Caspar Weinberger's plain-prose memoir, generally devoid of emotion, recounts his rise to the top of the defense establishment and his controversial tenure there.
What "In the Arena" [Regnery] does not recount is his pivotal involvement with the Jonathan Pollard spy case. Weinberger was called upon by the judge to assess the damage Pollard, a civilian Navy analyst, did to national security.
Asked in an interview why he omitted the incident, Weinberger casually replied, "Because it was, in a sense, a very minor matter but made very important." Asked to elaborate, Weinberger repeated, "As I say, the Pollard matter was comparatively minor. It was made far bigger than its actual importance."
Pressed on why the case was made far bigger than its actual importance, Weinberger answered, "I don't know why — it just was."
In the first chapter, Weinberger bluntly lays to rest the assumption that he was raised Jewish, noting that both his father and grandfather were indifferent to any religion dating back to a synagogue quarrel in Bohemia involving the family three generations earlier.
Weinberger instead was influenced by his mother's interest in the Episcopalian Church. Later, during his Harvard days, he became an active Episcopalian, noting that his "faith in God has been an enormous influence and comfort all my life."
Weinberger's intense interest in things military started with his "illegal" attempt to join the Royal Air Force in 1941 to fight Germany before the United States joined the war. (He was turned down because of bad eyesight.) Later he did enlist in the Army, serving in the South Pacific. There he met an army nurse, Jane, who would become his wife.
Weinberger tells how his World War II service was invaluable training for when he became secretary of defense in 1981.
"In particular, I was stuck by the terrible lack of foresight that had left America so unprepared (in 1941) — materially, psychologically, and in trained manpower — for war. ... In 1981, I saw that, again, we had basically the same shortages of equipment and qualified personnel at the height of the Cold War."
Laced throughout the book is Weinberger's immense devotion to and admiration of Ronald Reagan, whom he credits with winning the Cold War. The turning point, Weinberger writes, was "when President Reagan, in perhaps his most major violation of conventional wisdom, blatantly told the world that Communism was an Evil Empire."
It was Weinberger, of course, as secretary of defense, who built up America's military might to show the Soviets that Reagan meant business.
An exception to the emotionless telling of his life is a chapter in which Weinberger laments the "horribly debilitating" toll of his indictment by the special prosecutor during the Iran-Contra debacle. Weinberger insists Reagan was totally unaware of the conspiracy. The personal humiliation for Weinberger and his family, and the financial toll in legal bills, is retold mincing no words.