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February 23, 2010

General Alexander M. Haig, Jr.: Any Tribute Given Now Must Be Incomplete, But the Longer View of History Will Prevail

Gen. Alexander Haig (left) with Gregory Copley on the podium of ISSA's Strategy86 conference, where he — just before this photograph was taken — had announced his candidacy for the US Presidency. ISSA twice awarded Haig its Gold Star for Outstanding Contributions to Strategic Progress, in 1986 and 1997.  

In Memoriam By Gregory R. Copley. Winter’s winds — incessant, bleak— paused, in the early hours of February 20, 2010, to allow the silence to be heard in the achingly cold emptiness which marked the passing of General Alexander Meigs Haig, Jr.1

He was the last true warrior-statesman.

There will be no more of his era.

His own era, which was the era of optimism and Western leadership, has ended. None like him will emerge in our current interregnum, which has been brought to silent, tortured confusion by the famine of leadership created by the new age of professional politicians.2

The great skills of Alexander Haig and his peers and predecessors brought wealth and freedom to the West. As with Rome and the great civilizations which preceded it, it is wealth’s narcissistic embrace which encourages its offspring to forget, or to hold in contempt, the toil, anguish, and sacrifice which led to the creation of the wealth of knowledge and physical blessings.

Thus the brief brilliance of enlightenment gutters in a final burst of flame, and is gone.

Alexander Haig’s great personal tragedy was that he knew that he had lived beyond the comfort of a society constantly striving for moral as well as tangible confidence. His predecessors — the likes of Nelson, Monash, Theodore Roosevelt, William Pitt the Younger, or Possony — all had been embraced by the knowledge that they were preceded, and would be followed, by others who recognized the humility of striving for a worthy hierarchy of human society.

Al Haig was my friend for almost four decades. We were both students of Dr Stefan Possony (1913-1995), the man hailed as the greatest strategic philosopher of the 20th Century. He taught us to bow to history, and to respect all context.

None now remain like Alexander Haig. Or if they do — and perhaps there are some generals with great grasp of political, economic, and social realities — then they are chained in the dungeons while callow political animals of no practical experience strut the stage commanding the power of mobs.

None are likely to re-emerge until the tinsel coin of pseudo-democratic political populism is swept aside by the collapse of civilizations. Then will publics clamor for the strength, vision, and decisiveness of the man on horseback.

The measure of Haig’s greatness can be seen in some degree by the carping sneers of the popular press which recorded his passing. Little wonder that the thundering of The New York Times is now largely heard only in the minds of its own writers and a dwindling readership of the urban smug. These are the same Romans who opened the gates to Alaric’s Visigoths in 410 AD.

In the days following his death it was debated whether any of the former US Presidents still living would attend the funeral of Alexander Haig. Any honors which the present United States Government would afford his funeral, and any participation by the incumbent US President or his living predecessors, would have been seen as a mixed signal by Haig. He was above them in his skills of leadership, his comprehension of the world, and his achievements. They could not honor him, and these former US leaders could only hope to burnish their own image by association with such a man.

Could we do better than to see Alexander Haig in Mark Antony’s funeral oration for Julius Cæsar? This historical allegory will already have sprung to the minds of many who knew Haig.

I come to bury Cæsar, not to praise him;

The evil that men do lives after them,

The good is oft interred with their bones,

So let it be with Cæsar ... The noble Brutus

Hath told you Cæsar was ambitious:

If it were so, it was a grievous fault,

And grievously hath Cæsar answered it ...

Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest,

(For Brutus is an honourable man;

So are they all; all honourable men)

Come I to speak in Cæsar's funeral ...

He was my friend, faithful and just to me:

But Brutus says he was ambitious;

And Brutus is an honourable man….

He hath brought many captives home to Rome,

Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:

Did this in Cæsar seem ambitious?

When that the poor have cried, Cæsar hath wept:

Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:

Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;

And Brutus is an honourable man ...3

I am beyond that humility and subtlety of Marcus Antonius as Shakespeare portrayed him. I am happy openly to praise Haig, for to do so through the skillful innuendo of a Shakespeare would be lost on modern society. And thus I forsake ambiguity.

Alexander Haig was incandescently honest and loyal. He resigned as Supreme Allied Commander-Europe (SACEUR) rather than obey the puerile and dishonorable command of Pres. James Earl Carter to unseat one of the great and faithful allies of the United States, the Shah of Iran. Carter had his way, and used the power of the US to destroy the Shah. The result was to open the floodgates of chaos. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan; Islam was perverted by the clerics who replaced the Shah; and thus began the great unrest the world faces today.

If Carter was to attend Haig’s funeral it would only be to assure himself that Haig, the greater man, was truly dead, and that the Haig legacy could be trammeled underfoot, distorted, and turned against a general who could not be persuaded to betray his duty or those who had placed their faith in him.

There are many anecdotes I could relay just from my personal acquaintance with Haig, without having to draw on official history. I met him because Possony told me, a lad of 24 or 25, to contact Haig in the Nixon White House to ask why something or other had not been done by the Nixon Administration. Haig, on receiving the message, called me back in San Francisco and with great good humor and patience addressed my questions. Thereafter, he and I corresponded regularly. As SACEUR, he received me in Belgium or elsewhere in Europe. As Secretary of State, he called me to the State Department to consult on the fate of Iran, which was by then — following the US Carter Administration’s betrayal of the Shah — already in hostile hands.

I nominated him twice to receive the highest award of the International Strategic Studies Association (ISSA), and on both times, and for different aspects of his service, he was presented with the ISSA Gold Star for Outstanding Contributions to Strategic Progress, a level of the honor normally reserved for heads of state. At our Strategy’86 conference, in the Washington, DC, area in 1986, he spoke before an international audience of military and political leaders for 45 minutes, without notes, giving a global tour d’horizon of strategic issues which was breathtaking in its scope and exquisite in its detail.

It was at that event that he was presented with his first ISSA Award.

He was an Honorary Life Member of ISSA, and was a Member of its Board of Advisors. He gave unstintingly of his advice, both official and unofficial, still with that good humor and great wisdom. He wrote a cover note for one of my books, and, with his son, Alexander, came to the launching of that book. He called me on several occasions to say that when his health permitted he would come to open the new offices of our Association. Thus, they will now never officially be declared open, in memory of him, and yet always remain open for the propagation of the kind of strategic wisdom which he avowed.

I have stayed unpaid for decades at this task of writing on strategic issues and strategic philosophy to perpetuate the memory and lessons of Stefan Possony. As the years pass, and importantly now, I still write to ensure that the memory of Possony and Haig and a few others like them — such as strategic philosopher and analyst Herman Kahn — are not forgotten.

We have broken beyond the era intellectually dominated by Haig and Possony. We are in that no man’s land of chaos, short-term survival thinking, and the greed of immediate ambition. Books are being burned in iconic form as appetites for knowledge are slaked electronically. But the electronic diet is unsatisfying and imbalanced. The reflection on words written on a page gives unparalleled opportunity for creative, responsive thought.

Thus we must keep the parchment of thoughts and deeds of the Haigs and Possonys, the Kahns and the Sun-tzus, dry in caves until the storm passes.


1. General Alexander M. Haig, Jr., December 2, 1924 – February 20, 2010, died at Johns Hopkins Hospital, in Baltimore, Maryland, at 01.30hrs, on Saturday, February 22, 2010. He was the 59th United States Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan and White House Chief of Staff under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. He was Vice Chief of Staff of the US Army, and was Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization structure. A veteran of the Korean War and Vietnam War, Haig was a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star with oak leaf cluster, and the Purple Heart.

2. See Copley, Gregory R., in “Energy Security in a Transforming and Unstable Global Framework”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, March 20, 2009, noting that “… [T]he professional politician … will morph into new forms of Cæsarism or Bonapartism. This is already underway, as “leaders” with no practical experience of the world increasingly fear the uncertainties of markets and the confidence of those who can actually create, manage, and build. Thus, the ‘new socialism’ is a system built by leaders who demand central control of societies and who genuinely fear freedom.”

3. From William Shakespeare’s Julius Cæsar, Act 3, Scene 2.