MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin — Melvin Laird, the former secretary of defense who ended the unpopular military draft and initiated withdrawal of US troops from the Vietnam War, died Wednesday.
Laird was 94.
In 1969, at the peak of the Vietnam War, Laird joined President Richard Nixon’s administration as the secretary of defense.
Before joining the Cabinet, Laird had been an influential Republican congressman representing Wisconsin for 16 years with an expertise in defense and military matters. He was a well-respected World World II veteran and Purple Heart recipient.
Laird had become a vocal critic of President Lyndon B. Johnson and his secretary of defense, Robert McNamara’s policy on the Vietnam War.
Laird had several goals as secretary of defense. He wanted to end the draft, disengage from the war and reach a peace settlement.
“Wars are easy to enter into,” he said in 2010.”They’re very difficult to get out of.”
Laird pushed a policy of “Vietnamization,” which meant withdrawing US forces while equipping and training South Vietnam’s military.
He also instituted sweeping changes in US foreign and defense policy, most importantly by shifting the US military from a conscripted army to an all-volunteer force.
Laird said it was a matter of equity. “It is pretty much an economic issue because conscript labor — paying young men in the military very low rates — was unfair.”
“Yes, it was a difficult fight … but I maintained and by the time I left the White House, there was no draft.”