The twist in the long military career of Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf is that a 35-year Army soldier is remembered more for what he did in the air than on land.
Commanding his first war, the four-star infantryman decided on a strategy to eject Iraqi forces and liberate Kuwait that showcased air power — the precision weapons and strike jets that had been developed (but had gone mostly unused) in the preceding 20 years.
When Operation Desert Storm kicked off on the night of Jan. 17, 1991, he watched in a command post in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, — and the world witnessed explosions in Baghdad delivered by laser- and computer-guided bombs and missiles.
A new era in strategic bombing had begun, and Air Force fighter pilots suddenly had a favorite general, albeit an Army one.
“Gen. Norm Schwarzkopf was a brilliant strategist and demonstrated this by the use of airpower using the newly introduced precision weapons and stealth technology that many of his Army contemporaries did not fully appreciate,” retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, who flew scores of fighter missions in Vietnam, told The Washington Times.
“It saved many American lives. His 42-day air campaign shaped the ground campaign such that our ground forces only engaged in a 100-hour ground campaign and defeated the Iraqi’s decisively. I rank him with Gen. [Dwight D.] Eisenhower at Normandy. No other Army general has duplicated such a fete in such a brief ground campaign.”
Gen. Schwarzkopf, who died Thursday at age 78, became the American face of the Persian Gulf War.
The “Stormin’ Norman Show” featured a bear of a man standing before cameras, videotape at the ready, to show the world how he was taking down Iraq’s political and military structure building by building, tank by tank.
He took special delight in one video — an Iraqi vehicle clearing a bridge just as a missile destroyed it.
“Keep your eye on the cross-hairs,” he told reporters at a January briefing. “I’m now going to show you a picture of the luckiest man in Iraq, right through the cross-hairs, and now in his rearview mirror.”
As bombs hit Iraq, Gen. Schwarzkopf sparred with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from afar, calling him out on lies he told his people and about American firepower.
“Saddam Hussein has lied to them,” Gen. Schwarzkopf said. “He told them that Tel Aviv was a crematorium. We all know that is not true. To date, he has told him that he has shot down 170 American and coalition aircraft.
Everybody knows that that is not true. He has announced that he was going to do all sorts of other wonderful things. With regard to Saddam Hussein saying that he has met the best that the coalition has to offer, I would only say that the best is yet to come.”
Michael O’Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution, said the general’s televised briefings help to instill confidence.
“His personality on television was useful. It was a positive, bullish, optimistic way of looking at the conflict, which I think the country benefited from since there was a fair amount of concern about how that war would go,” Mr. O’Hanlon told The Times. “It is easy to forget now. There were a lot of predictions of chemical weapons usage, of trench lines like World War I, of a lot of casualties. I think it was good for the country to have a more optimistic take on things from an optimistic person.”
“I’m not convinced his ‘Stormin’ Norman’ rage was all that useful in dealing with subordinates or dealing with bureaucracy,” he added.
Before the war, most Americans did not know H. Norman Schwarzkopf of Tampa, Fla., where he led U.S. Central Command and its military assets in the Middle East. But when Saddam’s forces invaded Kuwait in August 1990, and President George H.W. Bush declared, “This will not stand,” he turned to Gen. Schwarzkopf to back up his words.
The general’s long career, a mix of war-fighting, maneuver training and scholarship, made him the perfect fit. He was Army to the bone. Born in 1934, the son of a general who went to West Point, Gen. Schwarzkopf was also an U.S. Military Academy graduate, class of 1956.
Most profiles during the Persian Gulf War noted that his father, who fought in World War I, had founded the New Jersey State Police and investigated the infamous kidnapping of Charles Lindberg’s son in 1936.
Gen. Schwarzkopf the son also fought in war, the Vietnam conflict. He volunteered in 1966, was a twice-wounded battalion commander and ended up at Walter Reed Army Hospital for surgery in 1971.
The surgery did not stop his career. He checked the list for senior rank by graduating from the Army War College.
By the late 1970s, he was a brigadier general, and then led forces in the 1983 invasion of Grenada. By 1988, he earned a fourth star and directorship of U.S. Central Command. Two years later, Saddam invaded Kuwait and Gen.Schwarzkopf headed to Saudi Arabia.
Air Force briefers traveled there to convince him of the virtues of an air-first campaign. But he did not ignore his own. He and his planners devised a “left hook” maneuver whereby mechanized Army divisions moved out of Saudi Arabia, north of Kuwait, then encircled Iraqi units and unleashed superior fire to destroy scores of armored vehicles. Saddam sounded a retreat in less than five days of ground combat.
Gen. Schwarzkopf had a flash disagreement with the White House. He wanted to fight a war of annihilation, as he has been taught. But Mr. Bush declared “we are not in the slaughter business” and ordered a cease-fire after 100 hours of ground operations.
The general traveled to a tent in southern Iraq to sign the agreement with Iraqi generals, but not Saddam himself, who declared victory.
The general told an interviewer he graded Mr. Bush a “10” as commander in chief for letting him prosecute the war free of political interference.
His career capped by victory, Gen. Schwarzkopf retired and wrote a best-selling autobiography, “It Doesn’t Take a Hero.” With his uniform tucked away, he served as a military analyst for NBC News, gave speeches and did volunteer work for animal conservation.
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.