According to a statement sent by his family, former US Secretary of State Colin Powell died Monday morning. The four-star general was the first Black Secretary of State in American history, serving under former President George W. Bush from 2001 until 2005. He was 84 years old when he died.
“We have lost a remarkable and beloved husband, father, grandpa, and a great American,” the family wrote in a statement, complimenting “caring treatment” at the Walter Reid Medical Center.
Powell was “a terrific public servant,” “a family man and a friend,” and “was such a favorite of presidents that he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom — twice,” according to George W. Bush.
During Ronald Reagan’s presidency, the highly decorated veteran moved from combat action in Vietnam to being the first Black national security adviser. He became a trusted military adviser to various US politicians and helped influence American foreign policy. However, he conceded that his reputation had been tarnished by his defense of an Iraq invasion based on false intelligence.
Colin Luther Powell was born in Harlem, New York, on April 5, 1937, to Jamaican immigrants Luther and Maud Powell. He grew up in the South Bronx and attended public schools in New York City. Powell graduated from Morris High School in 1954 without having any definite goals for his future. He joined the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), a program that discovered potential military commanders, while studying geology at City College of New York, according to the BBC.
Powell was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Army after graduating in 1958. He said that because he was Black, he was denied access to some clubs and restaurants while conducting basic training in Georgia. But it didn’t stop the Jamaican-American from seeking a career in the military. President John F. Kennedy dispatched 16,000 advisers to South Vietnam in 1962 to aid and train the country’s armed forces. During his tour, Powell was hurt.
After surviving a helicopter accident in Vietnam in 1968 and rescuing three other soldiers from the flaming helicopter, he was decorated for courage. Powell was assigned to examine the My Lai massacre at this time, which has been called one of the most heinous acts of brutality against defenseless civilians performed during the Vietnam War. U.S. Army soldiers killed more than 300 civilians. Powell, on the other hand, appeared to deny any misconduct, declaring in his report that “relations between the American military and the Vietnamese people are outstanding.”
Powell returned from Vietnam and earned an MBA from Georgetown University in Washington before being awarded a White House Fellowship under President Richard Nixon in 1972. He’d go from a lieutenant colonel in South Korea to a staff officer at the Pentagon before attending the Army War College. After that, he was elevated to brigadier general and given command of a 101st Airborne Division brigade.
Powell took on a government adviser job and spent time in the Carter administration. According to HISTORY, he afterward became a senior military advisor to Caspar Weinberger, the Secretary of State for Defense, where he assisted in the coordination of the invasion of Granada and the bombing of Libya.
In 1987, he was appointed as a national security adviser. He was appointed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military position in the United States Department of Defense, two years later. George HW Bush was the president at the time. According to the BBC, Powell became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the age of 52, making him the youngest commander to occupy the position and the first from an African-American background.
This happened during the 1991 Gulf War when US-led forces drove Iraqi troops out of Kuwait. He was a key figure in the planning of the invasion of Panama in 1989, as well as the Persian Gulf crisis and war’s Desert Shield and Desert Storm operations. During the Persian Gulf War, he developed the “Powell Doctrine,” which made him a national figure. Powell believed that if the United States goes to war, it must have a clear military aim, based on his experiences in Vietnam.
Powell remained chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Clinton administration’s early months, and later publicly differed with the president on the issue of gays joining the military. He left the Army in 1993 and went on a peacekeeping mission to Haiti the following year with Senator Sam Nunn and former President Jimmy Carter, which resulted in the end of military rule and the return of an elected government.
Powell’s retirement from the military sparked speculation that he may pursue politics. He joined the Republican Party and spoke up on national problems despite his decision not to run for president in 1996.
Powell was appointed Secretary of State by George W. Bush in 2000. It was the highest civilian government position ever held by an African American at the time, and it was responsible for US relations with other countries.
During his Senate confirmation hearing, Powell said of his historic nomination, “I think it shows the world what is possible in this country.” “It demonstrates to the world that if you follow our model and believe in the ideals we advocate, you may see things as amazing as me sitting before you to gain your approval over time.”
Powell, on the other hand, received criticism for supporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. In February 2003, he appeared before the United Nations Security Council to present what he claimed was evidence that Iraq had concealed an ongoing weapons development program, according to HISTORY. He had previously opposed US involvement in Iraq, but later changed his mind and even sought broader support for the Iraq War by appearing before the UN Security Council to present what he claimed was evidence that Iraq had concealed an ongoing weapons development program.
Powell stated before Congress in February 2003, less than two years after Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was deposed, that the intelligence sources he utilized in his presentation to the UN in February 2003 were “wrong.” Saddam Hussein’s possession of “weapons of mass destruction” was implausible, he argued.
Powell left as Secretary of State not long after, but he continued to speak on national matters and was never afraid to criticize the Bush administration. In 2008, the man whose career was littered with firsts endorsed Barack Obama for President of the United States, praising Obama’s “power to inspire” and “inclusive tone of his campaign.” Powell is survived by his wife, Alma Vivian Powell, and three children, whom he married in 1962. Powell’s works include My American Journey (1995), an autobiography, and It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership (2012).
Powell’s statement at the United Nations will be a part of his legacy, but it should not define him, according to former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
According to USA Today, Hagel remarked, “The way we’ve got to look at Colin Powell is the cumulative, across his entire life and career.” “It includes that speech.” And I believe he didn’t want anyone to gloss over it. No, he made the decision, and it was the wrong one. But you have to consider the big picture: what did you do with all those years? “I think he turns out pretty well.”