In the Eye of the Storm: The Life of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

If his biographers have got him right, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf-a.k.a. ”The Bear” — must be livid. Here we are mere months removed from a military triumph described in Roger Cohen and Claudio Gatti’s In the Eye of the Storm: The Life of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf as comparable to the victories of Hannibal, Alexander the Great, and Dwight David Eisenhower, and the press is already beginning to cavil. Newspaper, magazine, and TV news features commemorating the first anniversary of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait are already asking, ”Now what was that all about?” Nobody raised that question about crossing the Alps with elephants, conquering Hitler, or riding in triumph through Persepolis in a chariot.

If the general is angry, he is probably not surprised. Schwarzkopf has never had much use for the press. Nor for politicians, if the truth be known. It’s something of a family tradition. His father, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police during the Lindbergh kidnapping of 1932 — one of the first media freak-outs of the modern age — harbored enough animosity toward both to last his family well into the next generation. ”His father’s loathing of the former New Jersey Governor Hoffman,” the authors tell us, ”was passed on to the children in the form of a contempt for the deal-making and unscrupulousness of the political world.”

The general himself is reported to believe that pols and journalists were responsible for the debacle in Vietnam, where his gung ho attitude as a battalion commander earned him the nickname ”Colonel Nazi.” On the other hand, Cohen and Gatti tell us — in what for all its haste and gee-whiz hero worship amounts to a balanced study of a complex and fascinating man — most of the grunts interviewed now seem to think it was more the war they hated than their commander. Schwarzkopf emerged from his two tours in Vietnam ”profoundly disillusioned with the Army, disgusted by officers who put their own cares before those of their soldiers, by busy bureaucrats who thought the Army was all about office jobs, and by the lack of the quality that had most attracted him to the Armed Forces in the first place: valor.” Having to lie about body counts made him sick.

If that seems a bit pat — after all, everybody hates politicians, bureaucrats, and martinets, and even reporters are suspicious of the press — it’s the best Cohen and Gatti could do by way of a character profile. Written without Schwarzkopf’s help, In the Eye of the Storm drew most of its personal information from his sister Sally. His other sister, Ruth, from whom our lovable general had been estranged for almost 20 years as a result of her participation in antiwar protests (they’ve reconciled since Iraq), contributed little. And if Schwarzkopf has any detractors among his West Point classmates or the officer corps — not likely while he’s wearing four stars — the authors failed to find them.

No matter. Schwarzkopf is so vivid a character and his Army career so compelling a saga that he can’t help but emerge in the round. Brilliant, cosmopolitan, subtle, physically overbearing, weepily sentimental, and capable of calculated fits of rage, Schwarzkopf came along at exactly the right time and place to make a short, bloody job of crushing a vastly overrated Iraqi war machine. (As the general himself evidently assessed it from the beginning.) Now that he’s made himself the hero he’s dreamed of being since boyhood, the question is, what next? Will Schwarzkopf’s own memoirs, for which Bantam will reportedly pay more than $5 million, amount to a campaign biography? Or will the general’s celebrity prove as short-lived in our cynical, mistrustful age as the national euphoria over his stunning victory? Until then this well-crafted quickie will have to do. B

In the Eye of the Storm: The Life of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf