Take Charge of a Situation - Like Alexander Haig Did

Oh, now I get it!

Do you understand why Mr. Haig took charge after the assassination attempt, and do you agree?

  • Now I understand, and totally agree
  • I don't agree, Mr. Haig didn't understand his role, I'll comment below
  • I still don't get it, I'll comment below
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Reagan assassination attempt

The following is an excerpt from Alexander Haig's Wikipdia page (in short, this Hub explains how an American leader made the correct decision in a tight situation, and how mainstream civilian journalists never quite understood why he said what he said - because the majority, if not all, of the journalists had no military experience):

In 1981, following the March 30 assassination attempt on Reagan, Haig asserted before reporters "I am in control here" as a result of Reagan's hospitalization, indicating that, while President Reagan had not "transfer[red] the helm", Haig was in fact directing White House Crisis Management until Vice President Bush arrived in Washington to assume that role.

Constitutionally, gentlemen, you have the President, the Vice President and the Secretary of State in that order, and should the President decide he wants to transfer the helm to the Vice President, he will do so. He has not done that. As of now, I am in control here, in the White House, pending return of the Vice President and in close touch with him. If something came up, I would check with him, of course.

—Alexander Haig, Alexander Haig, autobiographical profile in TIME Magazine, April 2, 1984[16]

The US Constitution, including both the presidential line of succession and the 25th Amendment, dictates what happens when a president is incapacitated. However, the holders of the two offices between the Vice President and the Secretary of State, the Speaker of the House (at the time, Tip O'Neill) and the President pro tempore of the Senate (at the time, Strom Thurmond), would be required under US law (3 U.S.C. § 19) to resign their positions in order for either of them to become acting President, an unlikely event, considering that Vice President Bush was not immediately available, so Haig's statement reflected political reality, if not necessarily legal reality. Haig later said,

I wasn't talking about transition. I was talking about the executive branch, who is running the government. That was the question asked. It was not, "Who is in line should the President die?"

—Alexander Haig, Alexander Haig interview with 60 Minutes II April 23, 2001

My opinion is that Mr. Haig’s military instincts took over, in that he was essentially stating that the United States of America as not “leaderless” - a very specific statement meant to be communicated to communist Russian / Soviet leadership to ensure they did not believe they could get away with a sneak attack while United States' leadership was in state of disarray.

If you have ever served in the US military, you may or may not agree with these next words, but in keeping with Clint Eastwood’s hilarious depiction of some of the realities of US Marine Corps life in Heartbreak Ridge (what was it? the lieutenant had to go to a doctor or dentist appointment?) - things can get a little fruity in places that you would not expect them to get fruity.

Real-world "leadership" example given - slightly embarrassing, but true:

  • Vilseck, Germany, un-named infantry unit, circa 1992.
  • Soldiers standing in a military formation outside a barracks building.
  • A number of staff sergeants standing in the same formation (in the US Army, staff sergeants are last in a line of junior noncoms, hoping to someday become senior noncoms).
  • The assigned sergeant first class platoon sergeant was absent for the day for some reason.
  • No one wanted to take charge of the formation, specifically because it was a platoon formation, with a relatively large number of both administrative and tactical responsibilities - very rough problems that required a lot of energy and managerial elbow grease - and if you weren't getting paid the sergeant first class big bucks, you might be leery of taking on the challenge.
  • Yes, there were politics involved, and someone did eventually take charge, although I don’t remember if it was the highest ranking staff sergeant (which is how it normally works in the US military).

The point for the descriptive bullet comments above is that the Army I joined in 1979 was different than the 1992 scenario described above - in the sense that as a private, I was often placed on work details that had a higher ranking private in charge - and God forbid that you question the higher-ranking private's authority to tell you what to do.

Granted, it was a great discipline drill and also taught lower enlisted how to be noncoms. Again, it was a different time and in 1979 the rank of specialist E-4 was scary - corporals E-4 were considered to be “God” - noncoms above the rank of sergeant E-5 carried the weight of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice - and first sergeants E-8 may have been able to literally bite your head off.

The basic concept was that, in combat, if a leader was killed, someone absolutely had to take charge of the situation or the mission - otherwise everyone would do nothing - or worse, the unit might run around like the proverbial head-cut-off-chicken - and not accomplish the assigned mission.

Leadership initiative, understanding a commander's tactical intent, stuff like that - are what makes the US military such a strong entity. The pansy leadership at Vilseck described above was an isolated incident. Anyone who has served in one of the US military services knows that our leadership - officer and noncom - is the envy of the military world. Although, due to human nature - not everyone is a natural leader.

That being said, Mr. Haig knew something about leadership - and took charge in the military sense - potentially saving our country from nuclear attack during the Cold War.

Civilian journalists sharp-shot his words and criticized his intent - which is a good thing. Freedom of the press is the perfect instrument to eventually correct a historical record.

So. The poll question for this Hub is: Do you now understand why Mr. Haig took charge after the Reagan assassination attempt, and do you agree with is actions?

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Comments 3 comments

wba108@yahoo.com profile image

wba108@yahoo.com 4 years ago from upstate, NY

This is a good example of two potentially conflicting American values clashing during the Reagan assasination crisis. On one hand you have the American poeple rightly on guard against using a crisis to usupt political power, on the other hand we were in the middle of a cold war which required a projection of the confidence to act in a military situation.

No doubt some journalists took advantage of this situation to create a sensational story at Haigs expense but as you mentioned this is a good example of how the checks and balances in our system are supposed to operate.

sean kinn profile image

sean kinn 4 years ago from Key West and Budapest Author

SG, thanks for the comment, and thank your dad for his service. On that note, thank yourself for *your* service. A lot of people don't know that being a military family member is often harder than suiting up in uniform. :-)

sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

Wonderful hub! My father was in the Army for many, many years. I do understand a little about leadership. When in a crisis and the original "leader" is incapacitated, everyone immediately needs to know who is in charge of that particular situation. Yes, he did the right thing and I applaud him for it! Voted up and interesting! :)

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