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The General who knew the field officers were usually right

Colin Powell

Colin Powell, the first African-American to be Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff died passed away today (18 October 2021). He was 84 and he died of complications from Covid-19. The full story of his passing can be found at: [LINK]

I grew up in the UK during the first Gulf War, when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs under the first President Bush. The media made much of the fact that he was the first black man to reach the highest ranks of the US military. He was, as they say, a media personality in the making in that he was a black and had climbed the ranks of a conservative institution, when most black people that were talked about in the media were either sports stars, rappers or civil rights activist.

As the obituaries are coming in from the great and the good, I shall try to limit myself to two particular aspects of Colin Powell, since my knowledge comes from reading about him from a different part of the world and never serving in the institution that was most beloved to him – the US Army.

The first thing that one could say about Colin Powell has become particularly pertinent in today’s age of divisive politics. The late General was someone who could function in an environment with people whom he disagreed with.

Powell served with both Republican and Democrat administration. He was National Security Advisor under Regan, Chairman of the Joint-Chiefs under the first Bush and Bill Clinton before rising to the ranks of Secretary of State under the second Bush. If you read his biography “My American Journey,” he managed to find something good to say about all the administrations he worked for and whatever criticisms he had of his political masters were inevitably professional. Although appointed by Brush the first, Powell continued to serve as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and despite the initial fracas over the “Don’t Ask, don’t tell” policy regarding homosexuals, he actually got along with Bill Clinton, the Democrat who had effectively ended the career of his “mentor” (as things would have it, Bill Clinton and George Bush the first would eventually become close).

Then in 2008, when a young Barak Obama was running for president and facing accusations of being a “Muslim,” Powell, a card-carrying member of the Republican Party came out to say “So what if Obama is a Muslim.”

This aspect of General Powell’s story shouldn’t be extraordinary. However, in a world of “With us or Against us,” it is. He understood that it was the objective that was important rather than the ideological differences. Hence, he was able to work with both Democrats and Republicans.

The second aspect of Colin Powell comes from his post public service career as a leadership guru. The man was filled with common sense and ten of his better leadership quotes can be seen in the following link: [LINK]

One of the things that struck me came from a book about him that I was browsing in the book shop. He stated that he tended to side with his field officers over his staff officers. An extract of his explanation can be found in the following interview with Forbes Magazine: [LINK]

He wisely says, “I have sort of always felt that the guys in the field are closer to the troops, closer to the problem, who are actually executing what’s supposed to be done by the organization, they should have a better understanding of what’s going on, so if they tell me something is wrong, I am going to assume they are right.”

If you look his words, you’ll realise that this is common sense for most situations. The guys in the best position to deal with any given problem are the guys on the ground rather than the guys sitting in offices far away from the problem. The worst people to deal with any particular problem are the guys sitting far away in ivory towers and getting excited over statistics.

Yet, while this is common sense, the system that we live in tends to reward the guy furthest away from the problem rather than the actual problem solver. In Singapore, for example, we get particularly excited about paying our political leaders a lot of money but struggle to pay rank and file workers a few cents more. Our military is run on a system where anything resembling field experience (actually facing bullets) is something of a handicap and the guys who are on the field doing the work get shafted by the paper pushers.

To be fair, this isn’t limited to the military or even to Singapore. One of our media organisations was once known to have a surplus of vice-presidents but a lack of producers. Everybody wants to be a boss and nobody wants to be the guy actually doing things.

If Colin Powell is to leave a legacy, it should be a reminder that it’s the people on the field, in the battle field who actually know what’s going on. We should trust the people doing the work rather than the people sitting behind desk and screens and jacking off over statistics.

 

Tang Li

*Although I’ve been based mainly in Singapore for nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of being able meet people who have crossed borders and cultures. I’ve befriended ministers and ambassadors and worked on projects involving a former head of state. Yet, at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of befriending migrant labourers and former convicts. All of them have a story to tell. All of them add to the fabric of life. I hope to express the stories that inspire us to create life as it should be.

 

 

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READER COMMENTS BELOW

17 Responses to “The General who knew the field officers were usually right”

  • Western Worshiper:

    Powell was an evil man. He helped to con the UN and the world into the Iraq war. Millions of people died. Evil worshiper.

    https://theintercept.com/2018/02/06/lie-after-lie-what-colin-powell-knew-about-iraq-fifteen-years-ago-and-what-he-told-the-un/

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  • War criminal:

    While Bush & Biden praise the late Colin Powell, ‘war criminal’ trends on Twitter

    https://www.rt.com/usa/537803-colin-powell-war-criminal-reactions/

    Mass murderer and war criminal Colin Powell, who lied to the United Nations and the world about WMDs in Iraq, leading to the death and displacement of millions of Iraqis; who helped destroy the Middle East under George Bush’s neocon administration, has just died.

    Colin Powell is dead. COVID took him. ‘War Criminal’ is chiseled on his tombstone. Iraq is the name on our lips. But don’t forget the war crimes in A Shau Valley in Vietnam (near Laos); burnt Vietnamese ghosts will guide Powell to hell.

    On January 21, 1991, the US bombed the only factory that produced baby formula in all of Iraq. Shortly after, Colin Powell dismissed the attack: “It is not an infant formula factory…It was a biological weapons facility, of that we are sure.”

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  • Evil monk and white skeleton:

    Where are the WMD he testified before the United Nations were in trailers in Iraq? His presentation seemed ridiculous at the time, and I was right. Others who respected him sent men and women to Iraq to die because of his lies.

    Haven’t you said enough evil monk?

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  • War criminal:

    He wisely says, “I have sort of always felt that the guys in the field are closer to the troops, closer to the problem, who are actually executing what’s supposed to be done by the organization, they should have a better understanding of what’s going on, so if they tell me something is wrong, I am going to assume they are right.”

    On the contrary, he helped to cover up the My Lai massacre of 300 over Vietnamese civilians.

    His words are the same as the corporate vision of Centurion (bullshit).

    His evil deeds are reported here:
    https://consortiumnews.com/2021/10/18/colin-powell-an-appraisal/

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  • FlickShit:

    Most Generals are lairs, if not how would they get the title “General” in the rank.

    This is a warrior general and he lies that kills million of others in the Gulf War. Karma catches up with him. Million and million of innocent souls will go after him.

    Well, this is just a general who just talks and kill million. Our paper generals, just nod its head and million will also be killed by then for being a puppet.

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  • A:

    He is a war criminal who lied to the world and made the fake case to invade Iraq at UN.

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  • HSK Given UP:

    In Singapore, the undeserving is being paid obscenely they have no motivation nor the drive to push them to become a real leader. Whereas the rank and file are working their butt, tauted to be leader, were being put down as mediocre because they weren’t paid the real salary they deserves. That is the situation Singapore is facing, I called it leaderships crisis, country catastrophe, dooms day across the nation. The next younger generation of Singaporeans will feel the major destruction that the current leaders have already done. I think it is too late, we have very few opposition to save this country.

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  • Temusik Patriot:

    Similar to Obama he is Black or Afro-American…had he been white,no big DEAL…a sad FACT of LIFE n the hipocricy along with it

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  • Shenkoji Buchikonya:

    Are you a comedy writer? If not, I suggest you forward your post as soon as possible. You’re a comedic genius!!You must have a computer that like a radio has one channel.Get it fixed and you can read a little more broadly.

    Powell knew at the time there was no reasonable evidence for “weapons of mass destruction”, and every intelligent member of the public ought to have known it as well–as they certainly and vociferously did.
    Do you live in a cave or something? LOL.

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  • Shenkoji Buchikonya:

    The most striking thing about this article is this writer’s thoughtless cavalier attitude towards Colin. No apologies…just doing my job.

    Collin Powell made his bed when he moved to the dark side. That famous WMD speech at the UN is one for the history books – of lies and deceit. He cannot explain it away by saying that he was just a pawn. But he was a very respected General, a tactician who understood war, it’s implications and repercussions. He should have stopped the war or at least not be party to it. He could have pointed out that the Iraq War was wrong and there was no real proof of WMD. He should have just resigned. Instead he pointed to rickety trucks moving and called them WMD. And he was the top General of the Armed Forces!

    Thanks to him making the case in the UN ,America ended up in a War of such great proportions that more wars, millions of deaths, displacement of entire Iraq peoples are still continuing……

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  • Trust only myself:

    We need more deaths from the ranks or category of politicians like Colin Powell before people take covid seriously………

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  • Harder Truths:

    This guy was an a**hole who was part of the US push to fabricate a war to kill over 1 million Iraqis as part of a takeover of the Middle East and Syria was the place where the Russians stopped them cold.

    Powell was a liar and disgrace to the American uniform. he knowingly helped start a war for fun and profit for his own personal gain. When the real truth came out that there were no weapons o f mas destruction his legacy was to disappear into the shadows with his future political goals in tatters. Hope he takes the Express Elevator to Hell where he belongs.

    Nice try Tang Li. Next time before you post go learn some real history for a change.

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  • Kaiju:

    Why did not mention he was FULLY vaccinated?

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  • Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.:

    USA has turned laws upside down.

    Internationally, other countries are guilty until they can prove otherwise. Lack of evidence means the other country is hiding evidence, and guilty. So many cases: Iraq, China, etc.

    Internally, they have applied this to their own citizens. Guilty until they can prove otherwise.

    Police seized people’s money without any evidence of crime. See money, take money. Same as highway robbers. Money seized is used by the police. Bonuses and whatever.

    https://www.greenvilleonline.com/in-depth/news/taken/2019/01/27/civil-forfeiture-south-carolina-police-property-seizures-taken-exclusive-investigation/2457838002/

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/investigative/2014/09/06/stop-and-seize/

    Shenkoji Buchikonya: Powell knew at the time there was no reasonable evidence for “weapons of mass destruction”, and every intelligent member of the public ought to have known it as well–as they certainly and vociferously did.

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  • dave:

    ‘Powell was a liar and disgrace to the American uniform. he knowingly helped start a war for fun and profit for his own personal gain. When the real truth came out that there were no weapons o f mas destruction his legacy was to disappear into the shadows with his future political goals in tatters. Hope he takes the Express Elevator to Hell where he belongs.’

    No, he was not a disgrace to the American uniform. This is what the American uniform is all about, starts wars, telling lies, cheating and killing innocent women and children. And of course they honoured him generously as a war hero, for killing the innocents.

    Evil white men using evil black men to kill the Muslims and the Arabs and coloured people of the world. They have been doing this since they landed in America and massacred the natives to extinction.

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  • Vic Lim:

    Death does not make a person nice or great! Powell lied at the UN. Presented fabricated and fake evidence to justify a war that killed, displaced and caused immense suffering to the Iraqi people and more. All this so that his bosses can can enriched themselves from an illegal war. Disgusting.

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  • Vic Lim:

    Death does not make a person nice or great! Powell lied at the UN. Presented fabricated and fake evidence to justify a war that killed, displaced and caused immense suffering to the Iraqi people and more. All this so that his bosses can enriched themselves from an illegal war. Disgusting.

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