By E.G. Singer
“Reluctant warrior” was the phrase Colin Powell used to describe himself when it came to the various positions he occupied over much of his lifetime.
He knew the battles of immigrants—being of Jamaican ancestry—on the streets of New York City, but also in Vietnam, where he served and commanded during two tours of duty. He knew, firsthand, what war was and what it entailed; the casualties that ensued, the lives irreparably changed, the visible and invisible wounds and scars carried—he had walked that walk. And those lessons were not lost on him, later in his career in both military and civilian life. The drive and integrity instilled early on and over his lifetime garnered him awards and accolades on both sides of the aisle.
He was an inspiration to many, especially those people of color who saw in him what determination and hard work could accomplish in a country that often turned its back on those very same people after they had served the nation.
It is not often that mistakes are admitted by powerful people that serve this country. Colin Powell recognized the errors made in foreign policy under his watch, but did not arrogantly dismiss them. He went public with his opinions. When he became disenchanted with the Republican Party—his party—and their attempts to denigrate and insult then-Sen. Barack Obama—he spoke of his disappointment and the direction he saw the country moving in—he endorsed Sen. Obama for president, stating the country needed to turn the page.
Finally, with age came the infirmities—prostate cancer, multiple myeloma and Parkinson’s disease—of which he spoke publicly about in his later years, before his death, from Covid-19.
But perhaps his most sweeping victory, in the end, was that this warrior no longer remained reluctant, and became all too human with his statement of being “one of you” when he went public with his multiple myeloma diagnosis to a hushed room, some years ago.
Colin Powell’s life was truly “mission accomplished.”