and if we won by too much, if it was overkill, so be it.”  In any event his strategy brought the Soviet Union to the bargaining table.

In 1987 the Iran-Contra affair was revealed.  Even though Weinberger had already resigned he was still very much involved in the aftermath.  Weinberger told the Congressional Committee that he advised Reagan against working with Iran and even sent out a memo opposing it.   The committee said that Weinberger had not been aggressive enough with his advise to Reagan.  The special prosecutor accused Weinberger of hiding his diaries, which were presumed by the prosecutor to hold valuable information regarding the Iran/Contra affair.  In 1992 an indictment came down charging Weinberger of lying to the prosecutor.  Independent counsel Lawrence Walsh charged Weinberger with four counts of lying to congressional Iran-Contra investigators in 1987 and to Walsh’s prosecutors in 1990.  Weinberger felt that the charges were an attempt to force him to testify against Reagan.  He did not testify against Reagan and trial was to start in 1993.  However, on December 24, 1992 President George H.W. Bush pardoned him along with five others who were involved.  President Bush explains the pardons in this quote “the common denominator of their motivation — whether their actions were right or wrong — was patriotism.”

 

 

 

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