THE GULF WAR

This is a rambling account of my thoughts on the 1991 Persian Gulf War. It begins by positioning the Gulf War as an historical continuation of the Vietnam War, and moves on to a fantastical account of George Bush's daily life as the decision to attack Iraq is being made. Another section reviews a Rand Corporation study that explores the impact of war casualties on U.S. public opinion. Also included are some reflections on the limitations of military power, and a condemnation of the sanctions on Iraq. The piece concludes with thoughts on George Bush's New World Order, and the inevitable resistance to the U.S. attempt to dominate global economies and cultures.

Some parts of this piece were written in 1991, other parts almost ten years later. It appeared in the second issue of my zine, Fragments.

"I'm an American, says George. We like to smash and bash and crash. Space age metal flying at the speed of sound is our kind of weapon."

VIETNAM SYNDROME

"By God, we've kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all."

George Bush
March 1, 1991

Clausewitz said that war is the continuation of politics by other means. There is an element of truth to this. Politics does play a part in war. But war is largely a cultural phenomenon. It is something we learn; it is a way we are taught to react in certain situations. Men all over the world know, for instance, that when you are insulted or your pride is wounded, the proper response is to fight.

War is a manifestation of culture. Our culture values domination and control. It is not surprising that when we see regions of the world evolving autonomously, and events occurring beyond our influence, we feel threatened. Our culture values machismo and violence. When we feel emasculated, we look for a war.

The Vietnam War disaster left many Americans feeling humiliated. Panicky images of American diplomats, GI's, and South Vietnamese civilians fleeing in terror, piling into helicopters on the roof of the U.S. Embassy as the North Vietnamese swarmed into Saigon, must have been particularly galling to the military and industrial elites who prosecuted and supported that war. They needed to kick some ass to feel like men again. George Bush and the Persian Gulf War were the answers to their prayers.

There were undoubtedly political reasons for fighting the 1991 Gulf War. We fought to protect the interests of large oil companies. We fought to project force and preserve influence in that part of the world. But most of all, we fought for sociopsychological reasons. Like a schoolyard bully, we were insecure, we were embarrassed, and someone had to pay.

The Gulf War was not unique in this respect. Most wars (though not all) are initiated for ostensibly rational political reasons, but the real reason is often below the surface: racism, the need for revenge, to demonstrate manliness, to regain national honor, to compensate for feelings of inferiority or sexual inadequacy. Ultimately, war is always an irrational act.

GEORGE BUSH

The president sits alone in a large oval office. It is late at night. A single light burns, casting grisly shadows on the walls. The president sips a cup of tea and wonders if the pills his wife is taking will make her more comfortable. What a time to break a leg, he thinks. You see, gosh darn it, we rich Americans have problems too. We can't be concerned about the lives of a few thousand Arabs. It's God's will that the powerful shall prevail. Doesn't it say that in the bible somewhere?


George Bush dozes off at his desk and dreams of a perfect world. Men in turbans line up at the White House bearing gifts of oil and rare Persian rugs. African tribesmen dance the jitterbug on stage for an official state function, while members of the audience sip margaritas from Mexico and smoke hashish from Morocco. Polite applause follows the dancing.

Turkish taffy is passed out to the guests who gnaw at it hungrily, pausing now and again to vomit on the floor. A large pig is brought in and hung by a rope in the center of the room. Men in expensive white suits thrust spears into the shrieking swine while the women squeal with delight. The floor is sticky with blood.

When the animal has been sufficiently tortured, it is killed. Uproarious laughter fills the banquet hall. The guests form a line and take turns cutting hunks of flesh off the still warm carcass. Their eyes sparkle with delight as they wipe their bloody hands on their stylish clothes. "Imagine us," they exclaim to each other in hushed, awed tones, "guests of the White House. Such an honor."

The festivities conclude with three-legged races out in the Rose Garden under dark skies. A couple from Uzbekistan take home the trophy in a night of revelry they will never forget. Meanwhile, in the war room they stack the dead in neat piles; a man with a clipboard inspects each corpse for signs of treason.


I am the president. Elite, acerbic, witless, I peer fitfully from my sleep, trying without success to make heads or tails of a fluid situation. Oil must flow; oil must not stop flowing. Blood will flow; blood will not stop flowing. Oil is slick and lubricates the wheels of business. Blood is thick and gums up our best-laid plans of victory and glory.

I sit alone on my bed. I never noticed how much of the sky you could see from this bedroom window. By God, the sky is black tonight, like an infinite void, a deep endless sea of darkness. Picking my nose isn't very presidential. Now what do I do with the booger? I wish I didn't have to make so many damn decisions.

There's a taste in my mouth that won't go away. It's a taste of blood and sand and terrible errors. I can hear the sound of machinery, the buzzing helicopters, the roaring tanks, the screaming warplanes. There's a stench in my nose that won't go away. It's the smell of molten metal and scorched sand and burning flesh. It's the smell of high explosives detonated in a land far away on my orders. I can see something that I wish I could not see. A great fiery storm descends on the world, leaving me impotent and helpless.

The smooth blackness of night will soon be shattered by dawn. Then I must make the decision that has already been made by history. Events propel me forward, a pitiful pawn in a pitiless game. My feet hurt. My ass hurts. I wish to hell I knew what those idiots in the pentagon were talking about. I wish to hell they knew what they were talking about. So it comes down to this. A scared, spineless man making momentous decisions based on advice from a few ignorant experts.


The ayes of the nation upon him, George takes a bath. I'd better not play with my thingy, he says to himself—the press are never far away. George shaves and sees nothing in the mirror. George brushes his teeth and nearly goes through the White House roof when he hits a sensitive cavity. I've got to get that thing taken care of when this darn Gulf thing has blown over. I wonder what's for breakfast. Should I go for the prune juice or the orange juice? Maybe the prune—I've been a little irregular lately. I wonder if there will be a war, George wonders wistfully.

The president pulls on his cowboy boots and stands up. What a handsome devil, he says to the mirror and imagines himself as John Wayne swaggering down to the war room, at last victorious over those pesky Indians. On the way to breakfast he trips an alarm and falls down the stairs. "Call in an air strike on those steps," he barks to his military attaché. "I want them bombed continuously until their capacity to wage mischief is completely destroyed."

George calls a press conference to explain the New World Order to the Iraqis. I'm an American, says George. We like to smash and bash and crash. Space age metal flying at the speed of sound is our kind of weapon. We can kill people with electronics and supersonics. Eat sand, kick ass, push your face in it. Blow you down, stomp your head, rip your guts with high-speed razor sharp steel. We'll deflate your egos with pinpoint accuracy. We'll send you sprawling and leave you bawling. We'll drive you down, stand on your carcass and plant our flag in your fucking face. We don't take no shit from nobody. We like a fight. We always win.


Later the President sits on the toilet and reflects. This Gulf thing is a terrible tragedy, but it can't be helped.

It's great to have power. Because I know when I say march, my boys will march. And when I say shoot, my boys will shoot. And when I say die, my boys will spill their red American blood into
the
thirsty
desert
sand.

CASUALTIES

While browsing in the library I stumbled upon a chilling little pamphlet called Casualties, Public Opinion and U.S. Military Intervention by Benjamin C. Schwarz. It was published by Rand, a public policy think tank partially funded by the Federal Government. The study was commissioned by the Army and Air Force "to analyze the influence of American public opinion on U.S. military intervention and its implications for U.S. regional deterrence strategies."

Schwarz studied U.S. public opinion polls taken during the wars in Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf. The conventional wisdom is that Americans have no stomach for casualties, and that when our soldiers start dying in large numbers, we're ready to go home. The author found that exactly the opposite is true. During the wars in Korea and Vietnam, while the number of people who approved of the original intervention dropped as casualties mounted, the percentage advocating withdrawal stayed relatively constant. Moreover, as U.S. casualties increased, the number of people favoring escalation increased. In fact at the height of both wars, far more people advocated escalation than withdrawal.

The Gulf War did not last long enough to create many U.S. casualties, but polls indicated the public wanted the war fought to its conclusion, with Saddam Hussein removed from power and Iraq completely crushed.

Schwarz also offers another frightening statistic. In a Gallup poll taken just before the start of the ground war in the Gulf, almost half of the respondents (48%) supported the use of nuclear weapons if it would help prevent U.S. casualties and end the war more quickly! Even Schwarz seems disturbed by this finding:

It is important to note that the Gallup question did not ask whether Americans approved of using nuclear weapons in response to Iraqi use of weapons of mass destruction. It merely asked whether Americans approved of nuclear weapons use if it might spare U.S. lives. The public, then, was expressing support for a nuclear first strike against Iraq; a position at variance with both U.S. policy and international law.

In summary, what Schwarz found was that while U.S. citizens are reluctant to get into wars at the outset, once their leaders commit troops, they want to win big. Casualties, rather than creating a groundswell for withdrawal, create calls for the use of more force to bring about a decisive victory. Schwarz worries that without the restraint provided by another superpower (i.e. the Soviet Union) future presidents might yield to this public pressure in future conflicts. So it may be that limited interventions are a thing of the past, and in the New World Order the ignorant, barbaric public will get what it wants: all-out total wars, fought to the bitter end by any means necessary.

LET'S HAVE A WAR

Schwarz also includes some handy tips for future presidents who may want to start a war but can't quite get that initial public support. He recommends three ways to "help the public make the difficult decision to support intervention."

  1. Convince the public "either during a crisis (or better yet, before a crisis), that the security of a particular region, resource, or state is a matter of vital American interest."
  2. Make them believe that the intervention will not cost much money or involve many U.S. casualties.
  3. Develop a "forward presence." That is, send advisors who can get drawn into the fighting. "Once a commitment is undertaken, regardless of the wisdom behind it, the public is very unlikely to call for a withdrawal."

The author ends this section with a caution:

Of course, the above discussion of the means to win initial public support suggests that such efforts could easily entail cynical, and even dishonest, manipulation by policymakers.

Fortunately, we have no policymakers like that in this country.

LIMITS

Many of the Iraqi soldiers that had occupied Kuwait were able to escape. At the end of the war Iraq retained a lot of weapons and still possessed a considerable war fighting capability. The Iraqi army remains one of the largest in the world. And of course, ten years later Saddam Hussein is still in power. So why did Bush stop the war early?

The President could easily have further enhanced his macho public image by slaughtering more Iraqis. His General Schwarzkopf wanted to continue the carnage. We had the military capability to turn Iraq into a smoldering cinder, or to occupy Baghdad and arrest Saddam. The public obviously wanted a clear, decisive victory. So why not do it? Was George, for all the macho bluster, really a wimp?

Bush would probably have loved to finish off Saddam, but there were many constraining factors. The major one may have concerned our need to demonstrate to other countries in the region (our "allies") that we were fair and "humanitarian." We did not want to be seen by them as occupiers, calling up memories of the Middle East's colonial past. We may have fought the Gulf War to ensure our control of the region but, like it or not, we knew afterwards we would still depend on the support of nearby countries for bases, matériel, and public relations management. Bush may have also feared that images on CNN depicting the wholesale slaughter of fleeing Iraqis ("shooting fish in a barrel" as one U.S. pilot put it) would bring a negative reaction from the global public. Although only a minority of bleeding-heart Americans would likely find "enemy" deaths objectionable, our regional allies might have seen it differently.

There were other considerations as well. The UN mandate was limited to ejecting the Iraqis from Kuwait, and did not include conquering Iraq. There was the possibility of bloody street fighting in Basra, or being sucked into a civil war (the "quagmire syndrome"). U.S. interests might be damaged even more if Saddam fell and was replaced by a Shiite regime.

We ran up against such restrictions during the Vietnam War as well. The public may have wanted to apply maximum force to get the war over quickly, but our leaders were smart enough (sic) to realize that was infeasible. It would have meant more U.S. casualties, more domestic upheaval, and possibly war with the Chinese and/or Soviets. It was physically doable, but politically untenable.

Military force and power are not the same thing. There are limits to the efficacy of war making. Possessing all the firepower in the world does not guarantee control. Power does not always grow out of the barrel of a gun. It is a complicated world and there are many different forces at work, forces that the tunnel-visioned militarists and simple-minded public would do well to heed.

SUCH IS WAR

The U.S. says it dropped 88,000 tons of bombs on Iraq. Despite the military's attempts to downplay the carnage by claiming they used "smart" bombs and "surgical" strikes, only about seven percent of the weapons were electronically guided. Thousands of civilians died. Children were incinerated; women were mutilated; old people were slaughtered. These people had nothing against the United States and had nothing to do with Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. C'est la guerre.

Yet still the war goes on. The U.S.-led embargo against Iraq prevents the repair of infrastructure devastated during the bombing. Raw sewage runs in the streets of Baghdad. Electrical service is undependable. Medical equipment sits idle for the lack of spare parts. The distribution of food and medicine is difficult when not impossible.

As always in war, it is the weak that suffer most—infants, children, the elderly. Because of the sanctions, malnutrition in Iraq is widespread. Infectious diseases propagate wildly due to the lack of proper sanitation and refrigeration. Cancers in children have increased by a factor of four since 1991, and there is an epidemic of childhood leukemia, possibly the result of some 40 tons of depleted uranium that still litter the country. (We've finally found a way to get rid of our nuclear waste—make it into projectiles and fire it at our enemies.) According to the United Nations Children Fund (Unicef), as of 1998 more than half a million children under the age of five had died as a direct result of the sanctions, and between 2,000 and 6,000 more children continue to die each month. C'est la guerre.

There are also domestic costs to our campaign to destroy Iraq—the karma of war. We may have won, and our casualties may have been low, but our society continues to suffer from the violence. There is Gulf War Syndrome, an illness contracted by GI's from exposure to one or more of the many toxins present on the battlefield. There are the wasted resources (well over 100 billion dollars), while the homeless sprawl on our cities' sidewalks and one quarter of all U.S. children live in poverty. There are the U.S. soldiers who learned not only how to kill, but that killing for a "just cause" is the right thing to do. Listen to this paragraph from the New York Times about Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Oklahoma City Federal Building in 1995:

Perhaps the Gulf War was a turning point for him. "When he came back, he seemed broken," said his aunt, Mrs. Zanghi. "When we talked about it, he said it was terrible there. He was on the front line and had seen death and caused death." She said that young McVeigh, a gunner on a Bradley fighting vehicle, spoke of killing Iraqis and had told her, "After the first time it got easy."

Then there is the next war to think about. How can we say we kicked Saddam's ass when he is still in power and uses every opportunity to rub our noses in that fact? Did the Gulf War really make us feel good about ourselves again? Or will we need to prove our toughness again somewhere? In any case, preparations for the next war go on—the military budget continues to grow even as money allocated for human services shrinks. The cycle of violence continues. C'est la guerre.

NEW WORLD ORDER

After the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union, the U.S. suddenly had the world to itself. The Persian Gulf War provided the first opportunity to flex some muscle. Iraq was the perfect target because its borders contained the second largest reserve of oil in the world, and the Iraqis refused to kowtow to the U.S. and do its bidding.

During the war the U.S. continually bombed Iraqi infrastructure. Generating plants, sewage treatment facilities, bridges, roads, communication centers, canals, food processing plants, and factories were all targeted. The goal seemed to be the destruction of Iraqi society.

Like much of the bombing during the war, the current sanctions primarily target not Saddam Hussein, but the Iraqi social system. I'm willing to bet Saddam and his cronies have more than enough food and medicine. It is the people of Iraq who are suffering, and it is Iraqi society that is being ripped apart by the stress of deprivation.

Clearly the U.S. has nothing against dictators; just dictators who choose to operate separate from Western power and influence. U.S. officials would like nothing more than a strong, pro-U.S. leader in Iraq ruling over a weak, broken, compliant population. That was the objective of the bombing, and that continues to be the goal of sanctions.

This is the meaning of the New World Order—complete and total control of strategic regions around the globe. The New World Order wishes to dominate not only leaders and governments, but the hearts and minds of the people as well.

In the New World Order everyone takes orders from us. We tolerate no dissension. Don't count on our humanitarian tendencies to temper our wrath, because we are merciless in our mission. If your military threatens our hegemony, we will defeat it. If your government wants to control its own natural resources, we will overthrow it. If your society harbors beliefs and cultural values that are proud and nationalistic, that promote resistance to exploitation and bullying, we will strangle it.

Total control; complete domination; absolute power—the dream of all great rulers; the goal of all great empires. But of course there is no such thing as unconditional power, and those who strive for it are certain to meet resistance at every turn.

In the rich as well as the poor nations of the world there are rumblings of discontent with the New World Order. With every struggle, new ideas and forms of refusal are explored; new nonviolent weapons are developed and refined. The resisters may never win, but their struggles will not allow the Czars of the New World Order to win either. Such is the nature of power: victory is never total, defeat never final.

2001

LINKS TO RELATED PAGES ON THIS SITE

AN APOLOGY TO THE PEOPLE OF IRAQ

MILITARY POWER

POWER AND VIOLENCE


LINKS TO RELATED PAGES ON OTHER SITES

How George Bush Sr. Sold the 1991 Bombing of Iraq
How the fictitious story of Iraqis murdering babies in Kuwait was used to drum up support for the Gulf War.

Bush Speech Announcing War Against Iraq
A short summary of events leading up to the 1991 war and text of the president's speech announcing that the bombardment of Iraq had begun.

Needless Deaths in the Gulf War
This publication from the Human Rights Watch group examines violations of international law during the Gulf War.

War Crimes
A partial, online version of the 1992 book by Ramsey Clark and others. Subtitled “A Report on United States War Crimes Against Iraq.”

The Unseen Gulf War
The human consequences of the first U.S.–Iraq war were not widely shown by Western media. Here are some stark and disturbing photographs powerfully portraying the destruction and despair.

Killology Research Group
The site of Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (author of the book On Killing) dedicated to studying and publicizing the psychological costs of learning to kill.

The Gulf War and the Spectacle
Media manipulation and the 1991 Gulf War from a Situationist point of view.

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