The book is the memoir of one of America’s most controversial military leaders. I found it refreshing to read of his background and upbringing. He briefly covers his days as a cadet at West Point where he graduated in 1936, the horse dawn artillery days, and his role in World War II where he fought with distinction in North Africa and Europe with the Ninth Division. We see his fast rise to a Brigadier General before thirty years of age and later (1952–53) in role in the Korean War. He served as superintendent of West Point (1960–64), attained (1964) the rank of general and commanded (1964–68) U.S. military forces in Vietnam. He then assumed the position of army chief of staff, which he held until his retirement in 1972.
I was saddened as I read Westmoreland’s comments on one of the early killed in action lists that crossed his desk. It included 2LT John J. Pershing III, grandson of World War I supreme commanding general “Blackjack” Pershing. The book looks at the Viet-Nam war from Westmoreland’s point of view. It explains his decision-making process. It is more than an after action report. It is worth reading if you are a political or military history junkie. His relationship with Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara are not covered in the detail I would have liked. This is the story of a decent man, giving his best to his country in difficult times.
I am remembering General H. Norman Schwarzkopf by republishing a review I did a number of years ago of his autobiography. I first read this book in 1995. I have read it once since. “It Doesn’t Take a Hero” by H. Norman Schwarzkopf takes its title from a quote Schwarzkopf gave during an interview with Barbara Walters in 1991; “It Doesn’t Take a Hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.”
First, I must admit I am a Schwarzkopf fan. He commanded the 1st Brigade, 9th Infantry Division as a colonel while I was serving as a 1LT in the 9th Division. His third child (son) was born about two hours after my first son at Madigan Army General Hospital. We spent time in the Army hospital delivery room together. Our wives were in beds besides each other in the hospital ward. We were on a first name basis. He called me lieutenant and I called him sir. Prior to his arrival at Fort Lewis he had been the assistant commander of the 172nd Infantry Brigade (Alaska Brigade). The 172nd Infantry Brigade’s commander he served under was Major General Willard (Will) Latham who Schwarzkopf called the toughest general in the US Army. I have been an acquaintance of MG Latham’s for 40 years. Latham’s son Mark was a class mate of mine at University of Texas at Arlington (UT Arlington). Will Latham and I are active members of the Corps of Cadet Alumni Council Board at the UT Arlington. I have discussed Schwarzkopf and Schwarzkopf’s book with Latham. I also am a contributor to the Wikipedia article H. Norman Schwarzkopf.
Schwarzkopf came from an upper middle class family, his father was a West Point graduate, head of the New Jersey state police (who later led the hunt for the Lindbergh kidnappers), and served President Roosevelt on a special assignment in Iran. They lived in the best house in their town, and even employed a maid, but there was a dark family secret… his mother’s alcoholism. His experiences in the Middle East in Iran as a young man, where he lived with his general father, gave him a unique insight into the Arab world that served him personally, and the coalition as a whole. He went to boarding schools in the middle-east and in Switzerland. This helped him develop the cultural understanding and build some relationships that he would later call on during the Gulf War. He was a military brat just like me.
The part of the book that deals with his duties in Vietnam is interesting. He expresses the popular hindsight viewpoint against the stupidity and arrogance of the politicians and ‘Brass’ who ordered young men to lay down their lives in that far away land for no good reason. He became convinced that he had to do something to change the army from within; it was either that or he resigns his commission.
His role in leading the rescue of the medical students in Grenada is extremely interesting. It provided him with lessons that were applied during the Gulf War.
The most interesting part of the book is his telling of the Gulf War, Desert Storm. It is probably true to say that without “Stormin’” Norman, there wouldn’t have been a, successful, Gulf War. He was able to play on the links his father had with Arab Royalty, and then forged his own links with the current Saudi Royal Family, working with Crown Princes on a first name basis to get things done, everything from releasing endless millions of dollars in payments to the US – what is the daily rental on an aircraft carrier?! – to arranging for “tent cities” to be erected to shield the incoming troops from the scorching desert sun.
The most interesting aspect of the Gulf War section was the politics of the coalition, especially in the Arab world, something that was almost completely missing in Colin Powell’s memoir. In this crucial, although mostly unknown area of the War, Schwarzkopf’s experiences in the Middle East were invaluable. Middle Eastern politics are a lethal mine field at the best of times – us Brits have had our fingers burnt on more than one occasion over the years! – and pouring hundreds of thousands of free thinking, free drinking, Western troops of endless religious and moral persuasions into the autocracy that is the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, should have been a recipe for utter disaster!
Schwarzkopf’s deft handling of the endless ‘difficulties’ involving religious services, the consumption of alcohol, the reading of magazines of dubious ‘artistic’ merit, even the receiving of Christmas cards and the erection of Christmas decorations, were handled with a skill and subtlety that one would not have thought a mere ‘soldier’ possible. And then of course there was the Israeli question. The one thing above all else that would have blown the coalition apart would have been Israel attacking Iraq in retaliation for the Scuds that fell on Israeli territory. Although much of the efforts to keep Israel out of the action were handled direct from Washington, Schwarzkopf’s handling of the Saudi’s in particular, on the ground as it were was masterful.
“It Doesn’t Take a Hero” is a fascinating tale, a real inspiration; it shows what one man can achieve through clear thinking, a positive attitude, boundless enthusiasm, and a profound love, not only of his own country, but of mankind. I would recommend it highly.
Thank you General H. Norman Schwarzkopf for your service to our country.
“Not a Gentleman’s War: An Inside View of Junior Officers in the Vietnam War” is the story of the 5,069 junior officers who died in Vietnam as well as the ones who survived. We are reminded all officers had volunteered to lead men in battle. Based on Ron Milam’s detailed and thorough research, “Not a Gentleman’s War: An Inside View of Junior Officers in the Vietnam War” gives an excellent analysis of these men. The author has the rare combination of scholarly research and with an easy reading text. The book is divided into two main parts.
Part one views the future officers and officers in the United States. It examines their officer training programs: West Point, Officer Candidate School (OCS), and Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). The selection, training, and evaluation process of each is explained in detail. We see how the army ramped up for the increased demand in officers. We feel the arrogance of the West Point educated toward the Infantry Officer Basic Course and the slow change of curriculum at the United States Military Academy. We learn that the majority of officers were commissioned through ROTC. We find out the selection standards were not lowered for OCS. We are reminded that changing views on campus impacted the world views of men commissioned through ROTC.
Part two has the young officer in Vietnam. The four chapters in this section examine the junior officer’s performance as combat leaders. We experience the life and death tests they faced. We confront the myths about the men. We experience the different leadership challenges of being on a mission in the field and being in a firebase or in garrison such as preventing alcohol and drug abuse as well as racial tensions.
Myths about the Vietnam War say the junior officer was a no-talent, inadequately trained, and unenthusiastic soldier. Lt. William Calley of My Lai often is held up as the typical junior officer baby killer. Ron Milam debunks this view with detailed research including oral histories, after-action reports, diaries, letters, and other records.
The author has excellent primary resource materials. He clearly shows that most of the lieutenants who served in combat performed their duties well. The junior officers were effective. They served with great skill. While they were not always clean shaven and often had mud on their boots, they were dedicated and committed to the men they led. Ron Milam’s story provides a vibrant, you-are-there portrayal of what the platoon leader faced and his ability to meet the challenges as documented by field reports and evaluations of their superior officers.
This is a book that all students of the Vietnam War should read. I encourage all military officers to read the book as well. “Not a Gentleman’s War: An Inside View of Junior Officers in the Vietnam War” should be in every college library in the world. Ron Milam has written an excellent book. Dr. Milam is assistant professor of military history at Texas tech University.
On a personal level, the book helped me better understand my own experience as an United States Army officer. I received my officer training and commission through the United States Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) between 1971 and 1975. Some of the training I received was based on decisions explained in the book.