It Doesn’t Take a Hero

So, my escape into summer reading took me on a weird turn.  First, let me remind you how I choose summer reading.  I usually like to read fiction novels about escape, adventure, or baseball.  Preferably, if W.P. Kinsella can include all three, I read that!  I steer far away from books I will be tempted to take notes in, so history non-fiction or books about education are normally out.

So, my lastest read is interesting to say the least.  After blazing through Steinbeck, Kinsella, and Call of the Wild, my mother-in-law suggested the Norman Schwarzkopf autobiography.  This seems to break some of my rules about what I read, but here’s the catch.  My mother-in-law gave it to her father, who never really read that much, and he really liked it.  So, I figured I would read it too.  Plus, my first memory of war was watching bombs explode over Baghdad during Operation Desert Storm, and General Schwarzkopf was a military hero of my youth.

Yes, this book was written to clearly explain the details of Desert Storm, but that part, the end of the book, isn’t too steeped in military maneuvers and operations.  Thankfully, the operation was short, but this isn’t just a military history book.  Schwarzkopf narrates the story of how his father graduated from West Point in 1917, served in WWI, became the head of NJ State Police and investigated the Lindbergh kidnapping, and served in WWII, being sent to Iran.  Schwartzkopf went to military school as a child, mostly to avoid an alcoholic mother and to please his father.  Then, he went to live with his dad in Iran.  The entire family moved to Iran, then lived in Europe, where Schwartzkopf studied in American schools abroad.  He returned to Valley Forge Military Academy, then West Point, just like his dad.

Schwartzkopf served two tours in Vietnam, and his narrative about Vietnam is interesting.  I thought he might be a war hawk, but he clearly explains how he believes politics and poor leadership led to a failure in Vietnam.  He even believes, after spending time in an attachment with the S. Vietnamese Army, that the South Vietnamese were misunderstood.  Rising through the ranks in the Army, Schwartzkopf desired to strengthen the Army and establish a code of honor and ethics missing in the Army, but instilled in him through his time at West Point.  These values transformed the Army through the 1980s and became evident in Schwartzkopf’s leadership in Grenada and the MIddle East.

While this book does include military maneuvering, I really enjoyed the book for its lessons on leadership.  Schwartzkopf was always well prepared and thought through all possible scenarios.  His lack of preparedness, he believed, cost human lives.  So, by making himself better, he saved lives.  Throughout his leadership in the Army, he develops clear objectives and requires hard work and honesty from all those he commanded, qualities that would translate well to any organization.

I was also impressed about the family narrative in this book, which is honestly probably what kept me interested.  Schwartzkopf had a rough childhood, and he saw the challenges of military deployment on families.  So, he established family centers in occupation zones, if possible.  He taught his troops how to stay connected with their families while doing their job serving their country.

All told, I read this book very quickly, which is amazing for its size (nearly 500 pages).  The book is dated, written shortly after he retired from the military, but it still provided a unique insight into military families and an insight view of a hero from my childhood.

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