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PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT
Interview With General Colin Powell
Aired November 13, 2011 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PIERS MORGAN, HOST: Tonight fighting words for Barack Obama from one of America's top military men.
GEN. COLIN POWELL (RET.), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Sometimes with Congress you simply have to let them have it between the eyes and drag them in your direction and not think you can talk them into your direction.
MORGAN: Colin Powell on what's wrong with Washington.
POWELL: What troubles me the most is I've never seen such polarization in our political process.
MORGAN: Plus this Veterans Day eve, the cause that's closest to his hearts, America's military veterans.
POWELL: I want to tell all my fellow Americans every day is a Veterans Day. They need you every day.
MORGAN: And what he says now about the intelligence that sent this country to war in Iraq.
POWELL: The chemical weapons presence, the nuclear program and the biological program is wrong. That is the summation of it. It was wrong.
MORGAN: Colin Powell for the hour. This is PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT.
For many Americans Colin Powell is still the face of the modern military, retired four-star general, the first and only African American to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of state to President George W. Bush.
He's a man of many accomplishments. He's here tonight to talk mainly about a cause that's close to his heart, the state of America's military veterans.
And General Colin Powell joins me now.
POWELL: Thank you very much, Piers.
MORGAN: Or rather -- thank you for welcoming me to this extraordinary building.
POWELL: Well, thank you.
MORGAN: We're in the National War College. You were here 35 years ago.
POWELL: I was a student here. I graduated 35 years ago. That's hard to believe. We've just had our 35th anniversary. And this place has a great deal of meaning for all of us who have been students over the years.
MORGAN: When you were here as a young, fresh-faced Colin Powell, what was the big dream for you?
POWELL: I was doing a lieutenant colonel and I was doing fairly well in the Army, but I had no idea what the Army had in store for me. And I was here with a group of Army officers, Navy officers, Marine officers, State Department employees as well as Air Force officers. And surprisingly all of us had a great time. We had a lot of fun and we learned a lot.
And then some 15 years later a number of us came back together to fight the first Gulf War. About five of my classmates were now three and four-star generals, and I knew them. I'd known them for 16 years. So we were able to put a team together that was able to fight that war rather well.
MORGAN: That's extraordinary.
POWELL: Yes, yes. And I learned a lot here. It was a point in my career where I had been a successful battalion commander in Korea, and now the military was trying to expand our horizons, learn more about politics, learn more about economics, about international relations, about your allies, so that we can use you at a higher level within the organization. And quite a few of my classmates made general or admiral.
MORGAN: The world has changed dramatically, even since you were here. And it's changing super fast even this year.
MORGAN: I mean it's remarkable what's going on. I'll come to some of that later. You as we sit here on Veterans Day in particular, what do you feel about the view of the modern American military?
POWELL: It's a great military. It's an all-volunteer force. It represents a relatively small percentage of our population, of course. But I'm so proud of them. You know Tom Brokaw and I talk -- all the time about military service, and Tom wrote that great book, "The Greatest Generation," talking about the World War II generation.
But he and I have chatted about this, and America has been blessed to have that kind of greatness in every generation. And there is no generation that is any greater than the current generation of GIs we have serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and so many other places around the world, willing to give their lives in the causes of freedom, in the cause of giving people a better opportunity for a better life for themselves, their country and their children.
And we should be so proud of them. And that's why we celebrate Veterans Day. And I think you know the origin of Veterans Day, 11-11- 11. It comes from World War I. It used to be called Armistice Day. And then in the '50s it was changed to Veterans Day we celebrate --
MORGAN: We still have Armistice Day in Britain.
POWELL: I know you do. And so this place means a lot to me. And I often talk about the fact that everybody says, well, we have all these difficulties now, all these troubled times. But when I came here as a student in 1975 to graduate in the bicentennial class, our 200th anniversary in 1976, think what the world was like then?
It was still a Soviet Union. China was still emerging from the Culture Revolution. America had just passed through a very difficult time. We had a lost a president who resigned in disgrace, and vice president had resigned in disgrace. We had the post-Vietnam period. We had the counterculture going on. Martin Luther King had been killed just a few years earlier. Bobby Kennedy had been killed just a few years earlier.
And people thought America was down and out. And then we recaptured our spirit. We recaptured the values that made this country great. I like to give credit to President Gerald Ford who came in and sort of stabilized us again, and reminded us of who we were. And --
MORGAN: Do you --
POWELL: A few years later the Soviet Union was gone. We were still here.
MORGAN: Do you see parallels between that period and what's happening now with America? Do you feel that you need another Gerald Ford intervention?
POWELL: Somebody will show up. I mean America has always gone through these periods of difficulty and imperfection when our economy is not doing well, and we're in a recession and we're a little unsure of who we are and what we are.
But what I'm absolutely convinced of, because of my reading of history and my living through this kind of history, is that we will find our way. We've always had problems.
You know most of my time, Piers, is spent out in the countryside giving speeches and talking to people. And the kind of sort of black thinking and talking that you see on television or you'd hear here in Washington and our Congress, the American people understand we have these challenges, but I see such continuing confidence and optimism out with the public.
They just want to see the political system in Washington start to reflect their concerns and start to fix itself. And as I say to my audiences, don't wait for Superman. If you don't like the way they're doing things here, go and vote them out. MORGAN: There's a fascinating chart over there, Colin Powell's rules.
MORGAN: Which of these -- I read a few earlier to myself. "Get mad then get over it. Share credit. Remain calm. Be kind. Have a vision. Be demanding."
Very positive. Very realistic, I felt. It wasn't saccharin at all. It was acknowledging there would be difficult times but encouraging people to, I think, think in a positive way to get out of things rather than dwell on negativity. Very aphasiac for the time that we're in now.
MORGAN: I mean if you were president, and many wish you had run for the highest office, what needs to be done now? I mean what advice -- let's not be too patronizing of Barack Obama. What advice would you give him to get America back on its feet right now in the modern world?
POWELL: Well, you know, you can't put it all on one individual. I think our system needs to take a deep breath and start correcting itself. One of the things that troubles me the most and I've been in this town on and off for the last 30-odd years.
What troubles me the most is I've never seen such polarization in our political process. I have never seen a situation where you have people on the far left and the far right who focus on their own extreme positions and hold these as theological positions that can't be moved away from and changed and everybody is measured against these extremes.
But you know, our founding fathers also had strong beliefs and believed in extremes. And they were able in Philadelphia in writing our constitution to make some great compromises. They had to compromise on slavery. I don't like the compromise they made at the time because we kept slavery, but they said we're here to form a nation. We can't solve that right now.
MORGAN: Why is it --
POWELL: But they compromised in --
MORGAN: Why is it not happening?
POWELL: It's not happening now because it's been made too difficult. The extremes have been able to capture a lot of the politicians who might be more toward the middle by having them sign agreements that I will never raise taxes or other things that pledge themselves to positions that don't lend themselves easily to compromise.
And then I have to say, Piers, under the current media environment which didn't exist 35 years ago when I was at this school, or 40 years ago, it is constant, nonstop commentary all day long, all evening long.
No, you are no exception to this, I might add.
MORGAN: You're going to blame me, are you?
POWELL: No, I'm not blaming you. I'm just saying it's changed the environment. If you say anything that seems to drift of the orthodoxy of your party's position, you're going to hear about it immediately either on a cable talk show or on the bloggers or on the Internet. And you're going to have to deal with it.
MORGAN: But why should that --
POWELL: And so I find it they don't -- the two sides, the two parties don't have the same opportunity to work quietly with each other.
MORGAN: You see, you're a military man, one of the finest generals this country has ever produced. You've been in many a warzone. And if I said to you, look, it's going to be relentless, the bombardment. They're going to keep coming at you. And everything you do is going to be blown up. Exactly the argument you've just used to me about the media.
You would just dust yourself down, call your men together, and say, they want a war, let's go to war, boys. And you would work out a way to win.
The argument that people have with Barack Obama who you supported is that he hasn't done enough of that. He hasn't fought back against the modern weapon, which is multimedia, the Internet, all these things. He hasn't beaten his chest and behaved like you would in a battlefield.
POWELL: That's a fair -- a fair criticism of the president. He is somebody who was used to getting people to compromise and seeing if we could not quietly find a way in almost a lawyerly manner. But he still has that spark. He still has that enthusiasm about the country and about his job that got him elected in the first place.
So I think in recent weeks we are seeing him to start showing that kind of spark more publicly, but as -- and I've had conversations with the president over time. And sometimes with Congress you simply have to let them have it between the eyes and drag them in your direction and not think you can talk them into your direction.
MORGAN: Well, I wouldn't have him in a -- on a golf course with John Boehner after what he did. I'd have him in a boxing ring. And, Mr. Speaker, you want to fight about this, you're going to be this intransigent, your people is just not going to do anything to get any bill passed here at all, let's have it out properly.
POWELL: Well, that's a -- that's an approach that can be taken. I mean --
MORGAN: Would you take that approach?
POWELL: Well, I don't play golf, so I wouldn't have got on the golf course.
POWELL: But at some point you have to say, OK, look, we have talked enough about this. And this is -- this is very military. It's now time to go out and as we say in all of our mafia movies, the "Godfather," go to the mattresses." And this is what we will fight on this line and we'll fight all summer long.
MORGAN: I love that, "Let's go to the mattresses."
POWELL: You've never heard that before?
MORGAN: Can you clarify that?
POWELL: I means go hide in your -- in your bunker so that people can't get to you, and then come out and fight in the streets. But essentially, go to the mattresses. You put mattresses on a floor, you sleep in a protected area, then you come out and fight it out.
Let's take a short break. When we come back I want to know more about this mattress attack that you have now orchestrated and mapped out for the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POWELL: I think he is a transformational figure. He is a new generation coming in to the world -- on to the world stage, onto the American stage. And for that reason I'll be voting for Senator Barack Obama.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: Back with my special guest, General Colin Powell.
General, we left it with "go to your mattresses" and prepare for war, which I loved. And you endorsed as we just heard there President Obama in October 2008. It was a controversial decision. I mean it wasn't expected at all. You're a Republican, and then suddenly you come out for Obama.
Remind me of your thinking.
MORGAN: In that moment.
POWELL: Before I do that, let me say that with going to the mattresses, that's with both parties. Deal with your own party.
POWELL: You're going to get your party to do what you think they should be doing, and then you can take on the other party, and have your forces in alignment.
In 2008 I look very carefully at the situation that the country was in, in the verge of an economic collapse frankly which pretty occurred later that year. I looked at what I thought the country needed, and after listening carefully to both Senator McCain, who I've known for close to 30 years and also to President Obama, then Senator Obama, I came to the conclusion that he was better able to deal with the challenges they were facing economically and with respect to rejuvenating the spirit of the country, and with respect to making a generational change.
MORGAN: Obviously, it carried a lot of weight and Barack Obama got elected. Many think that your intention was several other (INAUDIBLE) and prominent people was very, I think, helpful to him at the very least.
When you look at him now, what do you think has happened to Barack Obama after three years of presidency? What do you think you should be advising him as someone who supported him about how to go back into the election fray?
POWELL: Well, the advice I'd give to the president, which I still do on occasion, I keep private. And I don't share a lot of my conversations with him or his conversations with me. I think he is still the same person that we saw in 2008. He is a deliberate individual. He studies the issues before him.
And then he makes decisions, and many of his decisions I think have been quite sound. The financial system that put back in a stable basis. Some are now complaining too stable. They're going back to what they were doing before that caused this trouble.
I think he is following through a correct way with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan and essentially implementing some of the policies of President Bush, former President Bush.
And in some of the controversial things where people thought he would simply move away from some of the Bush positions, he's adopted them. So he has demonstrated a degree of adaptability, but at the same time the economy has not improved for the benefit of many Americans who are on the unemployment rolls.
And there is a malaise within the country about when is the economy going to start creating all the jobs that we need. And there is also, I think, a problem that the president has with the business community. And this one is a little harder to explain, because the business community, especially at the high end, is doing rather well.
But he has not succeeded in convincing them that he has all the right solutions. And as I go around I find that the business community is still quite upset with his policies. They feel that the regulations that are coming down, whether it's on financial services or consumers or Environmental Protection Agency, or the Obama-care as it's called, they are uncertain as what all these regulations are going to do to them and they are hesitant to make investments because they're not quite sure how to plan ahead.
And so I think he has to work on that. But above all, he has to work hard, do everything he can, and I think he is pursuing this very aggressively now to create jobs for the people who don't have jobs.
MORGAN: On the tick box of his score sheet, some stunning successes in terms of foreign policy many would argue getting bin Laden. I mean for you personally, you were at the start of that mission. Where were you when you heard that bin Laden had been killed?
POWELL: I was in my home, and I heard the news. And I was absolutely delighted. This terrible person, and it was a marvelous military operation with the possibility of something going really bad.
MORGAN: Very audacious.
POWELL: It's very bold. But those are the kinds of young men and women we have. These folks are good. They are really, really good.
MORGAN: Did you admire the president for the sheer audacity of the decision-making of that?
POWELL: Yes. You have to. I mean he could have decided to go about it a different way but he took the bold action. But that was fine then. But a week later everybody wanted to talk about the unemployment problem again.
And so we've seen a lot of these evil people sent off to the hereafter in recent weeks, and that's good. And the president should get credit for it. But not just because he's the commander in chief, but, you know, which is part of it, but we also have to give credit to the intelligence and military and other agencies of our government that created the conditions that allow you to go after the people.
MORGAN: As somebody who was seen to be one of the more skeptic members of George Bush's inner team when it came to decision-making in Iraq in particular, when you see what happened in Libya, when you see the backseat that America took, particularly with troops on the ground, nonexistent, when you see that there was no loss of life for American servicemen compared to the 4500 or so that had lost their lives in Iraq.
What do you feel about the overall picture, the strategy that was adopted to get rid of Saddam in contrast to the strategy adopted to get rid of Gadhafi? The huge difference in cost not just in human life but financially to America? POWELL: I don't think the two can be that easily compared. We had a government in Iraq that was every bit as bad as the government in Libya. I remember so many western leaders in the United States were working with Mr. Gadhafi.
And Libya did not have the kind of army or military force that Saddam Hussein had access to. And you didn't have that kind of leadership coming from the Europeans in Iraq that we had in Libya. But setting it aside, the president felt -- President Bush felt we tried the U.N. We did not get satisfaction with respect to Mr. Hussein's weapons of mass destruction programs.
Our intelligence had it wrong, and I more than anyone presented that intelligence to the United States people and the American people and to the world. But it was wrong. But nevertheless, we went in and got rid of a person who would have gone back to developing these weapons of mass destruction in my humble judgment if he had been released from U.N. sanctions.
I was hoping that the U.N. would work. I persuaded the president to go to the U.N., see if we can resolve it that way. Because I thought if we can avoid this war and satisfy our problem with weapons of mass destruction, we should do that. But he had to make the decision, along with Mr. Blair and other western leaders. And so we went in, and we took out the regime.
My big disappointment -- I fully supported that. My big disappointment was that I don't think we did it as efficiently as we could have. We should have disbanded the Iraqi army, we shouldn't have de-Baathify he entire country to have school teachers, and we should have been a lot more force in there so that we could have taken control of the country at the very beginning, which what I think the Iraqi people expected us to do. And we didn't. And an insurgency broke out. And we didn't respond to it as quickly as we like.
MORGAN: When you ever see footage of you selling that war with the intelligence, the famous footage, what do you feel? I mean do you feel that you were in some way used?
POWELL: No. I had the same information, the same intelligence material that was given to the United States Congress. The Congress voted overwhelmingly to use military force if it came to that, and they did that three months before my presentation. Everything that was in that presentation of mine was international intelligence estimate that the president used in the State of the Union earlier speeches that Secretary Rumsfeld was using, our generals were using. They were planning against this intelligence. And we thought it was solid, even though it was very inferential, we thought it was good intelligence.
MORGAN: When you realized --
POWELL: When I was -- when I realized that a large part of it -- not all of it, but a considerable part of it was wrong and we should have known it was wrong, I felt terrible. I felt disappointed. It was wrong. That is the summation of it. It was wrong. MORGAN: Let's take a little break and come back and talk Republican field for the nomination, which gets more bizarre by the day and fascinating. I want to know what you think.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: To lead this effort at this unique moment in history, I picked a unique leader. Many times over the past four decades, America has called on Colin Powell and each time he has answered the call.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: That was Colin Powell.
General, let's talk about the Republican field, because it's been up and down, rollercoaster, five people in the front run and then -- and fallen away. Mitt Romney appears to be the stable Eddie of the group, but even he isn't guaranteed to win it. What do you make of it all?
POWELL: It's a remarkable democratic system we have. And I think it is fascinating to watch all of these individuals step forward and put themselves in the spotlight, take on the risks of political competition, and some will prevail, some won't prevail. At the end of the day only one will prevail.
And some came on the scene quickly and dropped off. And so I'm watching it very, very closely with great interest. I know --
MORGAN: But you're watching it as a --
POWELL: I know almost all -- I know all of the candidates.
MORGAN: Of course you do. Yes.
MORGAN: I mean are you watching it as a Democrat or Republican?
POWELL: I'm watching it as an American. I am a Republican, but I have a variety of views. And throughout my whole career and for most of my life I was not in any party because I was a career military officer.
It's only since 1995 that I identified myself as a Republican. And since 1995 I have voted for Republicans and I have voted for a Democrat. And what I always tried to do is to do the best job of analyzing the needs of the country and the candidates that are before us and trying to support the candidate who I feel will do the best for the country, whether he is a Democrat or Republican or whether she is a Democrat or Republican.
MORGAN: If the election was tomorrow, and it will be in a year, and would you vote for Barack Obama as things stand again? POWELL: I would never make that decision now. I didn't make that decision in 2008 until it was relatively close, and I had concluded that in my judgment anyway he was the best choice. And I've talked to both he and Senator McCain.
And so I'm not sure we have seen the entire field of candidates at this point.
MORGAN: Really? You think more may pop up?
POWELL: I don't know. Do you know?
MORGAN: No. But you would know a lot more than I do.
POWELL: Why would I know --
MORGAN: It carries a lot more weight. I mean could we possibly see yourself?
POWELL: No. Of course not.
MORGAN: Why not?
POWELL: I rejected that 16 years ago, and I've given more than one explanation for it.
MORGAN: Well, you're so relatively youthful in political terms.
POWELL: No, I'm not relatively youthful in any terms. I'm going to be 75.
MORGAN: Are you really?
POWELL: Yes. On my next birthday. I'm in good health, but even if I was 20 years younger, it isn't me. As I've said many, many times.
MORGAN: And was it true? Was it your wife in the end who decided?
POWELL: It was me.
MORGAN: It was you, not your wife?
POWELL: Yes. My -- I never woke up a single morning thinking it was the right thing for me. And I've served my country in other ways -- secretary of state, after making that announcement. Served my country for 40 years in government and trying to serve it every way I know and how now, worked at youth programs.
One of our greatest challenges is to make sure we educate our young people for a 21st century world. And the 21st century economic system in the United States is going to be different than the economic system that existed 25 years ago.
MORGAN: We talked about extremities in Washington being unhelpful. To my mind, that narrows down the Republican field quite markedly, because you would be ruling out probably most of the Tea Party candidates, most people perceive to be on the extremities.
So, I'm guessing that your natural instincts would be heading more towards a Romney-style, a Huntsman-style candidate.
POWELL: You turned into a shrink.
POWELL: I mean, you're reading my -- you're telling people of my natural instincts?
MORGAN: Am I a good shrink or bad shrink?
POWELL: Stick to being on television.
MORGAN: Are you more moderate by nature?
POWELL: Yes. But here's the rub. You have to act one way politically to achieve the nomination of your party. But if you just focus on achieving the nomination of your party, either on the left or right, that isn't enough to win a national election. So, you then have to decide how far can you come back from the positions that you took to get that nomination -- not going on the other side of the center point -- but how do you get more of the people closer to the center point so you can win an election.
So, it's really two elections taking place here. One, to win the nomination, and for that you have to show appeal to the extremes or, let me say, the further extremes of your individual party or Democrat or Republican. But then you'd better be ready in the general election to move back to somewhere closer to the middle in order to get the moderates who are judging you not on the basis of your party affiliation but judging on the basis of what are your policies? What is this person going to do?
And that's why I say we will see next year. This campaign really hasn't started yet. We've got, as you say, we have a year.
MORGAN: What do you make of Herman Cain?
POWELL: I've known Mr. Cain for -- oh, I guess, known Herman for 15, 16 years. When I started America's Promise, our youth foundation that my wife now runs, Herman was president of National Restaurant Association, and he was very helpful to us, a very dynamic individual, a gentleman who worked a lot with young people.
Now, he's offered himself up for the presidency, and I thank him for his commitment to service.
MORGAN: And to use a military parlance, he's getting it with full barrels, isn't it? I mean, is it fair what's going on with Herman Cain? Is it the man you recognize with all these claims? POWELL: I'm not going to get in to all of these claims. I don't know whether the claims are valid or not. And this is something for Herman to deal with.
But when you enter political life, you should expect these kinds of issues to arise. I don't know what the merit of these claims are, and we will see in the days and weeks ahead.
MORGAN: If they turn out to be credible --
POWELL: I don't know they'll turn out to be credible. Therefore, I'm not going to speculate on what might be the result.
MORGAN: Coming up --
Forty-nine years, and you met on a blind date.
POWELL: Yes. When I walked in, she was very attractive. She apparently didn't reject me outright.
MORGAN: You've been in a fortunate position. You've had an incredible match, 40 years.
MORGAN: Forty-nine years, and you met on a blind date.
MORGAN: Do you remember that?
POWELL: Very well. Yes.
MORGAN: I mean, blind date, I've never been on a blind date.
POWELL: You ought to try it.
POWELL: For that moment when your wife-to-be walked in, that's a big moment on a blind date, isn't it?
POWELL: Well, a friend of mine took me, insisted that I go with him on this blind date. I was stationed in Fort Devens, Massachusetts, about 40 miles outside of Boston. And he was interested in this young lady, and the young lady had a roommate. And he asked me to go with him to sort of pick off the roommate.
And the roommate was being told the same thing by her roommate, and she didn't like it and she didn't think her parents would approve of her dating some infantry lieutenant. But when I walked in, she was very attractive, and she apparently did not reject me outright.
(LAUGHTER) POWELL: The other couple never did form a relationship, but Alma and I were married about nine months later.
MORGAN: And you never bought her an engagement ring for years. How did you get out of that?
POWELL: We didn't have any money and I was going to Vietnam.
MORGAN: She said a very interesting thing to you, I thought.
POWELL: Where do you get this from?
MORGAN: No, I'm just --
POWELL: I bought her rings over the -- it's been 49 years.
MORGAN: I'm coming to how it ends happily. But in that moment, she said a very interesting thing, I thought, which was that your relationship would not be defined or be successful based on any ring you bought her at that time. Much more important, you sorted your lies out and did what you had to do.
But she was right, wasn't she? I mean, the longevity of marriage is never going to be based around --
POWELL: People sometimes about, you know, Alma's view on politics and other things. And my answer to them, you know, we got married when I was a young first lieutenant heading to war. I was leaving for a year, and we had only known each other for roughly nine months. I would be gone for a year, and when came back I would be something still of a stranger.
And she took that risk. And I never forget the fact that she didn't marry a general. She didn't marry a secretary of state. She married a young first lieutenant.
And she sacrificed a lot and I owe her a lot. And it's been 49 years.
MORGAN: What's the secret of a happy marriage?
POWELL: Getting along. Love. What you would expect.
MORGAN: What are the key values to you that you think most people should really have as priorities?
POWELL: Service to others, service to something greater than yourself, service to country, serving a purpose in life. Why are you here, what are you doing?
Secondly, being kind to people. Third, raising a good family.
And I get asked all the time, what do you want on your gravestone? I said, I don't need much. Just put good guy, he served-well and he raised a good family and he loved his country. That really is what has driven my wife, driven me, driven our family, and driven most of our friends -- service to country, service to others.
I'm very proud now I have a center named after me at alma mater at the City College in New York. We re-jiggered the name. It's going to be Colin Powell Center for Policy Studies. We changed it. We made it the Colin Powell Center for Leadership and Service.
And we are bringing up a new generation of immigrant kids out of New York City. They are from all over the world. They are minorities. They are not that wealthy, and this wonderful school has been educating kids like that for 160 years. That's where I got my free education.
And so, I think that I am serving and meeting the value system that I got from my parents, and I tried to develop over my life by giving back to my alma mater and helping a new generation of youngsters learn all about leadership in the service.
MORGAN: What were your parents have made of your career?
POWELL: Well, they were proud of me. I was raised in an extended immigrant family, West Indian family, Jamaican with a British background. They were British subjects when they came here. What they cared about was meeting the expectations they had for us to get an education, got out of the house and get a job. That was it.
You could be a doctor, lawyer, or streetcar conductor. I have cousins of mine who are subway conductors in London. I have other --
MORGAN: Do you really?
POWELL: Yes. And it didn't make any difference what you actually became. It was important that you became something. And that you never embarrassed the family and that you met our expectations.
Our expectations are: you will do better than we did, you will get a job, and you will make us proud in your work.
My father died before I became general. My relatives were not happy with my staying in the Army, particularly my aunts.
What are you doing? Nobody ever stayed in the Army. You just get drafted and come out. I said, well, I like it and do it well.
And they were never satisfied with that answer until I told one of my more pushy aunts that you get a 50 percent pension after 20 years. I'll be 41 and I can retire. Oh, good. That's all we need.
But the Army was very good to me. The Army was my life. It was my profession. I'm often called a statesman and politician. No, I'm a soldier and infantry officer.
And that's what I wanted to do when I finished my education, and I did to the best of my ability for 35 years.
MORGAN: Let's take a break and talk about your upbringing in Harlem and how that can be relevant to the "Occupy Wall Street" protestors. Where you see where they're coming from, the lessons you learned on those hard streets all those years ago and what they should be doing.
MORGAN: Back with General Colin Powell.
You were raised in Harlem, in the Bronx. It's a tough place to be brought up. Money was not prevalent or much in your early life at all.
When you see the "Occupy Wall Street" protestors and see them spinning out now around America, kind of reflecting the overall feeling of dissatisfaction with America's economy and so on, when you remember how poor you were and how hard you had to fight for life, what do you think of these protestors? Are they well-intentioned? Do you support them? Do you think they're misguided?
POWELL: Well, I was -- I was born in Harlem to immigrant parents, and my parents always had a job. We moved to the south Bronx. I don't think either one of them made more than $50 or $60 a week, but we were able to get along on that back then on $50 to $60 a week. Both of my parents worked for as long as I can remember. We always worked and they always had work.
And so, people are concerned now that there is not that source of an income. There isn't that work source that I remember.
So, what you're seeing with "Occupy Wall Street" and the others are people who are unhappy, and they're directing their unhappiness right now towards Wall Street and towards those they think are doing to well in our society.
I don't begrudge anybody who has earned a good salary. It's part of our capitalist system.
And so, demonstrating like this is as American as apple pie. We have been marching up and down and demonstrating throughout our history.
And so, I get a little concerned when demonstrations turn into violence, or when some of the demonstrators demonstrate absolute nihilism and they're really not interested in anything but destruction and tearing down the system.
MORGAN: Do you understand -- do you understand the anger particularly towards Wall Street, I think?
Because, you know, I've said this many times on my show recently, because I picked this up from the protestors. What really gets their goat is that a lot of these banks and bankers got bailed out by the taxpayers. The first chance they got, when they got back on their feet, to not give themselves huge bonuses again, they ignored that temptation and put their noses back in the trough.
POWELL: Well, you know, I don't know how to be too critical of that. I mean, it has always been the case that there are certain fields in our economic system, such as in the financial world, where you take big risk and you get big rewards. And one of the things that is of concern to all of us is that there's an increasing gap between those who are doing very well and I'm doing well, and those who are not doing as well. And those who are not doing as well are not seeing their lives improving. And so, there's frustration and angriness there.
And this is something our Wall Street friends, our business friends, need to think about. And this is something that our political leaders need to think about.
And so, it isn't enough to scream at the "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrators. We need our political system to start reflecting this anger back in to how do we fix it? How do we get the economy going again? How do we get businesses that have a lot of money stacked up, how do we get them to invest that money and create jobs?
MORGAN: You said before with foreign policy that America should avoid saying we are going to instill our democracy on everybody. That it should be more reform.
When you look inwardly at America, is that what America needs really, rather than some massive dramatic overlord, just reform, just rethink it's thinking.
POWELL: I think we need to take a hard look at our political system, as I have said, and see if we cannot get our leaders, particularly in Congress, to start finding ways to reform themselves, to close some of the tax loopholes that exist, to take a hard look at what our expenses are and cut those expenses and then see whether or not we have the revenue base for the expenses that are left.
I have had a lot of business people sit down with me and say, you know, if I try to run my business the way the federal government runs its business, I wouldn't have a business. How can we continue to run a budget of $3 trillion of which we borrow $1.3 trillion from outside sources? Either printing money or borrowing from the Chinese.
And so, China and India, Central and Eastern Europe, lots of Latin American countries now, they are all focusing on wealth creation and fixing their economies, and educating their youngsters for the 21st century world. That's what we have to do. And we have to get on with it.
And especially educating our youngsters. We have a third of our kids that don't finish school, 50 percent of minority children don't finish school it.
MORGAN: It's outrageous.
POWELL: It is outrageous.
So, let's see what we can do to fix our schools. Let's pay our teachers more. Let's give them more incentive. But at the same time, let's not put it all on the educational system. The family and the home system has greater obligation to help us get these kids started properly. MORGAN: General, you've had this extraordinary life. When you look back on it, excluding the obvious, children's births and marriage and so on, what's the single greatest moment of your life?
POWELL: I never answer single greatest or worst a questions. What I say to young people and as I go around the schools, you're a product of all of your experiences. You can't single out one thing.
MORGAN: Good and bad.
POWELL: Good and bad, exactly. I learned as much from the bad as I did from the good. And I have fun telling the students, you know, I graduated with a C average and now, I have a center named after me and I'm called a founder and distinguished visiting professor.
My professors of 53 years old ago would roll over in their graves if they heard that.
The fact is it isn't where you started life, but where you end up and what you did along the way. That's the message I give to all my audiences, especially the young ones: Believe in yourself, believe in this country, and listen to the people that care about you in life, and just keep doing your best and be your own role model.
MORGAN: When we come back after this short break, I'd like you just to close with some final thoughts if you may, about Veterans Day, about veterans and about current men and women who serve in the American military.
MORGAN: General, it is Veterans Day and there'd be many veterans who are listening to you with great interest, also many current serving servicemen and women.
What message would you give them on this particular day?
POWELL: I'm so enormously proud of all of those who are serving now and all of those who served in the past. We have been so blessed to have people who are willing to put their lives on the line for this country. I was in a hospital in California, veteran's hospital just last week, and I go up to Walter Reed and see wounded soldiers.
And I have seen soldiers who have lost arms and legs. And if they know they can get back in shape, what do they say? "I want to rejoin my buddies. I want to be with my buddies."
And so, on this Veterans Day, I would just like to offer once again my profound thanks and speaking for all of my colleagues in the military who have served a special thanks to those who are serving now.
Iraq and Afghanistan is probably been one of the most demanding set of conflicts we've ever had because it's a daily war. It's not just waiting for D-Day or waiting for the Battle of the Bulge. It's every day. And we have a lot of youngsters now who are -- who are suffering as a result. They have been wounded. They've had traumatic amputations. They've had traumatic brain injuries.
We have a lot of veterans who are homeless. We have a lot of veterans who found it unbearable and they've committed suicide.
So, we have got a lot of work to do.
And on this Veterans Day, one of the things we should emphasize is that it can't just be veteran's day on November 11th, it has to be Veterans Day every day.
And we have to do everything we can through our governmental services to help your youngsters. And we especially have to in their communities help them. There's just so much a Veterans Department can do.
In your community, if you see a veteran who is need, somebody who needs their kid watched or needs a job or needs some kind of help, don't wait for some veterans organization come to do it. You do it.
Look around your community. You'll find a veteran in need. You'll find a homeless veteran. You'll find a veteran who's wondering, does anybody still care about me.
So, in this Veterans Day, I want to tell all my fellow Americans, every day is Veterans Day. They need you every day.
MORGAN: General Powell, thank you very much.
POWELL: Thank you, Piers.