Monday, 16 August 2004

Colin Powell in The Atlantic

One of my favourite raconteurs is P.J.O'Rourke, author of 'Give War a Chance', 'Republican Party Reptile' and other ha-ha-only-serious books.

In this month's edition of The Atlantic Online, he interviews another favourite personality of mine, US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Now that may sound about as exciting as watching paint dry. Journalist blabs with Politician. *yawn*. But not so, I'll give you some quotes:

On Nuclear Penis Envy:
SECRETARY POWELL: ...My favorite story is, after we got rid of the Pershing IIs and they got rid of their SS-20s, my counterpart Mikhail Moiseyev, chief of the Soviet military general staff, visited Washington in 1991. We had brought one of each of the missiles to the Smithsonian. And he and I are down there with adoring fans watching this unfolding of their SS-20 model and our Pershing. Well, the SS-20 is a big thing. And the Pershing is small. It's much more efficient, a better missile. And so everybody is looking at this. And my wife, Alma, is with me. She pays no attention to any of this military stuff. She's only been a military wife for the past forty years. And she looks at it and says, "How come theirs is bigger?"

Quotable Quotes:
SECRETARY POWELL: ...And 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.

A deputy secretary interrupted. "That's good," she said. "Did you just make that up?"

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah. Not bad, eh?

Elephants in the Blackboard Jungle
SECRETARY POWELL: You've heard the wonderful story about the elephants? This was at a game reserve in Botswana or somewhere. They had found a dead rhinoceros, and they couldn't figure out who had killed it. The rhinoceros doesn't have any natural enemies. They looked and looked and found that there were these elephants, male elephants, that were killing rhinoceros. They were young elephants that had been brought from another reserve far away, but they had been brought just as two adolescent male elephants, and—

P. J. O'ROURKE: An elephant gang.

SECRETARY POWELL: An elephant gang. And so the game keepers didn't know what to do. They didn't want to kill them. And it occurred to some guy, very early one morning he said, "I've got it." They just went and got some older male elephants. They brought two male elephants, adult male elephants in with these teenagers, and within a few months, problem solved. The teenagers didn't know how to act. The male elephants made it clear to them: "Excuse me, boy. This is not what elephants do. We don't go around chomping on rhinoceri."

I've seen this in schools in Washington, D.C., where there are young men, about age eight or nine, who do not know the taboos of family, the shibboleths of the society, the expectations of a family, the need for self-restraint. They don't get it. And so what happens, they go bopping out, and they're out of control.

I Knew Elvis

P. J. O'ROURKE: Really?

SECRETARY POWELL: I met him when he was in the Army. I was a lieutenant; he was a sergeant. He was in the neighboring regiment—or combat command, as we called it—in the Third Armored Division in Germany.

We were in the training area one day and I was driving my jeep around and suddenly came upon this unit from the other outfit and there he was. And so I went over and shook hands.

He was a good soldier. You never would have thought he was anything but a soldier. He had a pimple on his face and everything else. He was not a big star. He was just another soldier.

P. J. O'ROURKE: I'll be darned. Well, good for him.

Rank Hath Its Privileges (Zen and the Art of Volvo Maintenance)
SECRETARY POWELL: I was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "I'll give you a Volvo on a rope." The rope broke one day coming through the gate at Ft. Myer, with the MPs waving the Chairman through. We coasted until we could get another rope.

We used to do this all the time. Bring them to the house and Sergeant Pearson, now Mr. Pearson, and I would take them apart. We had extra engines, we had extra radiators, had extra transmissions.

P. J. O'ROURKE: Did you have room to do this? My wife gets upset about carburetors on the dining room table.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, so I had five garages at Ft. Myer. On the weekends, I would go out there and start rebuilding cars. I still have one of them. I've had it for twelve years now. It's still out in my yard. And it just—it cleared my non-zero-sum mind.
Of course there's lots more stuff on the War against Terror, the Cold War, how to encourage Democracy and discourage Dictatorship, Economic Justice, relations with the EU, and other matters of great importance. Personally, I find it strangely comforting that the guy in charge of this doesn't take himself too seriously, and spends time unravelling the knots of care putting Volvos back in running condition. He also managed a rare feat : he impressed P.J.O'Rourke, not an easy thing to do.

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