General H. Norman Schwarzkopf – In Memoriam
Retired four-star U.S. Army General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, died December 27, 2012, at his home in Tampa, Florida. In 1991, he commanded the U.S.–led coalition that smashed Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. His quick temper earned him the nickname “Stormin’ Norman,” which fit well with his success in the 100-hour war against Iraq; however, he did not care for the name.
Armchair General magazine published an article on Gen. Schwarzkopf in its August-September 2006 edition. We republish that article here as a tribute to a commander who has been described as “an American original,” “a soldier’s soldier,” and, in the words of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, “one of the great military giants of the 20th century.”
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Commander Dossier: General H. Norman Schwartzkopf
Commanding a tenuous, untested international military coalition, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf attacked a numerically superior, veteran army and achieved one of history’s most stunning victories. He had been preparing for that moment since childhood.
He was born Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., on August 22, 1934, in Pennington, New Jersey, but legally changed his name to simply H. Norman Schwarzkopf.
His father, a West Point graduate, had organized the New Jersey state police in 1921 and spearheaded the investigation of the “crime of the century,” the kidnapping and murder of aviator Charles A. Lindbergh’s baby. He instilled in his son from an early age the West Point motto, “Duty, Honor, Country.”
Young Schwarzkopf’s mother, the former Ruth Bowman, taught him tolerance and respect for all people. Tragically, she became an alcoholic with a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality after her husband went to Iran as a colonel in World War II to help funnel Lend-Lease supplies to America’s ally, the Soviet Union. Their son learned to compartmentalize his feelings and became, in his own words, “self-contained and independent.”
At age 12, after the war, he spent a year in Iran where he learned respect for Islam and affection for Middle Easterners. His father was in charge of developing the Shah’s security forces.
He followed his father’s footsteps to West Point, graduated as a second lieutenant on June 5, 1956, and requested service in the infantry because he was impressed with its élan. His military heroes were Alexander the Great, Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman, “muddy boots” commanders who shared their men’s trials.
After earning his paratrooper’s badge with the 101st Airborne, Schwarzkopf spent two years in Berlin beginning in 1959, but in 1964, he requested leave from a teaching obligation at West Point to serve in Vietnam and became an advisor to the South Vietnamese Airborne Brigade.
While still a captain, he infuriated a colonel when he canceled an attack because none of the promised support was available. His superior backed his decision. He was wounded on two occasions and, as a lieutenant colonel, entered a minefield to rescue a wounded soldier.
He became so angry with anti-war protesters that he and his sister Ruth, a peace activist, didn’t speak to each other for years. He was also contemptuous of officers he considered to be self-serving or incompetent, putting their careers ahead of men’s lives in Vietnam. He later publicly denounced “body count” as a corrupting influence that forced Army officers to lie about enemy casualties.
Dark years, tough decisions
Following Vietnam, the United States Army stumbled for several years, trying to regain its sense of self and purpose. Schwarzkopf considered resigning, but he stayed in hopes of being part of the solution.
His demands for excellence and his fiery temper led to nicknames like “Colonel Nazi,” “Stormin’ Norman” and “The Bear.” He could be difficult to work under, but he never bore grudges and always looked out for his troops. The Bear was part grizzly, part teddy.
In October 1983, he was in charge of the ground troops during Operation Urgent Fury, the evacuation of 224 American college students from Grenada after a Communist-leaning coup. The mission succeeded, but it was poorly planned and Schwarzkopf constantly had to improvise. Learning from Urgent Fury’s mistakes, the armed services remade themselves during the 1980s.
Called to the Mideast
On August 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army invaded neighboring Kuwait. Schwarzkopf was by then a full four-star general in charge of the Army’s strategic planning center for the Mideast. Soon, he was leading an uneasy coalition of American, European and Arabic troops assembled to prevent the invasion of Saudi Arabia and liberate Kuwait. Cultural differences constantly threatened to unravel their alliance.
He was determined to lose as few lives as possible while carrying out his mission. His enemy at times outnumbered him four-to-one, and he flatly told the White House he needed more troops. He got them but was still significantly outnumbered, and the opposing army was filled with veterans of the Iran-Iraq War.
For Iraqi, that war had primarily been one of static defense against a technologically inferior enemy. Schwarzkopf used this experience against his opponents by preparing a campaign to knock out their eyes with air power and “smart” weapons, followed by a ground war of rapid maneuver.
The 100-hour war
Positioning troops to create the illusion he planned a straight-ahead land/sea invasion of Kuwait, he instead sent forces racing as much as 530 miles northwest to sweep around the Iraqis’ static defenses while other coalition troops attacked into Kuwait to pin the enemy in place.
Called Operation Desert Storm, it was the fastest, deepest single attack in America’s military history, penetrating 200 miles into Iraq. Hussein’s military was shattered, Kuwait liberated. The ground war lasted just 100 hours. Coalition casualties were far below what anyone, including Schwarzkopf, had expected.
His lifetime of preparation culminated in a spectacular triumph.
Assessment of Schwarzkopf:
- A “muddy boots” commander
- Experienced in combat and administrative leadership
- Noted for quick temper
- Culturally sensitive, militarily decisive
About the Author
Gerald D. Swick is a writer and historian whose works have appeared in The Encyclopedia of World War II: A Political, Social and Military History, Lincoln Lore, and other publications.
In the Eye of the Storm: The Life of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf. Roger Cohen and Claudio Gatti. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1991
General H. Norman Schwarzkopf The Autobiography: It Doesn’t Take a Hero. Written with Peter Petre. Linda Grey Bantam Books. 1992
Desert Triumph, video documentary by CBS News, including interviews with Desert Storm veterans, 2003