Schwarzkopf 'Biography' disappoints


We can only hope the written biography of Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, for which publishers are reportedly bidding $3-5 million, is a lot more revealing than a new television documentary about the U.S. commander of the Persian Gulf war.

The latest edition of the A&E; basic cable network's "Biography" series, premiering at 8 tonight, is billed as the first TV documentary about Schwarzkopf. But it is disappointingly skimpy.

The show is comprised largely of film and tape clips from the familiar wartime press briefings and brief segments from other TV shows that have interviewed him, such as "20/20" and "Prime Time Live." The hour offers no original new interview material, and very little revealing commentary about the general from others close to him.

A West Point classmate, for example, merely says the private Schwarzkopf is pretty much the way he seems to be in public. (He does contend the general once predicted he would lead a U.S. Army to war, and even stipulated the Middle East as the theater.)

Especially disappointing is how superficially Schwarzkopf's early life is handled.

The essence of good biography, and particularly celebrity biography, should be the exploration of a full life's important details, and not merely the analysis of whatever recent events have brought the person to prominence.

Thus it is interesting to know that the "H" in Schwarzkopf's name is the initial of his father's first name, Herbert . . . and that the elder Schwarzkopf was once a policeman in charge of the Lindbergh kidnapping case, but left civilian life to return to the military . . . and that as a boy Norman spent time in Iran where his father, also a general, was stationed.

But that's it. That's really all we learn about those formative years. Schwarzkopf does not reflect on them and we hear nothing meaningful from family or friends. Little attempt is made to put the biographical bare essentials into perspective as the general goes from birth to West Point in five minutes or so.

The remaining material is a rehash of the lessons Schwarzkopf learned in action in Vietnam and Grenada, with long, long minutes of battle footage of the Persian Gulf campaign. For a succinct summary of those events, this "Biography" is not bad -- although there is nothing in it that remotely challenges the official military analysis.

But for much insight into the man at the top, wait for the book.

THE WAR ON TAPE -- On the same subject, note that a second video compilation of Cable News Network coverage of the Persian Gulf war is now hitting video stores. The 101-minute-long "Desert Storm: The Victory," costs $14.98. Its predecessor cassette, "The War Begins," has sold 300,000 copies, according to Turner Home Entertainment.

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