While planning my son's senior year history studies last year for the 20th century, I knew we'd have to read It Desn't oTake a Hero, the Autobiography of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf . How better to cover the span of the 1930's to 1990's than through the first hand account of a man who not only lived through it, but made history within it?
A prodigious book at 507 pages, my son was not at all daunted. I assigned it in portions, only having him reading the pages that covered the specific years we were studying that week in history.
We learned about his childhood years during the Great Depression that eventually unfolded into World War II, when his father left home to serve the country. His father was a West Point graduate, so it was expected that the son would follow in his footsteps, which he did. Before Schwarzkopf's days as a cadet, we travel with him to post WWII Europe where his father helped with the Marshall Plan, helping Europe rebuild from the devastation of war.
Details of Schwarzkopf's training at West Point was fascinating, especially since we have taken tours there.
After receiving his commission, Schwardkopf was stationed in Germany during the Cold War. It was fascinating reading about how he could walk up to the Brandenburg Gate, check point to East Germany, now held by the Soviets. His description of the contrast between East and West Germany was far more than what a textbook could ever tell us.
In between many of his assignments he spent time at the Pentagon, which was intriguing to us since we live in the Washington DC area and have been there.
Details of his being stationed in Hawaii was of great interest since I lived there as a little girl many years later. He said at the time, this was the headquarters for Asia and the Middle East.
Vietnam unfolded into greater detail as we experienced his different tours there, how he fought, what worked and what didn't. Again his first hand accounts were far more informative, filling in many spaces left by the history books.
His involvement in Grenada in the 1980's was quite informative from his personal experience after having only heard news reports on it. First hand accounts are far more revealing.
Over and over again, we learned how experiences in Schwarzkopf's life foreshadowed the day when he was fully prepared to take on leading a massive military alliance in the Persian Gulf War. No one had predicted this day coming, yet he had a feeling, so between "chance" coincidences (if there are any such things), and certain feelings he had when given a choice of assignment, he found himself in the right place at the right time. He found that he had the cultural experience to interact with the leaders of the Middle East, because of the time he lived there with his father who was stationed there after WWII. As a young boy he learned the cultural manners that helped to forge an alliance in the 1980's.
We read other autobiographies on WWII, the Cold War, and Vietnam, which I shall share later. However this book was most unique in sharing about the Persian Gulf War.
Already my son and I have used our knowledge gleaned from Schwarzkopf's experience in the Persian Gulf War to detect error from a speaker my son and I both heard last month. Reading primary source documents empowers the learner to check the words they hear or read from another, to see if they are in-line with the facts. This book is filled with maps of the battles and personal experience from the commander who himself led the troops. I highly recommend it!