Laird, Melvin Robert

Laird, Melvin Robert, 1922–2016, American politician, U.S. secretary of defense (1969–73), b. Omaha, Nebr. After serving (1942–46) in the navy during World War II, he entered politics as a Republican and was (1946–52) a state senator in Wisconsin. As a member (1953–69) of the U.S. House of Representatives, he served on the appropriations committee, where he actively supported a large military budget and a strong nuclear defense posture as well as increased funds for health and education. Laird became secretary of defense in President Nixon's cabinet and presided over the shift from a conscripted to an all-volunteer army. He oversaw the “Vietnamization” of the Vietnam War, increasing the role of South Vietnamese forces and reducing that of U.S. forces, as well as the invasion (1970) of Cambodia and bombing North Vietnam and mining its harbors to force a peace settlement, both of which he privately opposed. After his resignation as secretary, he served (1973–74) as counselor to the president for domestic affairs and supported the choice of Gerald Ford as vice president after Spiro Agnew resigned amid a corruption investigation. Laird subsequently held various corporate posts. He wrote A House Divided (1962) and edited Republican Papers (1968).

See M. R. Laird et al., The Nixon Doctrine (1972); biography by D. Van Atta (2008).

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