The nation lost one of its most distinguished soldiers with the passing of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf.
The son of an army general who in his earlier capacity as head of the New Jersey state police was involved in the investigation of the Lindbergh Baby kidnapping, Schwarzkopf was a graduate of West Point and a career soldier.
As a major, Schwarzkopf saw combat in Vietnam and suffered wounds while trying to rescue men from a minefield. As a general, “Stormin’ Norman” ably commanded a large military force comprised of units from a broad coalition of nations that handily swept an entrenched occupation army from a conquered Kuwait.
The coalition’s removal of the Iraqi forces from Kuwait was masterful and borrowed from a hypothetical plan Schwarzkopf just so happened to have developed not long before Iraqi forces poured across the Kuwaiti border on August 2, 1990.
After a prolonged massive aerial bombardment that demonstrated America’s air power, shattered Iraq’s military command and established coalition supremacy in the skies over Kuwait and Iraq, ground operations were initiated and lasted only 100 hours.
Kuwait was freed at a cost of 482 coalition combat deaths.
Those objectives did not include a full-scale invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein from power.
Though the coalition military forces ended up carrying out air operations over Iraq and even occupied parts of the aggressor nation, the decision to not expand war operations beyond the liberation of Kuwait and neutralizing Iraq’s capacity to reinvade once coalition forces left the Persian Gulf was made on the political level.
Concerns over additional casualties by driving on to Baghdad, a weakened counter-balance to Iran and divisions about the ultimate goals within the international coalition that took part in freeing Kuwait from Hussein’s army have been cited as reasons for not doing then what the US and different group of partners did a little over a decade later.
In no way should Schwarzkopf be viewed as responsible for the events that would later play out and result in a second American-led war in the Persian Gulf.
As Douglas MacArthur learned the hard way in Korea, though a general may command hundreds of thousands of troops, at the end of the day he answers to a civilian political leader. And Schwarzkopf accomplished the task he was assigned spectacularly.
As a veteran of Vietnam conflict, Schwarzkopf was also cognizant of the need to fight the war beyond the battlefield. Through his media appearances, Schwarzkopf helped sell the American homefront that Kuwait would not be another quagmire and built popular support for the war to liberate the emirate.
By quickly liberating Kuwait through the decisive defeat of one of the world’s largest armies, Schwarzkopf did more than just restore pride in America’s armed forces; he restored confidence in our national capacity to fight and win a major military engagement.
And by default, Schwarzkopf served notice to the world that the demoralized country that staggered away from its South Vietnamese ally in the 1970s had recovered its spirit and vastly improved its military organization, tactics and systems.
The first Persian Gulf War was not the first major American military action since the pull out from Saigon, as there were American military incursions in Panama (Operation: Just Cause) and Grenada (Operation: Urgent Fury). However those were small-scale “surprise” military engagements.
In the case of Kuwait, there was a protracted domestic debate in advance of the American military offensive. And unlike the opposing forces in Panama and Grenada, the Iraqi army was considered a formidable fighting force that was prepared for an attack.
Kuwait would be the first real test of American war resolve post-Vietnam and Schwarzkopf and the men and women in uniform he led succeeded in removing the festering albatross of Vietnam from around the nation’s neck and gave it a long overdue burial.
Schwarzkopf might not go down in the history books with the same prestige as a Lee, Grant, Patton or MacArthur though the Desert Storm military commander helped exorcise the self-doubt of Vietnam that had haunted America’s psyche.
The four star general should be remembered as one of the country’s most important military figures for not just giving us victory but restoring our nerve.