Remembering Schwarzkopf: A Desert Storm Requiem

I decided to let the usual slew of media panegyrics to the recently departed general go by before offering some historical ground truth on the man’s role in the Gulf War Syndrome/chemical exposure story. This is from the chapter entitled “Politics 101” of my memoir, Long Strange Journey:

Retirement had been kind to Norman Schwarzkopf. Scattered post-war revelations—Patriot missiles missing every SCUD fired by Iraq, Saddam still entrenched in Baghdad—had failed to shake the public’s favorable perception of “Stormin’ Norman” as triumphant war hero. The former general enjoyed lucrative speaking engagements around the country and he served as a paid consultant to NBC News. Six years after America’s “victory” in Desert Storm, the only nettlesome issue confronting Schwarzkopf was “a few” sick soldiers with unexplained illnesses. The Senate Veterans Affairs committee, now chaired by Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, asked the general to come before the panel in late January 1997 to answer questions about potentially chemically contaminated veterans.

Years of peacetime pursuits had not cooled Schwarzkopf’s fiery personality. For anyone to assert that Pentagon officials—past or present—were engaged in a chemical cover-up, Schwarzkopf intoned, “at best demonstrates an abysmal ignorance of the standards of conduct that we expect of all military leaders in our armed forces today, and at worst is a blatant lie.”

He categorically denied any knowledge of chemical exposures among the troops he led into battle. It didn’t happen. Case closed.
The general had lied.

Nearly eight months would elapse before his falsehood was exposed. Appropriately enough, it was a Gulf War veteran who caught him. In the late summer of 1997, Jim Brown, of Hannibal, Missouri, came across a declassified U.S. Army document which discussed one chemical incident in great detail: the case of David Allen Fisher of the 3rd Armored Division. Robin and Jim Tuite had included Fisher’s account in the final Senate Banking Committee report, but they were never provided with all of the records DoD possessed on the incident. Now, Brown had discovered the Army’s VII Corps NBC Operations chronology on the Pentagon’s GulfLINK website. The last entry for March 3, 1991 was telling:

“Message from CENTCOM CINC [Schwarzkopf] stated that the Iraqis claim there were no chem/bio weapons in Kuwait. CINC did not want us to make a big deal out of one soldier suffering chemical agent burns. Don’t deny the report to the press.”

Brown provided a copy of the log to veteran Gannett “News Service reporters Norm Brewer and John Hanchette. The story ran in USA Today on September 15, 1997. Confronted with the wartime log entry versus his blanket denials to Specter’s committee eight months earlier, Schwarzkopf raised the white flag: “It wasn’t a question of it slipping my mind. I should have said it.”

Schwazkopf was never placed under oath during his Congressional testimony. He lied to Congress but escaped a perjury charge.

Not a single mention of these incidents can be found in the post-death coverage of Schwarzkopf’s career.

Excerpt From: Patrick G. Eddington. “Long Strange Journey.” iBooks.
This material may be protected by copyright.

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