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It Doesn’t Take A Hero, by General H. Norman Schwarzkopf with Peter Petre

Bantam Books, 1993. 640. Mass Market Paperback. $7.99. ISBN:0553563386.

Midway through the book, after rising to the rank of general and being assigned deputy chief of staff for operations and plans, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf admits a telling truth: while attending briefings for the Joint Chiefs, his mind often wanders. “When the briefings got really dull, my eyes would stray to the wall behind Admiral Crowe and fasten on two paintings of Vietnam: the Marine artillery at Khe Sanh and an Army patrol making its way through a jungle swamp. Whenever I worked in the Pentagon, I began itching for a new command.” And as it turns out, he would soon get that opportunity.

After a year-long stint in Washington, General Schwarzkopf is promoted to Commander in Chief of Central Command, the military region that covers the Middle East and the vast stretch of land from Somalia to Afghanistan. For some, this is considered a less desirable position—he could’ve been given the Forces Command in the United States, for example—but for Schwarzkopf, it’s a perfect fit. It’s an assignment that includes complex cultural challenges as well as an increasing level of strategic importance—and as history would reveal, would soon become the vortex of world events.

It Doesn’t Take A Hero is at its heart an autobiography. Schwarzkopf covers everything from his New Jersey childhood and his Swiss boarding-school experience to his time at West Point and his duty in Vietnam. (The youthful portion of the book is especially interesting, as a young Schwarzkopf ventures off to live with his dad who’s working in Iran.) But the book’s real relevance—and in fact its very raison d’être—is in its depiction of the build-up to the first conflict with Iraq in the early 1990s, a.k.a. the Gulf War.

Shortly after his assignment to Central Command, Iraq invades Kuwait. Iraq has apparently failed to secure the access it wants to the Arabian Gulf during its war with Iran and is seeking to rectify that failure by overrunning Kuwait. Kuwait is an obvious alternative—being situated as it is on the Gulf—and the Iraqis manage to take it in a little over three days. The initial question for Central Command is whether or not the Iraqis will continue into Saudi Arabia, but thinking soon turns to developing an offensive response, as the first President Bush makes his intentions clear: the Iraqi aggression will not be allowed to stand.

The subsequent material—the massive sea and air deployment to the Gulf and the behind-the-scenes political wrangling—is some of the most compelling of the book. Schwarzkopf develops a close working relationship with General Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as the two confer continually over Central Command’s needs and strategies. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney appears periodically, at one point offering up his own personal battle plan for attacking the Iraqis. President Bush, while depicted only occasionally, is described as both politically courageous and trusting of the military. (Unlike LBJ, for example, who was famous for micromanagement.)

In the end, Schwarzkopf himself comes across as an intelligent man with a sharp sense of duty. He demonstrates an ability to do his job while voicing candid self-awareness, and he never allows his ego to cloud his judgment. During some of the most difficult times of the crisis—while suffering incredible political pressure from Washington—he always stays true to his vision, never overstating Central Command’s abilities or agreeing to something solely for the benefit of the politicians. When the hawks are getting restless, for example—calling for what would, at that point, surely be a premature offensive—he states his reservations openly: “I’ve been telling you guys all along that we don’t have sufficient force to do a ground campaign.”

Unfortunately, the battle with Iraq—now, for Iraq—is still being fought, but the outcome of the first war should be unambiguous: given the political parameters of the day, the operation was a com

Reviewer: John P. Brackin   

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