The hashtag #RestInPeace was trending on Monday afternoon on Twitter after it was announced that Gen. Colin Powell, former secretary of state, died at 84 years of age from Covid-19 related complications. Powell had been fully vaccinated, but had been afflicted with other diseases, including Parkinson’s as well as the blood cancer multiple myeloma – and both could reportedly impact an individual’s recovery from the coronavirus infection.
On the official Facebook page for Gen. Powell, his family posted, “General Colin L. Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, passed away this morning due to complications from Covid 19. He was fully vaccinated. We want to thank the medical staff at Walter Reed National Medical Center for their caring treatment. We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American. The Powell Family.”
The post from the Powell family had more than 35,000 likes, 17,000 shares and more than 7,600 comments with many offering their thoughts and prayers.
On Twitter on Monday, fellow military personnel (active and retired), lawmakers and thousands of others noted Powell’s passing, many offering their condolences to the career soldier.
President Joe Biden remarked on the passing of Powell from the official @POTUS account, “Jill and I are deeply saddened by the passing of our dear friend and a patriot of unmatched honor and dignity, General Colin Powell. Time and again, he put country before self, before party, before all else—in uniform and out. He will be remembered as one of our great Americans.”
“After a distinguished career of service, General Powell’s final legacy was to put country over party at a time when it was difficult to do so. May he rest in peace,” wrote Rhode Island’s Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse).
Republican Penn. State Sen. Dan Laughlin (@senatorlaughlin) noted, “Remembering Colin Powell, the first black US Secretary of State and one of the most outstanding leaders of our generation. May he rest in peace.”
The Lincoln Project (@Projection) offered the succinct response, “Rest in peace, General.”
Former President Barack Obama (@BarackObama) tweeted, “General Colin Powell understood what was best in this country, and tried to bring his own life, career, and public statements in line with that ideal. Michelle and I will always look to him as an example of what America—and Americans—can and should be.”
The fact that leaders from both sides of the aisle weighed in with condolences said a lot about Powell’s legacy.
“He brought people together, in part because he went to the people and heard what they had to say and then went to the other side and listened to what they had to say,” explained Dr. Robert A. Sanders, retired U.S. navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG Corps.), and chair of the national security department at the University of New Haven.
“Gen. Powell took what he heard from each side, and then went back to make a functional policy for the masses,” added Sanders.
Of course not everyone felt the need to share their condolences, and it was likely expected that Powell’s critics would also mark his passing, and call out his past mistakes while also seeking to make a point about his career in the U.S. military and as a senior member of former President W. Bush’s cabinet.
Among those was activist Ottilia Anna MaSibanda, who tweeted, “I, personally, don’t think war criminals should rest in peace.”
@All_Things_HND, an unverified social media account calling for true democracy in Central America, retweeted an old post that linked Gen. Powell to El Salvador’s former President José Napoleón Duarte Fuentes and the Salvadoran military’s death squads.
Professor Lelah Khali (@LalehKhalili) of the international politics department at Queen Mary University in London, also called out general’s record, writing, “Colin Powell’s justification of the Iraq war in 2002/2003 was only one of the more recent times he lubricated the machinery of imperial warfare. In 1968, he covered up the My Lai massacre when he was assigned to investigate a whistleblower report on the massacre.”
“Mass murderer and war criminal Colin Powell, who lied to the United Nations and the world about WMDs in Iraq, leading to the death and displacement of millions of Iraqis; who helped destroy the Middle East under George Bush’s neocon administration, has just died,” wrote Press TV reporter Richard Medhurst (@richimedhurst).
Such responses were not a surprise to Dr. Sanders, who told this reporter, “It is par for the course when a great man like Gen. Powell passes, but it is also par for the course when a great black man passes – there are those who look to assassinate his legacy. It is unfortunate; it is past unfortunate, it is sad.”
While many career military men and women could be seen as controversial, Powell as both a general and later as secretary of state shouldered the weight of the world on multiple occasions.
“As the greatest country in the world, we should really appreciate those who stand in the doorway to let our values live and breathe,” added Sanders. “Instead, we see those who look to find avenues to attack his living legacy and then his post life legacy. I’d ask all of those – what would America be if we didn’t have Colin Powell? I want to see you stand and do what he did; and if you can’t shut your mouth.”
The Covid Reaction
There were also those who took an opportunity to mark Gen. Powell’s passing by noting the dangers that Covid-19 still presents to the public – even if one is fully vaccinated.
“Yes, Colin Powell was vaccinated. But he also had blood cancer, which devastates the immune system. What his tragic death illustrates isn’t the futility of vaccines but the importance of everyone else getting vaccinated to protect society’s most vulnerable,” wrote Slate contributing writer Tim Requarth (@timrequarth).
“Remind anti-vaxxers that Colin Powell had blood cancer that made him very immuno-compromised. So, as they dance on his grave thinking they’re making a point about vaccines, they contributed to his death by not doing their part to slow the spread of COVID. Please get vaccinated,” noted @VoteVets.
“Any headline that says ‘fully vaccinated’ should mention that Colin Powell had multiple myeloma. If everyone else had been fully vaccinated, he would have been less likely to have contracted COVID,” was the message from Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts), founder of the gun control group Moms Demand Action.
“Seeing a lot of news alerts and headlines saying Colin Powell died of COVID while vaccinated, but virtually none of them mention that he had a massive co-morbidity: multiple myeloma, or blood cancer. This kind of thing is part of the problem,” wrote Mathew Ingram (@mathewi), contributor to the Columbia Journalism Review.
Others also looked to downplay the role that Covid-19 may have played in Powell’s passing, failing to note the other ailments he was facing.
“A lot of the headlines noted off the bat that he was fully vaccinated and it was easy to accept that this was a breakthrough case,” explained Professor Jason Mollica, professorial lecturer in the school of communication at the American University. “But as you read it, you can see that he was vaccinated but he was still 84 years old, but people love to speculate on social media as they look to fill the void of information.”
As the reporting became clearer, it was noted that he was facing cancer and Parkinson’s.
“Even as we know that he died of Covid, he still had those other illnesses,” added Mollica. “But it is easy for those who don’t trust the vaccines to say that because he was vaccinated, the vaccines don’t work. They overlooked the other conditions. When you have cancer your immune system is compromised, and that means you can’t fight an illness like you can when you are healthy. But is easy to overlook those facts on social media and focus instead on the vaccine and that he still died of Covid unfortunately.”