Colin Powell Was Vaccinated But Also Living With Cancer. Which Part Will Anti-Vaxxers Tell The Truth About?
Colin Powell, the first Black secretary of State, has died at 84 from complications related to COVID-19. Powell was vaccinated, and he was living with multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer that would've made it harder to fight off breakthrough infections. Nonetheless, this will unfortunately fuel the anti-vax narrative from conspiracy theorists with no regard for the health of at-risk Americans.
Born in New York City and raised in the south Bronx, Powell received a commission as an Army second lieutenant after graduating from the City College of New York City in 1958. President Harry S. Truman had desegregated the military just a decade earlier. He served in the military for the next 35 years (including tours in Vietnam) and rose to the rank of four-star general. He was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1989 to 1993. During that time he oversaw the invasion of Panama and Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf War, perhaps the last US military engagement that played out (superficially at least) like the action movie Republicans demanded.
Powell was somewhat of a conservative darling during this period. There were appeals for the then-retired general to run for president against Bill Clinton in 1996, but he declined, saying he “lacked the fire" for politics.
"Such a life requires a calling that I do not yet hear. And for me to pretend otherwise would not be honest to myself, it would not be honest to the American people. And therefore, I cannot go forward."
Powell had an uneasy relationship with the GOP. He was later booed at the 1996 Republican National Convention when he expressed his support for affirmative action and abortion rights. The GOP tent wasn't that large even a quarter century ago.
Powell's parents were immigrants from Jamaica, and he considered himself someone "who'd lived the American dream to its fullest." During his 1996 convention speech, he said to an almost entirely white audience, "We might be black and treated as second-class citizens, but stick with it. Because in America, justice will eventually triumph."
POWELL: The Republican party must always be the party of inclusion. The Hispanic immigrant who became a citizen yesterday must be as precious to us as a Mayflower descendant; the descendant of a slave or of a struggling miner in Appalachia must be as welcome — and must find as much appeal — in our party as in any other party or any other American might. It is our diversity that has made us strong. Yet our diversity has sadly, throughout our history, been the source of discrimination. Discrimination that we, as guardians of the American Dream, must rip out branch and root. It is our party, it is our party, the party of Lincoln, that must always stand for equal rights and fair opportunity for all.
That was a fantasy even in 1996, as Newt Gingrich was the speaker of the House and Pat Buchanan was still an influential figure in the party. But the GOP didn't promote its cruelty, ignorance, and bigotry as openly, or at least not in the same way. Powell represented the party's veneer of respectability, so it's both ironic and fitting that Powell would willingly tarnish his reputation during the buildup to the 2003 Iraq war.
Powell later said he regretted his February 2003 speech to the United Nations claiming that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Jeffrey J. Matthews suggested in his biography Colin Powell: Imperfect Patriot that Powell was an “exemplary subordinate" whose superior "followership" led to tremendous errors in judgment.
The Iraq War arguably remains Powell's greatest single mistake. It's certainly why leftists on social media are especially gross about Powell's death today. Iraq wasn't Powell's idea, but the war's chief architects, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, saw everything Powell had built during his professional career as their own collateral to spend.
"We've really got to make the case" against Hussein, Bush told Powell in an Oval Office meeting in late January, "and I want you to make it." Only Powell had the "credibility to do this," Bush said. "Maybe they'll believe you." It was a direct order from his commander in chief, and it never occurred to Powell to question it.
Cheney reportedly told Powell before the infamous UN speech, "You've got high poll ratings; you can afford to lose a few points."
Cheney's idea of Powell's U.N. mission, [Powell's chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson] thought, was to "go up there and sell it, and we'll have moved forward a peg or two. Fall on your damn sword and kill yourself, and I'll be happy, too."
Powell sold Americans on the supposed necessity of invading Iraq, and once it all went to hell, Bush would let Powell know his services weren't needed for his second term.
Four years later, Powell endorsed Barack Obama, a vocal opponent of the Iraq War. He railed against what he considered “a dark vein of intolerance in some parts" of the GOP, after Obama was elected. While privately not a fan of Hillary Clinton, he endorsed her for president in 2016 because he recognized the threat Donald Trump posed. Cowardly Republicans might've written in Powell's name instead of making the binary choice between the email lady and the fascist, but Powell himself actually did the right thing.
Powell officially abandoned his former party after the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Some of his last public words, given during an interview after President Joe Biden's inauguration, remained optimistic nonetheless. “[Biden's inaugural speech] puts us in perspective. We're Americans. We have a great country. It's great today as it's ever been, even with the nonsense that took place two weeks ago ... You know, I sat there, just looking up at the dome of the Capitol, that kind of yellowish tone that it has, and I just kept staring at it and listening to what the president was saying and rethinking what I saw two weeks ago from the riots that were taking place, and just saying to myself: We'll wash that out. We'll wash that out. This is a real America."
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."