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Colin Powell, the first Black secretary of state died Monday from complications related to COVID-19, but his family says he also suffered from multiple myeloma, which compromised his immune system. Nick Schifrin looks back at his life and career.
As we reported, Colin Powell, a trailblazing military leader and the first Black secretary of state, died today from complications of COVID.
His family said he also suffered from multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, which compromised his immune system.
Nick Schifrin has this look back at his life and career.
Colin Powell, Former U.S. Secretary of State: We will defend our interests from a position of strength.
… and soldier…
Our strategy to go after this army is very, very simple. First, we are going to cut it off and then we are going to kill it.
Colin Powell, first-generation American, became one of the country's most popular public figures and an American success story.
We have moved from denying a Black man service at a lunch counter to elevating one to the highest military office in the nation and to being a serious contender for the presidency. This is a magnificent country, and I am proud to be one of its sons.
He was the son of Jamaican immigrants and grew up in Hunts Point, a diverse neighborhood in the Bronx. His 35-year Army career began in the Reserve Officers Training Corps Program, or ROTC, at the City College of New York.
He became a platoon leader in the Cold War Germany, then served twice in Vietnam. He rose quickly to become the country's only fourth Black four-star general and, by the end of the Reagan administration, the first Black national security adviser.
George H.W. Bush, Former President of the United States: The next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin L. Powell.
Under President H.W. Bush, he was the first and still only Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs, one of the most influential chiefs in modern times, the first to serve as principal military adviser to the president.
George H.W. Bush:
It is most important that the chairman of Joint Chiefs of staff be a person of breadth, judgment, experience, and total integrity. Colin Powell has all those qualities and more.
By then, he was a proudly reluctant warrior who created the Powell Doctrine. If force were used, it needed to be deployed overwhelmingly with clearly defined goals.
In December 1989, 25,000 troops invaded Panama to overthrow Manuel Noriega.
One hundred and thirty thousand Iraqi troops stormed the capital city of Kuwait.
And in January 1991, Desert Storm to evict Iraqi troops who'd entered Kuwait. In days, the campaign eviscerated the Iraqi Army, and Powell held regular, popular news conferences.
We are assembling a very sizable ground force that can finish off the job, should that be necessary.
Throughout his career, Powell was a mentor and inspiration to countless Black officers, including Four-Star Army General Lloyd Austin, the first Black officer to command a division in combat and the country's first Black secretary of defense, who spoke today in Georgia:
Llyod Taschen, U.S. Secretary of Defense: I lost a tremendous personal friend and mentor. He has been my mentor for a number of years. He always made time for me. And I could always go to him with tough issues. He always had great, great counsel. We will certainly miss him. I feel as if I have a hole in my heart.
By the '90s, Powell was so popular, both parties courted him as a presidential candidate.
George W. Bush, Former President of the United States: I asked him to become the 65th secretary of state of the United States of America.
He announced himself as a Republican, and, in 2001, became the first Black secretary of state. He was a popular secretary inside the department, known for modernization, empowerment, and promoting diplomacy.
But, on policy, despite internal clashes and personal reservations about the invasion of Iraq, he made the case for war, using what proved to be false intelligence.
Saddam Hussein and his regime have made no effort, no effort to disarm, as required by the international community.
He later called the speech a blot on his record, and he left the administration in 2004. He returned to the public eye in 2008 to call Barack Obama a transformational leader.
I think Senator Obama has captured the feelings of the young people of America and is reaching out in a more diverse, inclusive way across our society.
In the last few years, Powell was the one reaching out, especially to young people of color. His alma mater started a School for Civic and Global Leadership in his name.
And in its students, he saw himself, the kid from the South Bronx with the big dreams, as he said just two weeks ago in an online conversation with his daughter Linda.
Each of you tell me where you're from, where you're parents from, and what's your future.
Each one of them — there were 12, I think — each of one of them did that. And…
Linda Powell, Daughter of Colin Powell: Yes. They reminded you of yourself.
I said, my God, this is me. That's when I decided I had to do more than just show up every now and again.
For decades, Powell did much more than show up. He died a national security trailblazer at 84 years old.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.
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Nick Schifrin is the foreign affairs and defense correspondent for PBS NewsHour, based in Washington, D.C. He leads NewsHour's foreign reporting and has created week-long, in-depth series for NewsHour from China, Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Cuba, Mexico, and the Baltics. The PBS NewsHour series "Inside Putin's Russia" won a 2018 Peabody Award and the National Press Club's Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence. In November 2020, Schifrin received the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Arthur Ross Media Award for Distinguished Reporting and Analysis of Foreign Affairs.
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