A Farewell to General Norman Schwarzkopf

His name meant “Black Head.” The media dubbed him “Stormin’ Norman.” But the grateful men he led into battle called him “The Bear.” H. Norman Schwarzkopf, America’s last great hero-general of the 20th century, passed away last week at the age of 78.

A full generation has passed since Schwarzkopf was the Most Famous and Admired Man, but it isn’t just the young folks who could profit by remembering his life.

Although admirable, it was likely unremarkable that the son of a soldier would himself pursue that career, first at Valley Forge Military Academy, then West Point, and into the service as a missile engineer. It was in Vietnam where Schwarzkopf first separated himself from the pack. Given his specialty, he could easily have served from the back lines earning credit for combat duty without the hazards of actual combat. Instead, Schwarzkopf volunteered for two tours of hard duty, in the jungles, rice paddies, and the one minefield where he nearly lost his life saving several of his men. He won three silver stars for valor, but more importantly he won the unwavering loyalty of the men whose lives he valued equal to his own.

The years immediately after Vietnam were among the darkest for the U.S. military. Public support and internal morale were at all-time lows. Schwarzkopf himself was deeply dispirited, disgusted with the “peace movement” and politicians of all stripes. After giving serious consideration to resigning from the Army, he decided to stay and help breathe new life into our armed forces. Throughout the 1970s and 80s, Schwarzkopf took on the challenges of the era, modernizing our military, smoothing the transition to an all-volunteer service, and reinstituting a culture of pride and discipline that had virtually disappeared after Vietnam.

To become a high-ranking officer in the Army, you need to be more than a fighter. You need to be a manager, a communicator, and even a politician. In other words, you have to be a leader, and Schwarzkopf was a gifted one. Few officers ever progress beyond the rank of Major, but he was promoted to Lt. Colonel in ‘68, Full Bird in ‘75, and eventually up to 4-Star General in ‘88. Had he retired then without further ado, he would’ve been counted as among the elite military leaders of his generation.

It was the primum movens of the post-Cold War world, the first motion from which the balance of contemporary international relations has flowed: Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990. The officer tasked with the world’s response was not specially selected for the task. Norman Schwarzkopf just happened to be in charge of Central Command, CENTCOM, the Army’s geographic jurisdiction that included the Middle East. All you need to know about our military presence in the region is that CENTCOM’s headquarters is located 7,500 miles away from Kuwait, in Tampa, Florida.

Scwarzkopf’s orders were simple. Organize a Tower-of-Babel-like expeditionary force of one million men from 40 mutually suspicious countries segregated into two parallel command structures, stage them 7,500 miles away in an exotic land with a culture nearly inverted from our own, in an environment which the U.S. military had very little experience, and from there defeat the world’s fourth largest army while minimizing civilian casualties and not exceeding the limited United Nations mandate of restoring Kuwait’s territorial integrity.

All of Schwarzkopf’s management, communication, and yes, political skills were called upon. He convinced King Fahd of Saudi Arabia to allow the coalition to deploy on the Kingdom’s territory. He convinced Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir that his greatest contribution to defeating Saddam was to do nothing, even in the face of outrageous provocation. He assembled the largest and most diverse multinational fighting coalition the world may ever see, along with their weapons, equipment, food, supplies, medical support, and clear orders.

And then there was the military strategy. Saddam anticipated an attempt to retake Kuwait City from land and sea, building all of his defensive fortifications accordingly. Instead, Shwarzkopf devised his famous “left-hook” strategy, a flanking maneuver from the long, virtually undefended desert border between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. The line of infantry and armor just swung clockwise. It was straight from the textbooks, reminiscent of Chamberlain’s legendary counter-attack at Gettysburg. And it worked perfectly; the Iraqis within Kuwait were cut off, those outside fled for their lives.

Desert Storm was over in 100 hours. Of one million troops, fewer than 200 were killed from enemy fire. Such was the demonstration of overwhelming force and surprise and professionalism. Schwarzkopf didn’t realize it, and there’s no evidence that he would ever put it this way, but the long, divisive shadow of Vietnam was lifted, there in the desert, across the broad shoulders of “The Bear.”

He was initiated as a national hero with a glittering ticker-tape parade up Fifth Avenue. He was immediately offered the Army’s top uniformed post – Chief of Staff. The White House seemed his for the asking. He turned them down. In that tradition so American we forget it descends from the Roman Cincinnatus, Schwarzkopf wanted only to be thanked for his service and retire to his wife and family. He spent his last 20 years serving as a spokesman for prostate cancer awareness and for protection of grizzly bears, sat on the boards of corporations and children’s charities.

Looking back, Schwarzkopf summed it up: “I may have made my reputation as a general in the Army and I’m very proud of that but I’ve always felt that I was more than one-dimensional. I’d like to think I’m a caring human being.”

Thank you, General, for answering the call of your country, not just for victory, but for unity, confidence, and heart.

Author: D.J. Bettencourt

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  • Annoyed Service member

    No one “wins” the Silver Star or any other medal or decoration! I’d love a day when politicians, disgraced or otherwise learn that.

    • Anonymous

      Perhaps “awarded” or “received” would have been a better word but it was hardly inappropriate or insulting. Disquis isn’t allowing me to post the links but if you Google “won silver star” you will find news articles, including military press releases and military news services that refer to a service member who “won” a silver star or other decoration. Those news sources include: Washington Post, NPR, New York Daily News, Army Times, Orange County New Agency, Free Republic, and the Washington National Guard.

  • Yeah that’s me

    Has NH Journal checked this story to make sure its all accurate? Last I knew DJ has a tendency to go south with the truth. As someone who studied journalism, I’ve found the disregard for truth and ethics to be disturbingly all too common in journalism. Considering DJ’s history, I think a fiction contributor might have been a better fit.

    But then again, I remember Mike Barnacle made it big on the cable teevee for awhile, so I guess I’m just old fashioned.

    • Anonymous

      Oh please, grow up!

  • http://www.facebook.com/timothy.horrigan Timothy Horrigan

    one small detail: Schwarzkopf’s “glittering ticker tape parade up Fifth Avenue” in 1991 was actually up Broadway, in Lower Manhattan.

    It would seem a little odd to be parading up 5th Avenue since (except for the relatively quiet blocks north of 135th Street) 5th Avenue is one-way DOWNtown. However, in all fairness, the annual St Patricks Day Parade does in fact go up Fifth Avenue from 45th Street to 86th Street.

    • Travis

      I helped edit the piece. DJ originally had it right — the parade was up Broadway. Fifth Avenue was my change, and as it turns out, it was wrong. The fault, and the apologies, are mine.

      • Anonymous

        Finally, an advisor and mentor that is diligent and responsible.

  • Anonymous

    You have to wonder why if “Yeah that’s me” is such a scholar of journalism he couldn’t figure out that this is an opinion piece and not a news report. This is Mr. Bettencourt’s opinion and as an American he is entitled to it.

  • Anonymous

    Seems like some of our Democrat friends are so afraid the DJ is planning some sort of comeback that they want to pick a part everything he writes and throw in a nasty shot or two while they are at it. Remember people every setback is a setup for a comeback and some are scared stiff that the voters will someday forgive DJ and give him another shot… Be afraid Democrats.. be very afraid!

  • Anonymous

    Goodness, I sure hope we can avoid partisanship here. This is a very well written tribute but this isn’t about DJ. This is about remembering the service and contributions of a great American patriot, General Schwarzkopf. Can’t we hold the bickering?

  • Anonymous

    VERY well written tribute. Great job, D.J.

  • Brian Murphy

    Good article. Thanks for the tribute.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brandon.giuda J Brandon Giuda

    Bettencourt seeks to identify the character traits that elevated General Schwartzkopf (a West Point graduate) to greatness, but misses the single most important leadership component: INTEGRITY. Integrity is the foundation upon which our service academies build the character of the men and women who lead our armed forces, many of whom go on to serve with honor and distinction in the public sector after retirement. The Honor Codes at each of the Service Academies are very similar – at the Naval Academy it is, “Midshipmen do not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do.”
    If only more public servants would adhere to this code, our nation would not be in the dire straits in which we find ourselves today. There is no question what General Schwarzkopf would have thought of Bettencourt’s dishonorable conduct while serving as a member of the NH House of Representatives – behavior that only happened a short seven months ago.

    J. Brandon Giuda
    NH Rep. 2010-2012
    US Naval Academy, ’81
    Capt. (ret.), USNR

    • Anonymous

      I’m glad you raise the issue of INTEGRITY, former Representative Giuda. After all, hypocrisy is judging others while blindly deceiving yourself about your own self-serving motives. You proposed damming the Suncook River and spending $7 million of taxpayer money to “fix” the river. Why in your estimation does the river need fixing? Because your multimillion dollar home building project will destroy wetlands that normally store storm water. How much wetland? Probably at least 20 acres that feed the Suncook River. No one really knows because you have forbidden the Conservation Committee and others to view your land and have exhorted your neighbors to do likewise. It was around this time that you began to express interest in running for State Representative. Coincidence? It’s too bad General Schwarzkopf isn’t here to share his thoughts with us about your behavior. Perhaps it is why you were not re-elected.

    • Travis

      Quite in contrast to your evident self-image of upholding General Schwarzkopf’s ideals, the General would sooner have died than publicly go out of his way to gratuitously denigrate a former colleague. Real leaders don’t do that. Would Bill Belichik ever get up at a press conference and make himself look petty in order to score some zinger against Bill Parcells? He’d sooner burn his hoodie! Always remember Dick Cheney’s Funeral Address: “If Ronald Reagan ever uttered a cynical, or cruel, or selfish word, the moment went unrecorded.”

      • C. dog e. doG

        And so the great history eraser commences its grande sweep to wipe out man’s sordid pettiness.
        – C. dog

    • C. dog e. doG

      Tru dat, Rep. Brandon. At the very least, we would have had far fewer el Presidentés, starting with BozObama thru read his hips Bush I.
      – C. dog

  • Dutchie35

    DJ… Please keep on moving forward. Stay positive and keep on writing, You took responsibility for your actions and that in inself shows character and integrity. You are a remarkable young man and one mistake will not define you. Keep your head high and keep going.