Americans remember Colin Powell and his complex legacy

Daniel Costa

Assistant News Editor

U.S.Last Monday, Oct. 18, witnessed the death of former Secretary of State Colin Powell. A defining figure in the field of national security, Powell gave shape to American foreign policy that lost its sense of direction after the end of the Cold War. A well known figure, he was recognized internationally from the streets of Harlem to the sands of Saudi Arabia. This renowned status invites both positive and negative attention to the man.


President Biden had this to say regarding the death of Powell, “I became friends with Colin Powell who we just lost. Thinking of Colin Powell, he’s not only a dear friend and a patriot, one of our great military leaders and a man of overwhelming decency…” Biden then acknowledged the difficulties Powell faced in life, and the achievements he accomplished that surmounted those difficulties.


Among these, first and foremost, was his tenure as secretary of state under then-President George W. Bush. Powell was the first black man to reach this position. Earlier in his life, Powell had preceded this feat when he became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under then-President George H.W. Bush. Powell’s achievements were not limited to political offices; he served twice in Vietnam, becoming wounded in both tours. He received a Purple Heart in his first tour, in his second being awarded the Soldier’s Medal when he repeatedly came back to a crashed helicopter to rescue comrades, even though he was wounded himself. Twice graduating from higher education, Powell first graduated from City College with a bachelor’s degree in geology. He then earned a master’s degree in business administration from George Washington University.


Even though his accomplishments are impressive, especially in the face of obstacles a Black man has to face, Powell had his detractors. Sharp criticism followed his speech at the United Nations, in which he claimed that Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. This claim, made by the administration he represented, was one of the most important factors in the United States taking military actions towards that country.


One of these detractors is former President Donald Trump. Trump had this to say regarding Powell’s death, “Wonderful to see Colin Powell, who made big mistakes on Iraq and famously, so-called weapons of mass destruction, be treated in death so beautifully by the Fake News Media…hope that happens to me someday. He was a classic RINO, if even that, always being the first to attack other Republicans. He made plenty of mistakes, but anyway, may he rest in peace!"


Although a Republican, Powell was not universally admired by the right, as shown by the words of Donald Trump. He certainly had his critics on the left too. However, what many admired was his willingness to cooperate across partisan lines. Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair, reacted to Powell’s death by saying, “His life stands as a testament not only to dedicated public service but also a strong belief in willingness to work across partisan division in the interests of his country.”


Through all of the accomplishments achieved, and all of the blunders committed, Colin Powell’s complex legacy will not be laid to rest with him. Perhaps this is the greatest lesson contemporary Americans can learn from his life; most individuals are neither morally bankrupt or paragons of virtue.


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