Some senior American military leaders have chosen not to write their personal story. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz and General of the Army George C. Marshall come immediately to mind. General Colin Powell, in contrast, has published both a previous autobiography (of which I proudly have a signed copy), and now a more personal memoir. "It Worked for Me" is a hybrid. It combines anecdotes reminiscent of Dwight Eisenhower's "At Ease" with an inspirational life message and an analytical approach to leadership gleaned and honed over more than a half century of service to his country. As he says in his introduction, you can read it whole (sequentially chapter by chapter) or graze at random. I chose the former approach, and found it a tightly written and easily consumed. Like all good military men, he makes his exposition clear and concise: there is no confusion about meaning or intent. At one point he comments on the importance of precision in the use of the written word; what he includes (or doesn't) has significance. His few short and muted comments about colleagues in the Bush administration are all the more interesting for their understatement. His considerably more detailed (but nonetheless circumspect) discussion of his "notorious" United Nations speech in support of military action against Iraq is framed in the context of the most egregious intelligence failure in recent American history; he admits personal blame, but does not spare others from analytical criticism. At one point he wonders why his own personal statements in favour of war should have carried so much more weight (or be so much more remembered) than the same arguments made by others in the Bush administration; he does not provide an answer to this rhetorical question. What he does not say (but is abundantly clear) is that the answer lies in the profound trust that people invested in Secretary of State Powell (more than anyone else in government at the time), because of his upright character, because of his perceived honesty, and because of his obsession with truth, no matter how unpalatable. These qualities are all on open display in this book. If you make a mistake (and he acknowledges he has to live with the mistake of his UN speech), you can only move on by facing it directly and learning from it. Powell's humility in not acknowledging the the degree to which the American people (and the rest of the world for that matter) trusted him reminds me of the touching story of George C. Marshall: at a British ceremonial event where he was representing the United States at the end of his career, all those present spontaneously rose in his honour; and his response was to ask why eveyone was standing! That spoke well of Marshall as a man, and a similar humility is an attactive quality that speaks well of Powell too!
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