It Doesn’t Take A Hero

The Book of the Week is “It Doesn’t Take A Hero” by General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, written with Peter Petre, published in 1992.

Born in August 1934 in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, Schwarzkopf as an adolescent moved to Tehran in Iran to be with his father, a military bigwig. He then became an expat in other worldly venues– a boarding school in Geneva in Switzerland, more schooling in Frankfurt in Germany, Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania, and finally, the then-tuition-free West Point.

Schwarzkopf was accepted by one of America’s premier military colleges, even though he wasn’t a spoiled rich kid who had connections. It was July 1952. Culturally of its time– the school took a photo, rear and side, of each new (male) cadet naked except for a jockstrap. As part of this humiliation ritual, for his first full year, the cadet posted the photo in his locker.

Schwarzkopf’s military training consisted of the usual divestiture socialization, and an honor code. The latter was a vow of ethical behavior: “…a cadet does not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate anybody who does…” The year prior to his matriculation, the school had suffered a cheating scandal– the first in its history– after which ninety cadets, including the whole football team, were expelled. Tutors had revealed copies of exams in advance.

Schwarzkopf truly believed in Vietnamization, and cared about South Vietnamese soldiers, not just American soldiers, who were killed in the war. In 1965, he got down and dirty with the men under his command in Duc Co, in the Pleiku area. His first combat tour was crowded with incident: he participated in seven major operations, was wounded, survived malaria and dysentery, and was awarded two Silver Stars and three Bronze Stars.

Schwarzkopf enjoyed his tour because he had skilled, cooperative– the cream of the crop– Vietnamese military officers working with him, who successfully executed their missions. He didn’t know that most everywhere else, that situation was a rarity. So he thought the war was worth fighting.

When Schwarzkopf returned to West Point to fulfill his obligation to teach, the school had trouble finding quality students because no one wanted to be sent to Vietnam. In summer 1969, when he returned to Vietnam, he encountered a combination of the novel “Catch-22” and the TV sitcom “F-Troop.” But it was reality– needless deaths and ruined lives. Not without numerous difficulties, he whipped his subordinates into shape.

In late 1973, after eighteen months of laborious study to determine which military bases should close due to budget cuts, Schwarzkopf and the other naive members of his task force learned the hard way about the American government. The task force had done a whole lot of work and wasted a whole lot of time for nothing. Their recommendations were ignored.

To add insult to injury, Schwarzkopf was passed over for promotion: “The whole thing had been rigged and I hadn’t seen it. Obviously Walker had had the job from the start; O’Shei and I had just been there for show.”

In 1990, Schwarzkopf did what he was best known for: commanding troops in the Middle East after Iraq invaded Kuwait. He did the planning to send battalions of all kinds to Saudi Arabia: tank, mechanized-infantry, artillery, ordnance, transportation, medical, signal, and helicopters; plus engineers, technicians and armorers.

A Pentagon official told Schwarzkopf that the United States should not want to destroy Iraq as a nation, because it would continue to need it as a stabilizing influence on Iran. The goal was simply to cripple its ability to wage war. Iraq’s neighbors, feeling threatened, wanted to teach it a lesson, as it had committed a major sin in attacking a fellow Arab nation. France had a thorny problem on its hands– it supplied weaponry to both Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

Anyway, top American government officials, including then-secretary of state Dick Cheney, watched the PBS miniseries “The Civil War” which showed fighting men’s brutalities and traumas in the United (?) States of the 1860’s. The emotional impact of that video should have deterred all humans from going to war. Nevertheless, as is well known, twelve years later, sociopathic chickenhawks had taken charge of the American government.

Even Schwarzkopf, as goody-goody as he made himself out to be, was a bit of a mythmaker. He wrote, “To our delight, the Patriots [missiles]… knocked the Scud from the sky… eleven interceptions claimed by Patriot batteries…”

Schwarzkopf stood by his assessment that the Patriot was great at defending military targets, as far as he was told. Perhaps he got bad information and believed it, as happened in February 1991, when ground troops were sent into Kuwait. He received “…erroneous ‘mission accomplished’ reports… The fact that two days had passed and no correction had been made only made matters worse. I felt as if I’d been lied to.” Nevertheless, the Iraqis captured about fifty (yes) POWs of varying nationalities, while Iraq’s enemies captured about eighty thousand (yes) Iraqi POWs.

Read the book to learn much more about: the author’s military and personal adventures in Alaska, Mainz in Germany, Grenada (hint– “… an abysmal lack of accurate intelligence, major deficiencies in communications, flareups of interservice rivalry, interference by higher headquarters in battlefield discussions, our alienation of the press…”) Washington, D.C., Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and his family.