General Norman Schwarzkopf (born 1934) earned the moniker Stormin' Norman during the Persian Gulf War, when he became famous for planning a strategic military strike that almost immediately crippled Iraqi forces.
"As a commander you have to walk that difficult balance between accomplishing your mission and taking care of the men and women whose lives have been entrusted to you," People magazine quoted General Norman Schwarzkopf as saying. The four-star army general who led allied forces to victory in the Persian Gulf became the first bona fide U.S. military hero since the era of General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower." I don't consider myself dovish and I certainly don't consider myself hawkish," General Schwarzkopf told Eric Schmitt of the New York Times. "Maybe I would describe myself as owlish—that is, wise enough to understand that you want to do everything possible to avoid war then be ferocious enough to do whatever is necessary to get it over with as quickly as possible in victory." At 6'3" and 240 pounds, the general is a grizzly bear of a man with a teddy bear side, a rare blend, as People magazine put it, of "martial mastery and human sensitivity."
Commanded Over 500,000 Troops
As he commanded an allied force of over 500,000 troops in a quick mop-up of Iraqi forces, the commander emerged as a TV-ready hero perfect for the nightly news—a smooth composite of traditional and contemporary concepts of masculinity and leadership. "Norman Schwarzkopf is America's hero," trumpeted 20/20, ABC-TV's news magazine show. Described in appearance as a "fatherly meatpacker" by Newsweek, a "230 pound pussy cat" by one supermarket tabloid, and "Stormin' Norman" by innumerable headline writers, the General seemed to spend most of his time in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf war explaining himself to America. "I've been scared in every war I've ever been in," he told Barbara Walters, who interviewed him on 20/20. "Any man who doesn't cry scares me a little." A second-generation general, he told Insight magazine's Richard Mackenzie that his first priority in the war was protecting the well-being of his troops: "I have loved soldiers since my first platoon, the first I ever commanded."
Although Iraqi resistance crumbled faster than expected, the general did not claim tactical genius in orchestrating the victory. Although he was able to keep the enemy in the dark about allied troop position, he attributed victory largely to the poor quality of Iraqi military leadership, training, and morale. The enemy's forces, he said to Newsweek's Tom Mathers, simply were inadequate. "This was a lousy outfit. Lousy." His famous one-word answer when asked his opinion of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein? "Hah."
After the war ended Schwarzkopf had a more elaborate description. Ticking off Saddam's deficiencies on the fingers of one hand, the general declared the Iraqi commander was "neither a strategist, nor is he schooled in the operational art, nor is he a tactician, nor is he a general, nor is he a soldier." Having run out of fingers, he added sarcastically, "Other than that he is a great military man." Schwarzkopf also blamed Saddam's penchant for shooting his own soldiers. "I gotta tell you," he remarked to Newsweek, "a soldier doesn't fight very hard for a leader who is going to shoot him on a whim."
In the years following the war, other issues arose for Schwarzkoph, namely evasive illnesses suffered by many Persian Gulf War veterans from the U.S. The medical problems suffered by U.S. forces are believed to be caused by biological and chemical weapons. Some officials claim that the disorders could have been caused by a chemical warfare antidote administered to soldiers by the U.S. military without approval. On January 29, 1997, Schwarzkopf told senators he knew nothing of the war's most notorious nerve gas release or that an antidote given to half a million soldiers lacked government approval. Government investigations, including examinations of Schwarzkoph's war log, have not uncovered an answer and medical disorders associated with the Persian Gulf remain a mystery.
Earlier in the war, especially at moments when the United States' victory seemed less than certain, the general displayed the four-star temper he tried to keep under wraps. Reporters who wrote stories he thought were less than favorable suddenly found their access to sources had dried up as fast as rainfall in the desert sand. One reporter who questioned Schwarzkopf's battlefield tactics got his answer fired back in the form of a question; "You ever been in a minefield?" Despite his thin skin for bad press, and little taste for what he saw as an argumentative and ill-informed media disdainful of security issues, he displayed a sure touch when he did see a use for the media. Dramatically dropping to his knees when he arrived to liberate Kuwait and bottling Kuwaiti sand to take home to his family, Schwarzkopf set a new definition of photo opportunity. On network prime-time TV he told Barbara Walters he would not rule out running for President: "Never say never."
Grew up an Army Brat
Born in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1934, the future war hero grew up an army brat, the only son of World War I general Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf (his father decided against passing on the name Herbert). The elder Schwarzkopf was between army stints when his son was born, serving as the founding commander of the New Jersey state police. In this capacity he had tracked down and arrested Bruno Richard Hauptmann, convicted of murder in the celebrated Charles Lindbergh baby kidnapping case, and the notoriety had brought him a weekly spot as narrator of a popular radio program, Gangbusters. One of his son's earliest memories is staying up late to listen to the broadcasts.
When world war broke out again, his father rejoined the Army. The remaining Schwarzkopf household was predominantly female, a fact the future general recalls as bearing no small impact on his developing personality. "I wasn't your normal, tough, macho young boy," he told Insight. "Maybe it was the influence of my mother and my sisters, the fact that I had this responsibility on my shoulders. I can remember being pushed around a lot. I can't really say why. I learned to hate the bully. I learned to hate the playground group that went around pushing other people around. I never ran with that bunch as a young boy." Later on he boarded at the Bordentown Military Institute near his home-town.
After the war ended his father was shipped out to Iran to establish a police force for the Shah, a strong ally. Young Norman went over to join his father in Teheran, and stayed several months before the rest of the family came over. He recalls being impressed by the admiration his father received from his subordinates. He himself admired his father as a war hero, much like General Eisenhower. "My father was a very honorable man," he told Insight. "He epitomized the best [West] Point graduate of his day that's totally committed to a sense of duty, totally committed to a sense of honor, totally dedicated to his country, and a selfless servant."
He did have another role model: Alexander the Great. He told Charlayne Hunter-Gault of public television's MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour, "When I was a young man, everything was shades of black and white, and Alexander the Great was one of my heroes, because he conquered all the known world by the time he was twenty-eight." (His more enduring role models are two later generals, Ulysses S. Grant and Creighton Abrams, the latter his Vietnam commander, "because they didn't worry about who got the credit. They just got the job done.")
Schwarzkopf followed his father on other assignments. The military was helping to rebuild Europe under the Marshall Plan, and the general was shuttled from country to country for the next five years; first Italy, then Germany, then Switzerland. His classmates included Iranians, displaced Jews, Germans, Italians, Yugoslavians, and various other ethnic groups and nationalities. The experience permanently broadened his mind, he recalled years later to Insight. "I came to understand that you judge a person as an individual. I also learned that the American way is great, but it's not the only way. There are a lot of other ways things are done that are just as good, and some of them are better."
Began Military Career
He eventually returned to the United States and entered West Point, as his father had done before him. He graduated 42nd out of 485 in the class of l956. Upon graduation he joined the army as a second lieutenant in the infantry, attending the Infantry Officer Basic course and Airborne School at the Army's Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. In March l957 he was sent to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he served as a platoon leader and later as an executive officer in the 2nd Airborne Battle Group, the 187th. That assignment lasted about two years.
In July 1959 Schwarzkopf was sent to Germany for a year to serve as a platoon leader in the 6th Infantry. The following year he was named aide-de-camp to the commanding general of the Berlin Command. In September 1961 he shipped back to Fort Benning to continue advanced infantry officer training, then enrolled at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and pursued a master's program in guided missile engineering, graduating in June 1964. He returned to West Point and taught in the department of Mechanics for a year.
Then came the Vietnam War. In June 1965 he was sent over with an airborne brigade and served his 300 days' duty in what the army calls an "advisory capacity." He returned to a staff job in Washington, then returned to West Point to resume teaching there. He was back in the classroom as a student the next year, this time at General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He returned to army headquarters for another staff job supporting efforts in Vietnam, then in December 1969 shipped over there for a second tour of duty as commander of the 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry, 198th Infantry Brigade of the 23rd Infantry Division. During this stint he was awarded two Purple Hearts and three Silver Stars.
Reputation Tarnished by Casualties
His reputation, however, was tarnished by casualties, including eight deaths, that occurred as a result of "friendly fire" from U.S. artillery. The callous way the army handled the incidents gave rise to a public sense that the army had lost control over the situation. Form letters that went out under the name of Lt. Colonel Schwarzkopf implicated him in the debacle. The incidents were recounted in the book Friendly Fire, published in 1976, and fictionalized by Hollywood in a feature film that appeared soon thereafter.
Schwarzkopf returned home from Vietnam livid over the way Washington had handled its part of the entire war effort. The war, he felt, had been lost by the politicians on the battlegrounds of the media. He told Insight's Richard Mackenzie, "The United States military did not lose the war in Vietnam period. In the two years I was in Vietnam I was in many battles. I was never in a defeat—came pretty close a couple of times, but we were never defeated. The outcome of the Vietnam War was a political defeat, but it was not a military defeat."
Back in Washington, the soldier alternated administrative work and advanced military and technical training for several years. In October 1974 the lieutenant colonel was made deputy commander of the 172nd Infantry Brigade in Fort Richardson, Alaska, was appointed a full colonel in 1975, and made commander of the First Brigade, 9th Infantry Division, in Fort Lewis, Washington. He retained that post nearly two years.
In July 1978 he was sent to Hawaii to serve two years at the Pacific Command post at Camp H. M. Smith; when he returned to Washington he was made a general. In August 1980 he shipped out to Europe for two years, as assistant division commander of the 8th Infantry Division. Back in Washington he handled administrative work for a year, then was assigned to Fort Stewart, Georgia, as deputy commanding general of the 24th Infantry Division. From this post he served as deputy commander of the U.S. invasion of Grenada.
Schwarzkopf's high-visibility performance in Grenada did not escape attention from the Pentagon. After another year of staff work he was assigned to I Corps at Fort Lewis, as commanding general. Then, in August 1987, he returned to the capitol as senior army member of the Military Staff Committee of the United Nations. In November 1988 he was appointed full general and moved to the top of the U.S. Central Command. In this capacity he began planning U.S. military strategies in the event of a Persian Gulf showdown.
Much of the general's popularity rests on his family-man image. The general is married to the former Brenda Holsinger, whom he met at a West Point football game in 1967, when she was a 26-year-old TWA flight attendant. The couple married in 1968; they have three children plus a sizable household menagerie: a black Labrador retriever, a cat, a gerbil, and two parakeets. According to an account in People, the General's hobbies include hunting and fishing; dining on a thick cut of steak, rare, followed by Breyer's mint-chocolate chip ice cream. He likes to watch TV, tuning in Jeopardy! and Cheers as well as Clint Eastwood westerns and Charles Bronson flicks. To this list, he says, you can add opera. (During his senior year at West Point he conducted the academy choir.) The difference between conducting music and troops, he quipped to a People reporter, is that in war "the orchestra starts playing, and some son of a bitch climbs out of the orchestra pit with a bayonet and starts chasing you around the stage."
Further Reading on Norman Schwarzkopf
Insight, March 18, 1991.
New York Times, January 28, 1991.
People, March 11, 1991.
USA Today, January 30, 1997.