Sound the cry for 'Stormin Norman'

Missing Persons No.19 Norman Schwarzkopf
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The Independent Online
Where are you now, Norman Schwarzkopf, when Nato truly needs you? If only Bosnia were the Gulf, Messrs Clinton, Chirac and Major must occasionally dream, where one devastating military strike would rid Bosnia of Radovan Karadzic and his cohorts as comprehensively as Saddam Hussein and his Revolutionary Guard were driven from Kuwait. Sadly, America's greatest military hero of recent times plans no comeback. But out of sight is not out of mind.

True, a little of the lustre has been knocked off the Schwarzkopf persona. His bullying, his volcanic temper, the cruel bawling out of subordinates, and a fondness for the imperial trappings of command that verged on megalomania, are by now well documented. So obstreperous could the general be, according to one chronicler of the Gulf war, that Dick Cheney, the then Defense Secretary, several times wanted to fire him.

But such tales only embellish the legend. America likes its soldiers big, bad-mouthed and brilliant, and "Stormin' Norman" fitted the bill to perfection: all 6ft 3in and 17 stone of him, complemented by a reputed 170 IQ, fluency in French and German, and a musical taste ranging from bel canto to Bob Dylan. Schwarzkopf even appeared on a celebrity version of the popular quiz show Jeopardy last year and routed all comers.

And while never the cuddliest of souls, the Bear's handling of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm could hardly be faulted. From the build- up to the desert blitzkrieg which finished it off, at the cost of barely 140 American lives, the Gulf campaign of 1990-91 will be a required subject in military colleges for generations. It comes complete with one intriguing and unanswered question - did Schwarzkopf want to go all the way to Baghdad? In his first interviews after the war he implied he did, only to change his tune later. Not since Douglas MacArthur had America boasted a general to compare.

Soon after victory in Kuwait he retired, his reputation to be adorned further by an honorary knighthood from the Queen and a hugely successful autobiography, It Doesn't Take A Hero. There was much talk of television superstardom, of a political career. In fact, however, for the last couple of years, apart from that Jeopardy show and a 1994 D-Day documentary, Stormin' Norman has been AWOL from the news pages.

One reason was a prostate cancer operation in May 1994. In true Schwarzkopf style, he was on safari in Africa just three months later, and doctors pronounce him free of the disease.

In the land where fame rarely lasts even Warhol's 15 minutes, Schwarzkopf is an enduring celebrity. He still commands a fortune on the speaking circuit, but has devoted most of his time to his family and a project to help sick children he founded with the actor Paul Newman and Wall Street financier Ted Forstmann, to which he donated his $28,000 Jeopardy winnings.

But who should be surprised at the relative obscurity? After all, MacArthur popularised that phrase about old soldiers never dying, simply fading away.