Melvin R. LairdMelvin R. Laird
The cover of With Honor: Melvin Laird in War, Peace and Politics

“[Laird] exemplifies a blend of principle and pragmatism that is sorely needed in our country today.”—President Gerald R. Ford

“Watching Laird operate, I sometimes wondered if Nixon realized what he had gotten when he picked Laird.”—Bob Schieffer, commentator on CBS’s Face the Nation

“Historians, journalists, and other observers have become so entangled in debates about Kennedy and Johnson in the 1960s, and Nixon and Kissinger in the 1970s, that they have neglected the formidable role of Melvin Laird. This clearly written biography will rectify that oversight.”—Jeremi Suri, author of Henry Kissinger and the American Century

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Melvin R. Laird

With Honor

Melvin Laird In War, Peace and Politics

"With Honor: Melvin Laird In War, Peace and Politics" is the authorized biography of Melvin Laird, written by Dale Van Atta and published by the University of Wisconsin Press. The Forward is written by President Gerald R. Ford.

Proceeds from the sale of this book fund medical research at the Melvin R. Laird Center for Medical Research.

You may purchase your copy of "With Honor: Melvin Laird in War, Peace and Politics" from your local book store or from University of Wisconsin Press.

Excerpt from "With Honor"

“The last job Melvin Laird wanted in the fall of 1968 was that of secretary of defense. The Vietnam War was at its bloody apex, and public support for the war was at its nadir. Richard Nixon had just been elected president of the United States based on a rumored “secret plan” to end the war. But Laird knew his old friend Nixon had no such plan. The only plan was to scour the ranks of the unwilling and find someone to be secretary of defense, someone who would then figure out how to pull the United States from the Vietnam quagmire.

Laird had just been elected to his ninth term in Congress representing his beloved state of Wisconsin, and there was no place he would rather be than in the House of Representatives. Since the election, Nixon had leaned heavily on Laird to help him find a defense secretary, preferably a Democrat for the sake of interparty relations. Laird proposed Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Washington. He was a hawkish advocate of strong military power as well as conservative about national security. Jackson was willing to consider the job, but when he went to a Democratic retreat in Hawaii and told some of his friends about it, Senator Edward Kennedy tore into him. . . . Jackson phoned Nixon from Hawaii with his regrets. It was December, and the press was clamoring for Nixon’s cabinet slate. He turned his wrath on Laird over the Jackson debacle and ordered Laird to come to the annual meeting of the Republican Governors Association at Palm Springs, California, where the two of them would work on the problem. “You got me into this mess. You’re going to damn well fix it!” Nixon told Laird.

Laird was in the greatest quandary of his life as he boarded Nixon’s jet for the return trip to D.C. Ford was on the plane, as was veteran political operative Bryce Harlow, whom Nixon had named as his legislative affairs liaison. Harlow had joined Laird in lobbying for Jackson for defense secretary, and Nixon’s opening blast was directed at both advisors. “You sons of bitches!” Nixon sputtered. “You talked me into this thing with Scoop and now he’s backed out.” Then he turned on Laird. “There’s only one way to fix this—I’m going to announce YOU for defense secretary!”

“The hell you are!” Laird countered. “I’m not going to leave Congress.” During an extended debate on the cross-country flight, Laird outlined reasons why it would be better for the new administration if he remained in Congress. Nixon’s response is summed up in a letter he later wrote to Laird: “I made the hard sell—even though a friend was involved. I know this was a terribly difficult decision for you to make, but you were the indispensable man—the right man for the right place, at the right time.”—from the prologue, With Honor

About The Author

Dale Van Atta

Dale Van Atta is the author of Trust Betrayed: Inside the AARP and, with Jack Anderson, Stormin’ Norman: An American Hero. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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