Colin Powell Term Paper

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Colin Powell

General Colin L. Powell is a study in contrasts in many ways. He has enjoyed a distinguished career in the United States Military, many high-ranking political positions including Secretary of State, and as the founder and chairman of the charitable group America's Promise. He is, arguably, one of the most popular military and political figures of this generation, but his reluctance in those roles is one of the most noticeable characteristics of his service. Although he was nudged by scandal on a few occasions, it rolled off him and never became part of his great legacy. Another great contrast is the gulf between his beginning and his later life as he started as a poor African-American in the Bronx in New York City and ended up holding one of the most powerful positions in the United States government. A man of such apparent contrasts has maintained a steady path throughout his career and life by choosing diplomacy, problem-solving, and integrity as his landmarks.

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General Powell's military career began when he was a student in the City College of New York. He studied geology as a major and graduated with a bachelor's degree. However, it was not his classes that captivated his imagination. According to the Academy of Achievement, Powell "found his calling when he joined the Reserve Officer's Training Corp" from which he graduated in 1958 with "the rank of cadet colonel, the highest rank in the corps" (achievement 1). His average academic effort earned him a 'C' average, but joining the ROTC was "one of the happiest experiences of his life: finding something he loved and could do well" ( 5).

Term Paper on Colin Powell Assignment

After graduating from college in 1958, Powell embarked on a military career in which he rose regularly through the ranks. He achieved the rank of Second Lieutenant in 1958, First Lieutenant in 1959, Captain in 1962, Major in 1966, Lieutenant Colonel in 1970, Colonel in 1976, Brigadier General in 1979, Major General in 1983, Lieutenant General in 1986, and General in 1989 ( 6). Such a rise through the levels is a result of hard work, diplomacy, and distinguished service. Powell met and was inspired by great people along the way. "As a young Lieutenant Colonel serving in South Korea, for example, Powell was very close to General Henry "Gunfighter" Emerson" and was strongly influenced by "his great love of his soldiers and concern for their welfare" ( 5). It is this kind of regard for the well-being and safety of fellow soldiers that colored Powell's entire career as a military man and a politician and eventually earned him the nickname "the reluctant warrior" ( 7).

In 1962, Powell was one of the 16,000 military advisors sent to South Vietnam. He was then a second lieutenant in the Army, and it was during this time that he received his first injury from stepping on a punji-stick booby trap. He received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star (achievement 1). Powell was also injured during his second tour of Vietnam when his helicopter crashed. "He single-handedly rescued several men from a burning helicopter, one of them being Maj. Gen. Charles Gettys, the commander of the Americal Division" ( 8). For this feat, Powell earned a Soldier's Medal which is only one of his 11 decorations for distinguished service (achievement 1).

After Vietnam, Powell became a key figure in many military and diplomatic endeavors. He earned an MBA from George Washington University and began to be regarded as a voice of wisdom in politics as well as military maneuvers. A White House fellowship in the 1970s put him in contact with such figures as Casper Weinberger upon whom he made a "lasting impression" (achievement 2). Powell continued to hold leadership positions on the ground and in the Pentagon and also studied at the Army War College. Such experience put him in line for becoming a General later in the 1980s. He advised Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger on the invasion of Grenada and later President Reagan on the summit meetings with Soviet President Gorbachev. By the early 1990s, Powell had become the first African-American to serve as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and he earned a national reputation for his role in Desert Storm (achievement 2). His assignment as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs lasted from October 1, 1989 to September 30, 1993. It was "the highest military position in the Department of Defense" and "during this time, he oversaw 28 crises, including Operation Desert Storm in the victorious 1991 Persian Gulf War" (U.S. Department of State). His distinguished military service ended with his retirement, but his status as a respected four-star general and diplomat led to his inclusion on a successful peace-making mission to Haiti with former President Carter in 1994.

Powell's military career was not completely free of problems. He was part of the investigation of the infamous My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War and was accused of "whitewashing" the situation ( 6). He also clashed with General John Hudachek while serving in Fort Collins, Colorado, but this General's negative remarks about Powell's poor leadership clearly missed the mark in light of the rest of Powell's record. Powell was also required to testify before Congress in the hearings about the Iran-Contra affair because "he was one of only five persons in the Pentagon who knew about the operation" (achievement 2). Despite his involvement in the deal that sold arms to Iran in exchange for hostages, "Powell was not implicated in any wrongdoing in the matter" ( 2). The highly debated issue of gays in the military that was the subject of much discussion in the 1990s elicited a strong response from Powell. "General Powell continued as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs during the first months of the Clinton Administration, publicly disagreeing with the President's plan to permit gay men and women to serve in the military, although he eventually accepted a compromise on the issue" (achievement 2).

Despite these potential scandals that might have derailed Powell's career or reputation, he has remained a highly-regarded military man. Even his controversial position as a "reluctant warrior" does not detract from his distinguished record of service and bravery. Even as a military leader, "he rarely advocated military intervention as the first solution to an international disputes, and instead usually prescribed diplomacy and containment" ( 7). Such a cautious position on the use of force became a hallmark of the other side of his professional life: his political roles and achievements.

In a conversation with Atlantic writer P.J. O'Rourke, Powell explained something about himself that sets him apart from other politicians. He said, "I'm different from most people in senior foreign policy circles, both in the United States and among my colleagues overseas, in that I'm not an academic and was not raised to be a foreign policy intellectual...I'm a practitioner, somebody who was raised to see a problem, analyze it, have views about it, and have passion for a solution. I tend to go with my experience. My experience is in the soldierly things" (O'Rourke 3). Such a combination of practicality and sincerity became the hallmarks of Powell's political career, and even when he clashed with so-called "hawks" over the necessity of war, his brave record as a soldier lent credibility to his arguments for diplomacy.

As part of the study in contrasts that defines Colin Powell, he is a four-star general who does not advocate fighting if it is at all possible to avoid it. As much as he wishes to use caution in rushing off to war, he recognizes the value of military might. In his conversation with writer O'Rourke, Powell says, "...we really do not wish to go to war with people. but, by God, we will have the strongest military around. And that's not a bad thing to have. It encourages and champions our friends that are weak and it chills the ambitions of the evil" (O'Rourke 4). Maintaining the balance between force and diplomacy was a challenge throughout Powell's political career.

The moderation required of Powell in order to maintain the delicate balance between bravery and war-mongering led to his moderation in politics. His "experience in military matters made him a very popular figure with both American political parties. Many Democrats admired his moderate stance on military matters, while many Republicans saw him as a great asset associated with the successes of past Republican administrations" ( 8). He was courted by both parties, but after his military retirement he "eventually declared himself a Republican, and began to campaign for Republican candidates" ( 8). Of course, much of Powell's highly visible political experience was from working for Republican presidents. He served as a National Security Advisor for Ronald Reagan, a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the administration of George H.W. Bush, and as Secretary of State under George W. Bush.

When President George W. Bush nominated Colin Powell for the position of Secretary of State in 2001,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Colin Powell" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Colin Powell.  (2006, September 26).  Retrieved September 24, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Colin Powell."  26 September 2006.  Web.  24 September 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Colin Powell."  September 26, 2006.  Accessed September 24, 2020.