Thursday, January 3, 2013


Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf

Retired Army Lt. Col. John Cook, author of the incendiary, compelling new book Afghanistan: The Perfect Failure, is a former counter-intelligence officer who spent nearly five years in Afghanistan and two and 1/2 years in Vietnam. An outspoken man who never pulls a punch, he has some very strong opinions about Norman Schwarzkopf, the legendary general who died last week at age 72. 

Cook, who I've written about before at Newsweek/The Daily Beast, points out that while Schwarzkopf expertly commanded the Gulf War, he never lifted a finger after that war to support veterans with Gulf War Illness, which according to veterans advocate Paul Sullivan at Bergmann & Moore, a law firm that solely represents veterans, still afflicts more than 250,000 of our brave troops.

Schwarzkopf's command of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm is a military feat that Cook says will be studied for decades as a "text-book case of how to plan, coordinate and carry out an extremely complex military operation under very difficult conditions. The operation was brilliantly executed."

Afterward, Schwarzkopf and his fellow victorious heroes were canonized and given a parade in Washington DC. Then in 1992, after more than 30 years of service, the general retired amid great glory. He's since been referred to as "a soldier's soldier" and "the greatest combat commander since World War II." 

But are these epithets fitting? Had the Gulf War actually ended in 1992, Cook says Schwarzkopf's image and legacy would indeed be beyond reproach. Unfortunately, Cook says, "the war did not end there."

Indeed, as the 90’s continued, disturbing stories began to emerge from various health facilities that something was seriously wrong with a lot of the returning Gulf War veterans. They were having trouble breathing, sleeping, even functioning normally. In the beginning, the government insisted on lumping all these complaints under the general category of psychological disorders produced by the stress in combat. 

But the complaints kept growing, and the huge numbers of the complaints made a psychological excuse untenable. 

"The shooting war lasted less than 100 hours, yet 250,000 of the 697,000 deployed were now exhibiting serious medical issues," notes Cook. "Something had happened to the troops in the desert prior to the attack. The government kept dragging its feet and blaming the troops for making up an illness that was becoming all too real. Finally, when it could no longer be ignored, it was given a name: Gulf War Syndrome. Only recently has it been designated Gulf War Illness."

Cook says that after 20 years of "pain and suffering," perhaps the government is now ready to face the fact that real soldiers have a real illness and it is not in their head. 

"These fights are always hard, just like getting attention for Agent Orange in Vietnam," says Cook. "We now know it causes serious problems, even death, and it is recognized as a legitimate illness worthy of treatment."

So where was Stormin’ Norman during these 20 years of pain and suffering by his troops that had done everything he asked of them? Was he at the forefront in the effort to get to the real cause of this illness? 

"No," Cook says flatly. "For the most part, he sat on the sideline and, when given a chance to speak out and demand something be done, he remained silent," Cook says. "These were the same men and women that had made him great, handing him his greatest victory, the crowning achievement to his career. And he did not speak out when he could have had a profound impact and built a bright fire under the bureaucracy. He did nothing."

Cook insists that Schwarzkopf should have listened to these veterans when they said they were in trouble and, more important, believed them and then did something, just as they did something when he gave the order to attack. 

"So many senior commanders lose sight of what they were taught as Second Lieutenants as they move through the ranks, and that is to always take care of the troops because it is the troops that make you relevant, not the stars on the collar," says Cook. "Without them, you are nothing but a parade ground commander. Yes, somewhere along the way, General Schrarzkopf lost his way."

So was Schwarzkopf ever really a hero, a "soldier’s soldier," as he was often called? 

"Perhaps, at one time, he really was," says Cook. "But not when it counted. It is very touching that an elementary school was named in his honor in Tampa. However, it would be far more fitting if there was a building somewhere bearing the name General Norman Schwartzkopf Rehabilitation Center for Gulf War Illness. Now t
hat would be a bright, shining legacy to last through the ages, not the somewhat tarnished legacy he has left us." 


  1. The heavy burden of morality that is so crucial to effective leadership has no retirement date, nor does it bear any resemblance whatsoever to a perishable commodity. To relieve yourself of that burden is to abdicate the privilege of calling yourself a leader of men.

    Semper Fidelis ("Always Faithful")

    David K Winnett, Jr

    Captain, USMC (Ret.)

    1. Captain Winnett's comment is on the mark. A comparison of "Stormin' Norman's" legacy to that of Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, leader of naval forces during Vietnam, is worthy of note.

      Admiral Zumwalt made the decision to escalate the use of the new toxic, Agent Orange, to save the lives of his personnel on the Swift boats and other "brown seas" forces along Vietnam's waters and coast. His son was one of these men. This escalation of chemical warfare has had long term and far reaching consequences, as does the growing use of similar poisons stateside.

      Zumwalt''s son died of cancer at age 42, and he attributed his son's illness and the birth defects of his grandson to exposure to these chemicals. Their book, My Father, My Son, (1986) details these years and the aftermath of Agent Orange exposure as known at the time.

      I heard Admiral Zumwalt speak at the Citizens Dioxin Conference in 1992, held at Research Triangle Park, NC. He spoke of the loyalty expected of his troops, and the responsibility that asking them to risk their lives carries. He also said quite plainly that he has a lifelong obligation to these men and women to fight for them and for their post-war needs. That is why he became a leader in the fight for the rights of Agent Orange Victims, being fought by Dow and Monsanto, and the VA and US government, much as the Gulf War veterans and Iraqis are ignored today.

      Admiral Zumwalt also fought racism and sexism in the Navy, going back to his days as Nixon's Chief of Naval Operations.

      He also actively engaged Congress to establish a national registry of bone marrow donors, which continues to save many, many lives of cancer victims.

      Loyalty to troops and country should be a lifelong engagement for a true leader. I was a few years too young to be drafted like the southern poor I grew up with, but it is some small comfort that at least one of the leaders of the Vietnam conflict had high principles, and his obligations didn't end with his Navy retirement.

      Do we have leaders, men and women, like Admiral Zumwalt in our services today, or are they all running professional PR programs to define themselves?

      Bill Brooks

    2. This is very well said, and it is a fascinating and enlightening bit of history. Thank you very much, Bill.

    3. Bill:
      I appreciate your thoughtful comments. Great leaders step up when they need to and Admiral Zumwalt never forgot that. As both you and Captain Winnett reminded us, there is no expiration date on the obligation great military leaders owe the troops.
      Best regards,
      John Cook

    4. Thank you, Mr. Reno, for your comments, and for your excellent article.

      I failed to add, Admiral Zumwalt died of cancer, January 2, 2000, at age 79. He was diagnosed and treated for the rare lung cancer, pleural mesothelioma. This disease is often associated with asbestos exposure, likely from his Navy career. Many naval personnel and shipyard workers were exposed to asbestos from it's use as a fireproofing material in ships.

      The association between asbestos and mesothelioma is now well understood, but corporations still work to undermine compensation and help for those harmed by asbestos exposure, which is ongoing. Canada and other countries still supply asbestos to world markets.

      Also in 2000, Dick Cheney's Halliburton, the corporate parent of a subsidiary liable for involvement in asbestos exposures and liable for the health effects, paid over $150,000 "to members of Congress who sponsored legislation that would limit the ability of workers to sue companies for asbestos exposure".

      This was done as Cheney resigned as CEO of Halliburton to run for Vice President.

      "The contributions from Cheney and the political action committees of Halliburton and its subsidiaries went to 49 of the 77 lawmakers who co-sponsored the Fairness in Asbestos Compensation Act in the House of Representatives and 14 of 29 co-sponsors of similar legislation in the Senate." (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 4, 2000).

      ALEC proposed similar model legislation in 2004, "Successor Asbestos-Related Liability Fairness Act" which passed in Arizona in 2012, and has passed in several other states. This law limits the liability of the corporation that profited from using asbestos, with no "fairness" for those afflicted.

      Seems the corporate "game" of shirking responsibility for harming our military, and our citizens, is played out in our legislature and courts, generation after generation.

      Cheney, hawkish for the conflicts we are still in, didn't serve in the military, but rather he got five draft deferments, and promoted continual war. The environmental and human health effects of these wars will remain, even when the guns are stilled.

      Bill Brooks

    5. And thank you, Lt. Col. Cook, for your comments, for your service to country, and for telling things as they are. Refreshing, in these times.

      I look forward to reading your book.

      Bill Brooks

  2. Lousy sandwiches, although we were grateful to the Aussie civilians who handed them out to us every day. 24 year-old pregnant 1st Lieutenant aide crying at Camp Jack in Dhahran. We would go shopping at the Saudi Mall once we got to KKMC. Saw General there with Secret Service. Heard he was tapped for US president but refused. Strange. He was such a hero, he could've been annointed king. Wonder why he refused. Got out real fast and faded into obscurity, letting his second, Colin Powell, to grab the glory.

  3. John, spot on again. I served under GEN Swartzkopf during Desert Shield/Storm. He is a brilliant General. I, as well as many of my fellow soldiers have suffered with Gulf War Syndrome and it's effects since 1990. I am not sure whether it is from the PolySodium Bromide (PSB) anti nerve agent pills we took or the other pills and shots we took before we moved forward into Iraq. It could be the depleted unranium rounds used as well. Maybe it was all that oil smoke we sucked into our lungs from the burning oil wells! It has far reaching consequences in our families and our physical and mental well being. It isn't, as the VA tries to claim, a product of PTSD/CRSD. That could be contributing to the lack of sleep but isn't the reason for the lethargic feelings and the constant coughing.

    I totally respect the late General Schwartzkopf for his leadership and care he showed his men on the battlefield. The war is over what do we do with what the nation sent us to do and the environment we were exposed to.

    1. Thanks Bear your our Hero no matter what! We all volunteered to
      serve and it was a GREAT HONER to be one of your soldiers.

  4. But are these epithets fitting!! amazing

  5. I find it interesting that one would criticize a man such as General Schwartzkopf after serving the nation well, including three combat tours while General Powell saw minimal combat in Vietnam yet rose to the highest office in DoD. The question is why a self-serving politician such as Powell hasn't gotten off his back side to help these soldiers with the Gulf ailment? In my opinion it is Powell who the veterans should be after for not raising to the forth front this sickness that the cause is still unknown.