James R. Schlesinger, the hawkish and sometimes overbearingly erudite conservative whose controversial Washington career included serving as U.S. secretary of Defense under Presidents
His death was confirmed by his daughter, Ann Schlesinger.
Later, after assuming the top job at the
"James Schlesinger was the ideal hawk to exploit the new weaponry developed under a decade of mutually assured destruction," Michio Kaku and Daniel Axelrod wrote in "To Win a Nuclear War" (1987). "Nixon grudgingly acknowledged the man's command and grasp of nuclear strategy."
Under Nixon, Schlesinger also served as chair of the Atomic Energy Commission and director of the
He remained in Ford's cabinet after Nixon's resignation in 1974 but disagreements with the president and Secretary of State
"His aloof, frequently arrogant manner put me off," Ford said of Schlesinger in the biography "Kissinger" (1992) by Walter Isaacson. "I could never be sure he was leveling with me."
During a more than two-year tenure as Defense secretary, Schlesinger confronted numerous crises. He oversaw the airlifting of supplies to Israel in the 1973
He fell from favor for impeding the efforts of Ford and Kissinger to secure a strategic arms-control agreement with the Soviet Union and for his uncompromising dealings with
Schlesinger, whom Kissinger once described as "my equal" intellectually, returned to government in 1976 after supporting Carter's presidential bid. He served as the nation's "energy czar" before heading the Energy Department created during the Carter administration.
Charged with coordinating several federal agencies under one umbrella during the oil crisis of the 1970s, when Arab nations embargoed the delivery of petroleum to the U.S. and other countries, he became a symbol of Carter's failed energy policy as gas lines grew and prices soared. In 1979 Schlesinger was forced out in a cabinet reorganization.
James Rodney Schlesinger was born on Feb. 15, 1929, in New York to Julius and Rhea Schlesinger. Although raised in a Jewish family, he converted to the Lutheran faith while a student at Harvard, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1950, a master's in 1952 and a doctorate in 1956.
Schlesinger taught economics at the
At the CIA, he was angered to learn the spy agency had lent support to ex-agents E. Howard Hunt and James McCord, who were convicted of burglary in the Watergate break-in. He ordered disclosure of all violations of the CIA charter barring domestic operations, resulting in nearly 700 pages of memos about spying on Americans.
In his earlier stint at the Atomic Energy Commission, he brought his wife and two of his daughters to Amchitka Island in the Aleutians to observe a 1971 nuclear-bomb test and prove to critics that it could be conducted without harm to people or the environment.
An avid bird-watcher, he considered himself an environmentalist, although he had many critics with a sharply different view of him. At a Washington rally against his advocacy of nuclear power after the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979, activist Jane Fonda told the crowd: "Putting Schlesinger in charge of nuclear power is like putting Dracula in charge of a blood bank." Schlesinger later countered that she and the other protesters were "the same people who were for Ho Chi Minh."
His wife, the former Rachel Mellinger, died in 1995. He is survived by eight children and 11 grandchildren.