Assessing the Legacy of Colin Powell

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Colin Powell in 2002, when he was secretary of state.
Brooks Kraft/Corbis, via Getty Images

To the Editor:

Re “Colin L. Powell, 1937-2021: Model Diplomat Haunted by the Iraq War” (obituary, front page, Oct. 19):

True, Colin Powell was haunted by the war in Iraq, but for most Americans he rose far above those problematic scenes of his testimony before the United Nations. He was a man whose name invokes the best of what American leadership has to offer. A man whose success story invokes pride in what an American can achieve, as a Black man, as a military hero, as a passionate believer in truth and justice.

He could have been president. His very stature was presidential. His statesmanship was admired across the aisle and throughout the country and the world. Colin Powell, model diplomat, had the strength of character to admit his errors, proving once again that truth and honesty are the cornerstones to greatness.

As the words of praise pour in from all parts of the political spectrum, the sadness and loss we feel are emblematic of the powerful message that was his life. May he rest in peace.

Doris Fenig
Floral Park, N.Y.

To the Editor:

The extensive obituary of General Colin Powell should have highlighted that he was against the invasion of Iraq, and tried to convince the neoconservatives that there could be many negative consequences for the war they were pressing on the country. He tried to warn them with the Pottery Barn rule — “If you break it, you own it.”

The Bush administration pushed Mr. Powell into making the case for the invasion of Iraq in front of the United Nations because he was trusted by the public. Although he was personally against the invasion, he did his duty and made the presentation — which he was “haunted” by in later years.

Unfortunately, Mr. Powell was correct, and we have had the many years of fruitless and costly wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

Steve Schoen
Silver Spring, Md.

To the Editor:

In your obituary of Colin Powell you report, “Under the newly elected President Bill Clinton, Mr. Powell and other members of the Joint Chiefs confronted him over his promise to allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the armed forces, a tense debate that led to the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ compromise policy that lasted until 2011, when they were indeed allowed to serve openly.”

This disastrous “compromise” destroyed the careers of some 17,000 L.G.B.T.Q. service members who were discharged before Barack Obama finally succeeded in getting Congress to repeal it in 2010.

The smooth transition to full equality within the military regardless of sexual orientation has proved that every argument that Mr. Powell made against allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly was false.

His inability to understand that what Mr. Clinton was trying to do for gay people was no different from Harry Truman’s courageous decision to allow Black and white soldiers to serve side by side was one of Mr. Powell’s most egregious failures.

Charles Kaiser
New York
The writer, a former New York Times reporter, is the author of “The Gay Metropolis.”

To the Editor:

New York officials should consider renaming one of the City Colleges in honor and in memory of one of their alumni, Colin Powell, the son of immigrants, a man who was raised in the Bronx and who became our nation’s first Black national security adviser, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state.

By naming one of the City Colleges in his memory, today’s children of immigrants who attend City College will be inspired to reflect on Mr. Powell’s remarkable life and to overcome obstacles, personal setbacks and bumps in the road. Like Mr. Powell, they could become role models and our future national leaders. Try hard. Never give up. Reach for your dreams.

Paul Feiner
Greenburgh, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Covid-19 can strike us all. Even the former four-star general Colin Powell succumbed to the virus. Though Mr. Powell was fully vaccinated, his immune system was compromised by blood cancer, leaving him vulnerable. And of course, his age, 84, was against him.

But let us hope that Mr. Powell’s death does not deter others from getting vaccinated. Vaccination is still the most effective tool to reduce our chances of contracting and spreading the virus. Most who are fully vaccinated, yet contract the virus, will get a mild case and recover quickly. Let us all do whatever we can to continue to stay safe and well.

JoAnn Lee Frank
Clearwater, Fla.

Melanie Lambrick

To the Editor:

How Everyday Sexism Harms Women,” by Jessica Nordell and Yaryna Serkez (Opinion, Sunday Review, Oct. 17), grossly understates the problem we face. Everyday sexism harms not only women, it harms everyone.

The negative impact of the pernicious bias described in the piece extends well beyond women to include anyone who exists outside a narrow white male normative experience. The targets include women of every color, nonbinary individuals, L.G.B.T.Q. people, immigrants and many white men who are not strapping 6-foot athletic types.

This bias drives a substantial talent leakage from our economy, an impact that is rarely discussed yet one that risks our long-term viability as a nation.

The Great Resignation — record numbers of people quitting their jobs as they adjust their expectations during the pandemic — is a recent good illustration of this leakage. Will we act in time to address this leak before it becomes a deluge?

Linda Rossetti
Winchester, Mass.
The writer is the author of “Women & Transition: Reinventing Work and Life.”