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Friday 28 December 2012

Norman Schwarzkopf - Obituary

Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf Jr
22nd August 1934 - 27th December 2012

Rest in Peace
Almost the first thing I heard on the radio this morning was mention of the name "Norman Schwarzkopf", but not the context, but even in my then just-awakened state thought it was probably because news had come in of his death, confirmed 30 minutes later in a full news bulletin.

Although Norman Schwarzkopf had been a rising 'star' in the US military for many years, it was not really until the Iraqi invasion of Koweit in August 1990 and the subsequent military operation to wrest control of that country back from its Iraqi invaders, that he rose to international prominence as the overall allied military commander tasked with achieving the liberation of Koweit. At the time he was Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Central Command, based in Tampa, Florida and had responsibility for overseeing US military operations in the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and South Asia from there. The first stage with regard to Iraq and Koweit was dubbed 'Desert Shield', designed to protect Saudi Arabia from suffering the same fate as Koweit (ironically a detailed plan had been developed shortly before the invasion of Koweit and used as the basis of a 'war game' exercise designed to test strategies for rebuffing Iraqi expansionism amongst other contingencies), followed in January 1991 by the plan known as 'Desert Storm', the operational military phase of expelling Iraq from Koweit, a task largely accomplished in a mere four days as a result of detailed planning, logistics and overwhelming military might.

During this whole period I lived in Abu Dhabi (UAE), although I had been on a business trip to Hong Kong just prior to the Iraqi invasion, returning home to Abu Dhabi only a couple of days before it happened. Obviously once the invasion had happened and once it became clear (from a speech by the then US President, George H W Bush about two weeks later) that the occupation of Koweit would not be permitted to endure, I became pretty confident that the immediate risk of an Iraqi military push down through the rest of the Gulf, then considered a real possibility, would not happen. Gen "Stormin' Norman" Schwarzkopf soon became a feature of daily news bulletins, specially on the at the time relatively novel CNN news-feeds on our television screens.

Norman Schwarzkopf came from a military background and grew up as an "army brat" as his family moved with his father around the world during his own military career. However, the military strategy he developed (along with others) came to its crucial flowering during the period August 1990-March 1991. It had been thought he might rise higher in the US military, but he declined the role of Chief of Staff of the United States Army he had been offered and instead retired from active military service in August 1991, similarly confounding expectations that he might embark on a political career. In my opinion his life was a true exemplar of what it means to have an honourable military career in a modern democracy and respecting fully what that means. He continued to live in Tampa, Florida, in his retirement and has sadly died at the age of 78.

The BBC news report of his death is here and his Wikipedia page is here.

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