I was only 10 years old during the Persian Gulf War, but my parents were familiar with the scene. They grew up during the Vietnam era during which my dad even had a brief stint in the Air Force before troop levels began to wind down along with his career in the military. They were prepared in ’90-91.
As the number of American troops began to increase in Saudi Arabia, my dad purchased a map of Iraq and hung it on the wall in the living room. He would stand roughly five feet from the TV watching CNN. Some news reporter would mention some obscure town that US jets just bombed and my dad would immediately turn to the map to find it, “There it is!” He would then drag me over to the map and point out the spot.
Throughout this time, he would give me some Middle Eastern history, explaining such events as the Six Days War and the Iran-Iraq War. With the latter, he explained how the Iraqis were experienced and they were prepared to use things like chemical weapons. When we discussed current events in my 5th grade class, the teacher dismissed me, “You’ve been talking to adults.”
The experience only last a few months, but that sort of thing has a lasting effect on a kid. Prominent faces, such as Saddam, Powell, and of course, Schwarzkopf, became ingrained in my psyche.
Before I was old enough to appreciate movies like Patton, I had Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf. The general spent hours in front of the press with maps, similar to the one that hung in my parent’s living room. He spoke with clarity and authority, describing troop movements, logistics, morale, counting casualties, and how to win wars.
I later learned of how much freedom President H. W. Bush gave his generals in planning, executing, and then promoting the war effort. With the brevity of the war came a concentrated focus on the participants over the course of a few months. This allowed Schwarzkopf’s press briefings to become nightly news and with his charisma in front an audience, he ensured his statements remained quotable for years to come.
After the war, he became a part of pop culture. His book was prominent the next year and when I saw his face on the cover, now at age 11, I knew exactly who he was.
Today, we lack such prominent generals. I doubt anyone could identify Gen. Tommy Franks or most of the nearly dozen commanding generals that took over during America’s war in Iraq. Gen. Stanley McChrystal was in the news for a moment, but I doubt most teenagers could pick him out of a lineup. Gen. David Petraeus might capture some of that same level of prominence as Schwarzkopf, but for all the wrong reasons. Nowadays, most generals do not make the news without a scandal or without a Congressional committee dressing them down.
The reality is Schwarzkopf was a dying breed and with his passing, he may be the last of his kind.