Colin Powell, soldier, general, statesman


There was a time, in the 1980s, when young officers in the US Army rejoiced when one of their own had hit the jackpot. Colin Powell had been appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest rank a soldier in uniform could obtain in the Department of Defense. Many lieutenants and army captains didn’t necessarily cheer Colin Powell because of his skin color or origins (his parents were immigrants from Jamaica) or one of the more popular checkboxes . But instead because he was the first ROTC graduate to achieve this degree.

All the presidents of the JCS before General Colin Powell were from academies. But in 1989, an ordinary Joe grunt from City College of New York through his ROTC program would be the highest ranking officer in the country. Hu-RAH!

Colin Powell seemed to be in the background in most American narratives since graduating from this ROTC course. Kennedy sent him to Vietnam. LBJ sent him again in 68, where Major Colin Powell was tasked with investigating rumors regarding something that had happened in a place called My Lai. He toured West Germany, when there was something called West Germany. There’s a picture of him shaking hands with Nixon.

Colonel Colin Powell was the battalion commander in Korea when the Pentagon called. After the war college, the promotions arrived as planned. At the time Granada made the news, he was one of the main collaborators of Caspar Weinberger, the Secretary of Defense. Just before becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he was White House National Security Advisor Reagan.

But it wouldn’t be until something called Desert Storm that Colin Powell would become familiar with the country.

For the first time, Americans could watch a major war in real time. No reel of film had to be developed and airlifted to the United States. And with live television, good luck with the broadcast of the images by the censors. General Colin Powell gave the nation briefings on every major development as the United States, along with a few UN allies, expelled Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.

Not all presentations would reflect honorably on him. For any honest account of Colin Powell’s story, one must include the chapter on the 2003 presentation to the UN Security Council that convinced the world that Saddam Hussein had an ongoing weapons program causing many victims. For anyone who claims that the Bush the Younger administration “lied to us in the war” in Iraq, we would say that it was Saddam Hussein who lied to us in this war. Because he lived in a difficult neighborhood and believed that playing games with international weapons inspectors could (1) make his neighbors guess and (2) keep Americans at bay. At the start of 2003, the Americans were in no mood to gamble. The US administration (along with all the spy organizations on the planet) got the guns wrong, and Saddam Hussein paid the price for his cover-up.

Colin Powell was wrong in this matter. With – to begin with – the CIA, the Mossad, most European spies and the entire Middle East. For some reason, a lot of reviews focused on Colin Powell’s reputation, perhaps because she was so well respected in the first place. How has his reputation recovered? See the massive bipartisan tributes paid to him on Monday, when news of his death at 84 arrived.

Newspapers say Colin Powell – the first black Secretary of State, inventor of the Powell Doctrine, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom (twice) – died of covid issues earlier this week. He was battling cancer. The newspapers say he was fully vaccinated, but no vaccine is 100% effective. Especially for cancer patients which is a major previous condition when it comes to these things.

Colin Powell has been in the news so much over the past 40 years that it’s hard to imagine him gone. Or that he might be gone. Some of us never thought he would ever leave the stage. But what role he had in this.

(Add a catchy salute here.)

About Victoria Rothstein

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