Summary from Goodreads:
He set his star by a simple motto: duty, honor, country. Only rarely does history grant a single individual the ability, personal charisma, moral force, and intelligence to command the respect, admiration, and affection of an entire nation. But such a man is General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the Allied Forces in the Gulf War. Now, in this refreshingly candid and typically outspoken autobiography, General Schwarzkopf reviews his remarkable life and career: the events, the adventures, and the emotions that molded the character and shaped the beliefs of this uniquely distinguished American leader.
Throughout American Military history, it is not always the soldier that has won the most battles that is the most remembered; it is instead the color of their character. Names like Patton and Eisenhower come to mind for being such colorful and fascinating human beings. That is not to take away either’s accomplishments as both were profound military tacticians but again, it would seem the American psyche memorizes those that made an impact for their antics and disposition. I am a history enthusiast to my core, as many of you might know by now, and am looking forward to my career as a Historian. Along the course of my life, I have encountered many a fascinating and interesting characters in military history. Patton is one of my favorites for a plethora of different reasons. One need not look any further than his gift of the gab. The man could talk and he has many memorable quotes: “A pint of sweat, saves a gallon of blood.” or one of my personal favorites, “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”
However, this review is not about the grand architect of war that was General George S. Patton. This review is about a man whose exploits are more in line with the modern state of warfare and was a general himself; General Norman Schwarzkopf. Stormin Norman, which he was aptly called, was highly regarded for his many years of service during the Vietnam War and his extraordinary military campaign during Operation Desert Shield/Storm. It was his expert military prowess and successful campaign against Iraq in the early 90’s which made him a national hero. He was also a grand and accomplished diplomat.
His autobiography, ‘It Doesn’t Take a Hero’, is written from birth to his retirement and is a sweeping and impressive account of one of the most impressive military leaders in American History. Schwarzkopf emulated his life after that of his father. Although he would eventually become a hero in America, Schwarzkopf’s hero had always been his father and that connection is established early on in the book. His father was heavily active in the military in his youth which gave Norman his first taste at military life. He was enraptured by the idea of passionate devotion to God, Country and Family, in that order. I cannot begin to stress how important the elder Schwarzkopf was in Norman’s life. Many years after his passing, Stormin Norman (a nickname he earned later on in his military career, which is just so cool to say) spoke highly of his father and gave himself reason to believe his father’s spirit watched over him throughout his successful military career.
I can sit here and extrapolate all of the important details about his book and, in a sense, rehash what was already so brilliantly written, but wouldn’t that defeat the purpose? Instead, I view it of prime importance to explain why this book was written. Schwarzkopf was never motivated by money or fame; his duty was to his country and to his family. In the beginning stages of the book, once his military career took flight, it would seem as though the book was a bit preachy. Schwarzkopf made it a point to stress how important it was for his father to take him to Saudi Arabia and spend a significant amount of his formative years overseas. Spending a portion of his youth in the Middle East did prove vital to his most memorable moments in Desert Storm but I still felt as though he was trying to reach out and lecture me at points. However, as the book progressed, Schwarzkopf’s true intention for writing this book came out. At a certain point in his career, Schwarzkopf realized he wasn’t entirely supportive of the line of thinking the military followed and even considered leaving, which would have devastated his father. He was at a crossroads; does he stick with something that he is not entirely in favor with in order to make his own personal hero proud, or does he follow the convictions of his own heart and bail? He decided that although he was not entirely on board with the military’s way of doing things, he wanted to make a change. To paraphrase, ‘you can’t change a damn thing by sitting on the sidelines. I have to get in there and do something about it.’ And do something he did.
Schwarzkopf was a big and powerful man. Broad shoulders and towering stature, his presence alone commanded respect but his methodology of handling his troops was not one consisting of an iron fist. He was a fair and reasonable man but expected nothing but the best from his men. He was not a barbarian and bloodshed was not his first course of action. As evident in his dealings in Vietnam and in Desert Storm, opening up lines of communication were essential to any situation. He was a brilliant tactician and always seemed to pick the brains of those in command. When eventually he achieved the rank of General, this came in handy. He was a student of the world and never limited himself to other worldly views; Schwarzkopf was the epitome of evolution. I did mention my love of Patton; these two gentlemen couldn’t be a more stark contrast to one another. Patton was a loud mouth, egotistical, stubborn son of a bitch whilst Schwarzkopf was level headed, fair and virtuous man. What they both had in common was their genius. I cannot stress enough how brilliant both men were, on and off the battlefield. Patton struggled with a learning disability but eat, breathed and slept war and battle. Schwarzkopf was akin to the poster boy for the military. He was a fit star athlete and always attained exceptional grades but both always saw it necessary to constantly learn the art of war.
This book read as an odyssey; from birth to retirement. I was very thankful to be a part of this journey, if only through a literary means. It was well written and masterfully worded. It was so human and showed many different sides of this hero that never considered himself such; he only considered himself a loyal soldier, a loving husband and a devoted father. For anyone wanting to read a great piece of military literature, I would most certainly suggest picking this book up. Preachy at times, it still is a fascinating read about one of the most powerful military figures in American History.