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The Quotable Norman Schwarzkopf

by Legacy Staff

Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the U.S. Army four-star general who led coalition forces to victory during 1991’s Persian Gulf conflict, was known as “Stormin’ Norman” but he also was thoughtful and gentle.

Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the U.S. Army four-star general who led coalition forces to victory during 1991’s Persian Gulf conflict, was known as “Stormin’ Norman” for his temper and quick decision-making. He was a bear of a man – in fact, “The Bear” was another nickname – with a barrel chest who stood 6-feet-3-inches tall and weighed more than 240 pounds. But Schwarzkopf, who would have celebrated his 80th birthday Aug. 22, also was thoughtful and gentle. He liked ballet, as more than one of his obituaries noted. He dressed as a clown to the delight of his three children, relaxed by listening to Pavarotti, and called Brenda, his wife of 44 years, twice a week during his deployments. After his retirement in 1992, he was an active supporter of various charities including, appropriately, one devoted to the welfare of grizzly bears.

In remembrance of Schwarzkopf, who died Dec. 27, 2012, at 78, Legacy.com shares some of the West Point graduate’s thoughts. Unless noted, most of these quotes have been culled from a 1992 interview he gave at the Academy of Achievement, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit education organization that introduces students to notable leaders.


1. “I did not come into the Army to be a lieutenant, or a captain or a major. I always thought I was going to be a general. At least I intended to be a general. If I started pumping gas, I would want to be the CEO of Shell Oil. OK? So I always aimed high, my sights were always set very high.”

2. “Anybody who says they’re not afraid of war is either a liar, or they’re crazy. And there’s nothing wrong with fear. I mean, fear is good. Fear will keep you alive in a war. Fear will keep you alive in business. Nothing wrong with being afraid at all, and everybody should understand that. … And true courage is not not being afraid. True courage is being afraid and going ahead and doing your job anyhow; that’s what courage is.”

3. “There’s a lot of gut instinct that comes into everything you do as a leader. Leadership is an art, not a science. It cannot be reduced down to a piece of paper and a bunch of very simple mechanical equations that you apply to it, and out the end drops the answer, and you just go out and do that. That’s not what it’s about.”

4. “Any general who’s worth his salt cares very much for his troops. Any general who’s worth his salt knows that war is not a Nintendo game, war is not something that’s fought by robots. He knows that war is fought by soldiers, by people. That liberty is bought by the blood of soldiers, and the sacrifices of these people.”

5. “You know, heroism is in the eye of the beholders, it’s like beauty. Nobody says on the battlefield, ‘Well, I think I will now be a hero,’ and go do a heroic act. You don’t do that. It’s people doing their job. That’s what they’re doing, they’re doing their job.”

6. “You’ve got to believe in what you’re doing. If you don’t believe in what you’re doing, you’re not going to do it well. You truly have to believe in it. You have to believe that you’re doing what’s right. And I don’t think I could go to war – I mean I don’t think ultimately I could serve my country – if I thought we were doing something wrong. … It’s not like the German generals who tried to justify what they did at the Nuremberg trials by saying, ‘I was only doing my duty.’ That’s not right, because you have higher duties. You have a duty to your moral code, whatever it might be. You’ve got to do what’s right.”

7. “Somebody once said, ‘You learn more from negative leadership than you do from positive leadership.’ I believe that.”

8.”War is never the right thing to do, but if you have to fight a war, there is a right way to fight the war. That’s the way that will minimize your casualties, save the lives of the people who are out there fighting. Get it over with as fast as you can.”

9. “Any soldier worth his salt should be anti-war. And still there are things worth fighting for.” – Interview with U.S. News & World Report magazine

10. “I may have made my reputation as a general in the Army and I’m very proud of that. But I’ve always felt that I was more than one-dimensional. I’d like to think I’m a caring human being. … It’s nice to feel that you have a purpose.” – Interview with The Associated Press

Natalie Pompilio is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. Her lifelong love of obituaries raised eyebrows when she was younger, but she’s now able to explain that this interest goes beyond morbid curiosity. Says Pompilio, “Obituaries are mini life stories, allowing a glimpse into someone’s world that we’re often denied. I just wish we could share them with each other when we’re alive.”

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