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A soldiers story...
on January 1, 2003
"It doesn't take a Hero" is the remarkable story of a remarkable man, the title of which comes from a quote Schwarzkopf gave during an interview with Barbara Walters in 1991; "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."
Schwarzkopf's story is very different from his compatriot, the now Secretary of State, Colin Powell. The two men are of completely different temperaments, and their tales are told in ways that reflect their personalities. Powell's book is rather dry, with the occasional flash of self-depreciatory humor... and you get the feeling that this was included on the advice of his co-author!
"It doesn't take a Hero" is full of blunt, sometimes brutal, soldiers wit; one of the funniest examples concerns a Sergeant who swore relentlessly, and had to tell his assembled troops that they were now being commanded by a Colonel - not Schwarzkopf by the way - who didn't take to profanity in any way, shape, or form. The sergeant lined them up, and cursing with practically every other word, told them to cut out the ... swearing or else! Although this may look terribly contrived, when you read the book, you simply know that it happened, just the way Schwarzkopf says it did.
When you read Powell's story you respect him for what he achieved, mainly his rise from immensely humble origins to high political office, but when you read Schwarzkopf's, you can't help but like the man, warts and all.
As well as the brutal humor, Schwarzkopf is also brutally honest about his home life. He came from a well-to-do middle class family, his father was a West Point graduate, who later led the hunt for the Lindbergh kidnappers, and served President Roosevelt on a special assignment in Iran between the Great Wars. They lived in the best house in their town, and even employed a maid, but there was a dark family secret... his mother's alcoholism. The hurt and the pain this caused himself, his father and sisters, is dealt with openly and honestly, and you cannot help but feel that the inclusion of this was a very difficult decision for him to make.
The part of the book that deals with his duties in Vietnam is very well written, and like Powell, he also rails against the stupidity and arrogance of the politicians and 'Brass' who ordered young men to lay down their lives in that far away land for no good reason. And like Powell, he became equally convinced that he had to do something to change the army from within; it was either that or resign. In that respect he and Powell were remarkably similar in their thoughts and actions.
But far and away the most interesting part of the book is his telling of the Gulf War, Desert Storm. It is probably true to say that without "Stormin'" Norman, there wouldn't have been a, successful, Gulf War. His experiences in the Middle East as a young man, he lived with his father when he was posted to Iran, gave him a unique insight into the Arab world that served him personally, and the coalition as a whole, very well indeed.
He was able to play on the links his father had with Arab Royalty, and then forged his own links with the current Saudi Royal Family, working with Crown Princes on a first name basis to get things done, everything from releasing endless millions of dollars in payments to the US - what is the daily rental on an aircraft carrier?! - to arranging for "tent cities" to be erected to shield the incoming troops from the scorching desert sun.
But for me, the most interesting aspect of the Gulf War section was the politics of the coalition, especially in the Arab world, something that was almost completely missing in Colin Powell's telling. In this crucial, although mostly unknown area of the War, Schwarzkopf's experiences in the Middle East were invaluable. Middle Eastern politics are a lethal mine field at the best of times - us Brits have had our fingers burnt on more than one occasion over the years! - and pouring hundreds of thousands of free thinking, free drinking, Western troops of endless religious and moral persuasions into the autocracy that is the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, should have been a recipe for utter disaster!
Schwarzkopf's deft handling of the endless 'difficulties' involving religious services, the consumption of alcohol, the reading of magazines of dubious 'artistic' merit, even the receiving of Christmas cards and the erection of Christmas decorations, were handled with a skill and subtlety that one would not have thought a mere 'soldier' possible. And then of course there was the Israeli question. The one thing above all else that would have blown the coalition apart would have been Israel attacking Iraq in retaliation for the Scuds that fell on Israeli territory. Although much of the efforts to keep Israel out of the action were handled direct from Washington, Schwarzkopf's handling of the Saudi's in particular, on the ground as it were, was masterful.
"It doesn't take a Hero" is a fascinating tale, a real inspiration, it shows what one man can achieve through clear thinking, a positive attitude, boundless enthusiasm, and a profound love, not only of his own country, but of mankind. I would recommend it highly.