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Norman Schwarzkopf Interview (page: 2 / 6)
Commander, Operation Desert Storm
What draws you to this career? This is a glamorous one of late for you, but years of life threatening work, tremendous responsibility that most of us can hardly imagine, and time away from your family.
What are the things that make this such a passion for you?
Norman Schwarzkopf: The challenge, and the sense of service. Perhaps the sense of service, more than the challenge. You know that you're serving something beyond yourself. You derive the reward from the fact that you are dedicating your life to serving your country.
Your sense of duty, which is obviously very powerful, where does it come from?
Norman Schwarzkopf: I think it comes from West Point, and my father. My father was a truly selfless public servant, both in his military career and in his police career. He believed very strongly in the motto of West Point, "Duty, Honor, Country." I learned the principles of duty, and honor and country at West Point, and duty was one of the most powerful. Robert E. Lee said, "Duty is the sublimest concept of them all." It's the sense of duty that drives you sometimes. It's the sense of duty that keeps you going sometimes when things get very, very rough. It's this attitude well, hey, somebody's got to do it. And if you don't, who will?
Your dad had such a strong influence on you. Did he live to see some of your great success?
Norman Schwarzkopf: No. He lived to see me graduate from West Point., and I can honestly say that was probably the proudest day of his life. But he died shortly thereafter, so he never saw his son go beyond the rank of lieutenant.
I take it that they were supportive of your career, though?
Norman Schwarzkopf: Oh, yeah, I think so. I could have gone in any branch of the service I wanted to. In those days, when you graduated from West Point, there was no Air Force Academy, so 20% of the class could go in the Air Force, if they wanted to. I've got to tell you, my father was absolutely appalled that I picked the infantry. I think he thought I was going to pick the Corps of Engineers, or go into the Air Force, or something hi-tech like that. When I picked the infantry, he never did really understand that.
I think he would have eventually.
Norman Schwarzkopf: Now he would have, sure. But at the time, I think he thought I was crazy.
Correct me if this is a legend. Your one time roommate, former General Leroy Suddath, insists that even at West Point, you predicted that you would lead an American army into combat, and probably in a decisive battle for the nation. Do you remember that?
Norman Schwarzkopf: That may be stretching it a little bit. But I will tell you this:
I did not come into the Army to be a lieutenant, or a captain, or a major. I always thought I was going to be a General. At least I intended to be a General. If I started pumping gas, I would want to be the CEO of Shell Oil. Okay? So I always aimed high, my sights were always set very high.
[ Key to Success ] Vision
I remember in the History of Military Art, which is a course that I loved at West Point, where you studied old bibles and everything else, I admired fellows like Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar and Napoleon. Not everything about them, certainly, because they had some very bad characteristics also, but I admired their accomplishments. Robert E. Lee, and Ulysses S. Grant, and right on up the line. It's funny, you almost admired the ancient ones more than the modern ones, because you didn't know much about the ancient ones, except their accomplishments.
Was Hannibal another one that you admired?
Norman Schwarzkopf: Hannibal of course, coming across the Alps with his elephants and defeating the Romans. And the most famous battle of all was the Battle of Cannae. Anybody who has ever studied military history knows this battle of annihilation. When it was over, they piled up the jewelry alone from the Romans that had been slain and it was mountains of jewelry.
Isn't there a danger that a General with your training, and expertise, and responsibility could suffer from bloodlust? From a desire to go to war?
Norman Schwarzkopf: I don't think so. I can't speak for other Generals, but the people I know are not that way.
So, I don't know of many Generals that are war mongers. There may have been in the past, but the modern Generals that I know are just the opposite. They will go to extreme steps to avoid war, because they know just how bad it is. There's not a General out there today who didn't go through the Vietnam experience.
Let's talk a little bit about your service in Vietnam. How long were you there?
Norman Schwarzkopf: Two years altogether. For a year in 1965, and then again in 1970.
Tell us about '65. How did that commission come about? Weren't you teaching at the time?
Norman Schwarzkopf: Yeah. After West Point I went to graduate school and got a Master's Degree. I returned to West Point as an instructor in Engineering Mechanics but more and more Army officers were being sent to Vietnam, mostly to be advisors to the Vietnamese. I had graduated from West Point to be an infantryman, not an instructor, and I felt that's where I belonged. So, I volunteered to go to Vietnam. And as luck would have it, I got to go that time.
I had a terrific experience over there. Probably one of the most self-fulfilling experiences I've ever had, because there was no gain in it for me at all. I was making a tremendous sacrifice for no personal gain. Sometimes that can be one of the most self-fulfilling experiences you ever have.
I went back to West Point to finish my teaching career, and went to Fort Leavenworth. I had gotten married in the meantime, but the war was still going on. I had learned a great deal in my first tour, and I felt, because I had learned so much, that perhaps I could save some lives by going back the second time. So I volunteered to go back a second time, and spent a year over there again.
On that second tour, you witnessed two very tragic incidents. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about them. In the book Friendly Fire, by C.D.B. Brian, it's recounted that you lost eight men.
Norman Schwarzkopf: Yeah, we were stretching out beyond the limits of our artillery, so we moved our artillery forward. Because one of the things that gave us an advantage over the enemy is we did have our artillery supported. So we never wanted to go outside the extreme range of the artillery.
And one night while they were firing the artillery, it just fell short and came in and killed some people in my unit. It's a terrible thing when it happens, it's twice as difficult to explain to the troops, and three times as difficult to explain to the families of the troops. That was the incident.
There was one outstanding young man who was killed, and his parents could never really reconcile themselves to what had happened. They were convinced that there was some kind of cover-up. You know, we had casualties in this war, from our own fire, too. And now we see the same thing all over again, the agony of the family.
In this war it war even tougher, because there were so few casualties to begin with that anyone who lost a loved one kind of feels cheated. So few people were lost, why did it have to be my son, or my husband, or my father? When they find out subsequently that they were killed by the fire of their own side, that makes it doubly hard to live with.
It was a tragic situation in the case of the Mullens in Vietnam, and it's a tragic situation when it happens today.
I gather that you personally felt these losses very deeply.
I have an old friend who was a pool reporter with you. He said that you inspire incredible morale among the troops. He saw you moved to tears by the friendly fire deaths. He thought that was very moving, that you show emotion.
Norman Schwarzkopf: I think if you believe something, you should believe it passionately. To be a good leader you have to lead passionately. And I'm a passionate person. I feel very, very strongly about things. I'm an emotional person. The tragedy of losing young men and women's lives is tough enough to swallow. To find out that it was preventable, is even tougher.
In May of 1970, there was a very dramatic mine field rescue. You were decorated for that. Could you tell us what happened?
Norman Schwarzkopf: The area we were in happened to be the same area as the terrible My Lai incident. I was always convinced that the great unanswered question was what the role of the Thai commander had been during that time. He had subsequently been killed, so there was no way you could answer that, but incidents like that are preventable.
We had an awful lot of mine incidents when we first moved into the area. It was a heavily mined area and my troops weren't mine-wise, yet. Every time somebody hit a mine, if I was in the area, I would always fly in, in my helicopter, land right there on the ground, and put the casualty on the helicopter, because that got him back to the hospital about a half an hour quicker than they would ordinarily. The other reason was to go around and just talk to the troops, because the mines are an insidious sort of thing.
If you're out and you shoot at the enemy and he shoots back at you, and you take some casualties, they're not acceptable, but you do understand that at least there was an exchange that caused it to happen. When you're walking along and all of a sudden a mine goes 'boom!', and you see one of your friends killed, or lose a leg, or something like that, there's no way to retaliate. That tends to fester inside. So, I would go in to try and understand all that.
In this one case we'd had a mine casualty and I flew in and used my helicopter to Medevac him, and I was on the ground. Then, of course, we had another mine casualty, We were right in the middle of a mine field and I had to do something about it. That's what that was all about.
What did you do about it?
Norman Schwarzkopf: The soldier was lying on the ground screaming, and I was afraid that he was going to set off more mines. Or, worse yet, he had a badly broken leg, and I was afraid that he was going to cut the artery in his leg and die. So I had to go over there and settle him down. There was nobody else to do it, so I had to walk through the mine field. Believe me, it wasn't a heroic act at that time, it was something that somebody had to do, and I was the man in charge.
[ Key to Success ] Courage
You know, heroism is in the eye of the beholders, it's like beauty. Nobody says on the battlefield, "Well, I think I will now be a hero," and go do a heroic act. You don't do that. It's people doing their job. That's what they're doing, they're doing their job. And somebody else sees him and says, "Wow, boy, look at that, isn't that heroic?" But, the people who are doing it don't think at the time that they're being heroes. They don't think after the fact they're being heroes. They just say, "I'm doing my job."
[ Key to Success ] Integrity
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This page last revised on Dec 14, 2007 17:41 EDT