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Customer Review

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A journey not yet finished., December 28, 2002
This review is from: My American Journey: An Autobiography (Hardcover)
"My American Journey," by Colin Powell, with Joseph E. Persico is the story of Colin Powell... so far. Born in Harlem to Jamaican immigrant parents, he started out as a totally average child, but through sheer hard work and dogged determination, he now walks with Kings and Presidents.
The book is well written, and, if a little dry at times, does exhibit flashes of self-depreciating humor on the part of Colin Powell, such as the story of his running out of gas on the Washington Beltway. This happened when he had become a publicly recognized figure, and, at the time, desperately tried to hide his identity from the traffic cop who gave him a pint of gas to help get him off the road! (He ran out of gas again before he could find a gas station!) Or the time he was "arrested" as a suspected terrorist in the Pentagon car park... he was showing a colleague an antique WWII Japanese rifle in the trunk of his car!
But Colin Powell, although now a seasoned and practiced political mover and shaker, is first and foremost a soldier who loves his country, but is not blind to it's faults. His military career started in the ROTC, and it was there that he discovered something in himself that told him a career in the service of his country was his calling.
Powell came from an ethnically diverse neighborhood, and was shocked at his first taste of racial discrimination in his late teens, but he was determined that he would not let the bigotry of some of his fellow Americans dictate the course of his life. The Military was an equal opportunities employer, a situation he took full advantage of, and he rose rapidly through the ranks. He served in Germany, helping to hold back the "Red Hoards," and in his early 20's was part of a detail sent to guard the Army's pride and joy... an Atomic Cannon!
Army life is presented honestly and forthrightly, from grunt work, to training, to accomplishments small and large, the forced separation from his wife and family, to his first shattering experience of having a fellow soldier die in his arms - the result of a "Friendly Fire" incident - to the political maneuvering that often accompanies high office. He has harsh words to say about the Vietnam War, mostly aimed at the political "leadership" of the time who blundered into the conflict without any clear goals or expectations.
He has been, and still is, at the heart of the decision making process that has shaped our World, for better or ill. I would describe Colin Powell as a genuine Patriot; he has put himself in the firing line to state his views and thoughts about the Armed Services and their place in American life. He has campaigned for recognition of the tens of thousands of black and ethnic soldiers who have served this country in its time of need, many of whom were disgracefully ignored, and he has campaigned to cut away at the wasteful practices that have bedeviled the services without improving its ability to function.
His political observations are also of great interest. He had served directly, at the time of writing, three Presidents, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and Bill Clinton. One of the most interesting, and extensive, parts of the book, is his telling of the events that led up to, and the prosecution of, the Gulf War. I learnt a great deal that I had not known before about the war, even though it had received saturation coverage in the UK media. Something that was confirmed for me was - a very strong rumor at the time - that Margaret Thatcher played a pivotal role in bolstering President Bush's resolve to go to war, and not to rely on sanctions and diplomacy alone, to oust the Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
The logistics of modern warfare are explored in some detail, and you really get a sense of what it took to assemble the multinational force. The only thing that disappointed about this part of the book was that there was very little exploration of the politics involved, which must have been hellish. There's some about the relationship between Bush and Thatcher, and even John Major, Margaret Thatcher's successor as British Prime Minister during the War, and quite a bit about the almost full-time political arm-twisting that went on to stop the Israeli's from getting involved. No Arab country could possibly have stood by and watched the Israeli's beating [up one] another Arab nation... even the despot Saddam!
He also shares with us the agonies he went through, trying to ensure that US forces weren't bogged down in the twin hellholes of Bosnia and Mogadishu. He saw them both as Vietnam-like situations, where the US could be sucked into internecine struggles that date back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. He could see no military "solution" to the age-old grievances, just an exercise in keeping the combatants apart, that could, and to an extent was, paid for with American blood. And once the mighty Americans had left? Well, the combatants would then cheerfully return to slaughtering each other as they had done for centuries.
The story of Colin Powell is not yet finished; he is, after all, the present Bush administration's Secretary of State! It is a fascinating tale, and one I would recommend highly.
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