Remember What Honor Was? On the Passing of a General -- and More

Paul Greenberg

12/31/2012 12:55:00 PM - Paul Greenberg

"Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy."


-- Norman Schwarzkopf, General, U.S. Army

It is a time when so many virtues have dimmed -- to the point where they may be confused with their opposite. Leadership becomes the art of assigning responsibility for failure to others. (See the news out of Washington.) Victory has become a bad word, just as war is now called Overseas Contingency Operations. By our vocabulary you shall know us. And know our times. Ambition, success, individual achievement, even greatness ... all those can now dismissed with a glib phrase. "You didn't build that."

Norman Schwarzkopf (1934-2012) was a courageous officer and outstanding military leader. He knew his objective and achieved it. And understood that character would tell in a leader. And so would its absence. He knew the difference between strategy and tactics, and he knew when neither was in much evidence. ("As far as Saddam Hussein being a great military strategist, he is neither a strategist, nor is he schooled in the operational arts, nor is he a tactician, nor is he a general, nor is he a soldier. Other than that, he's a great military man, I want you to know that.")

The general not only had a wry sense of humor, but he had the wisdom, when a war was over, to let it be over. He led one of this country's shortest and most effective military campaigns, and liberated a small country called Kuwait from a tyrant's grip, knowing that it was not small in the regard of those who live there. And that America's word must be honored, or the world would lose its champion of freedom. Some things America would not let stand, or at least we wouldn't 20 years ago, which now seems so long ago in this different time and different America. Remember what honor was? Leaders like General Schwarzkopf embodied it.

Among the general's many virtues, none may have been greater than this: He never missed an opportunity to remain silent. In uniform or out, on duty or in retirement, he would never be found among those explaining where his successors had gone wrong and how he could have done so much better. He didn't have to; his record spoke for itself. Which many have been why, when he did have something to say, it was -- and remains -- worth noting. This is what he had to say after his return from the Persian Gulf:

"The day I left Riyadh to return to the United States, Gen. Khalid made a statement in a speech that every American should think about. He said, 'If the world is only going to have one superpower, thank God it is the United States of America.' When I think about the nations in the past 50 years that could have emerged as the world's only superpower -- Tojo's Japan, Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia, Mao's China -- and the darkness that would have descended on this world if they had, I appreciate the wisdom of Khalid's words. Because we have emerged as the only remaining superpower, we have awesome responsibility both to ourselves as a nation and to the rest of the world. I don't know what that responsibility will mean to the future of our great country, but I shall always remain confident of the American people's ability to rise to any challenge."

The time when America rose to the challenge, the time of American greatness, has not passed with the general. It will return. An eclipse does not mean the sun will not shine again.