Norman Schwarzkopf RIP

Norman Schwarzkopf passed away Thursday, and in an era of celebrity, he was a true hero. The First Gulf War was broadcast live with almost every second brought into every American living room. The Gulf War made CNN a competitor to the major networks and made Norm Schwarzkopf a pop hero due to his live briefings. He explained strategy to the media and the American people, free of military jargon and complete with a sense of humor. It didn’t hurt that he was a brilliant tactician and well respected by his own troops. As he noted, “It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.”

Part of that respect was due to his own heroism in Vietnam in which he was wounded twice serving on the front line with his troops. One of those times, he rescued his own soldier in a minefield. While he was a natural in front of the camera, his career showed that he was not a media creation but the real deal. He also resisted the impulse of going into politics despite being asked to do so.

As a tactician, he showed his brilliance with a game plan that out maneuvered the Iraqi Army as he went with what he called the Hail Mary: a left hook that trapped most of the Iraqi Army. (Before the first Gulf War, the Iraqi Army was considered a formidable force as they were hardened by an eight year war with Iran and armed with the latest Soviet arms.) Unfortunately, the first Gulf War didn’t finish the job as the Republican Guard survived along with Saddam Hussein. America would have been better off finishing the job in 1991, when we had more than double the number of troops in Iraq and when Iran was weaker in the region, but these were political decision made in Washington. Historians will argue whether this was the time to end Hussein’s career as opposed to waiting to finish the job later.

The success of the first Gulf War laid in the lessons learned in the Grenada invasion, in which the United States toppled the Marxist regime and liberated that Caribbean land. (Schwarzkopf led the Grenada invasion.) As he noted, “You learn far more from negative leadership than positive leadership. Because you learn how not to do it.” Schwarzkopf did not lust for military glory as he noted, “Any soldier worth his salt should be antiwar and still understand there are things worth fighting for.” The soldiers who served under him understood that he cared for them, and they understood that he would risk his life for them. He left a legacy of brilliant leadership and success. RIP

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