Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf died last week at age 78. He was an authentic American hero in the heady days of swift victory, before Iraq became synonymous with tragic waste in a second war more than a decade later.
His good fortune was that his Iraq war was the first — the 1991 Persian Gulf War, which was unambiguously triggered by Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. As the U.S. commander of a broad alliance of many nations, he deployed a huge force that swiftly annihilated Iraqi troops, including the much-feared Republican Guard, in one of the most one-sided military victories of the 20th century.
Kuwait was liberated. To the victor go the laurels — and in General Schwarzkopf, Americans found a larger-than-life figure who looked the part of a happy warrior, a John Wayne in desert fatigues.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur famously said that old soldiers never die, they just fade away. Something of that sort did occur with General Schwarzkopf, whose glory faded a little over time.
The trouble with history is that revisionists correct the first draft and chip away at the original myth. Although it was a political decision and cannot be blamed on the general, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 reminded Americans that the job was only half-done the first time — Saddam Hussein was left in power.
But nothing can detract from General Schwarzkopf’s service to his country. He was a brave soldier who did his job, and did it spectacularly.