War has a peculiar power to rivet and repel, to engage the mind even as it tears at the heart. TV adds to it. Everyone seems to be watching, minute by minute, bomb by bomb. Exotic-sounding names become familiar, the way Hanoi and Dieppe are; sidewalk pundits are appearing everywhere, discussing payloads and command centres. The most bizarre things happen in war. People suffocate in gas masks. Bombs find their way through doors and air shafts. The weapons have colorful nicknames like Wild Weasels and Thunderbolts, and what they can do is devastating, but somehow abstract. The abstraction will not last. More of the dead will be identified. Spouses and parents will weep at gravesides.
Of course, for many people, including the families and friends of the 1,850 Canadian service personnel in the Persian Gulf, the terror has already hit home. Hope, prayer—those are their weapons of war. Glory is for another time, for the selective memory of hindsight and the inevitable TV movies.
The main characters of the current drama are George Bush and Saddam Hussein. The two presidents have never met. They have almost nothing in common, although they will always be linked now, locked by historians in a battle of nerves that, after more than five tortuous months, finally erupted last week into a battle of air forces and armies with grave implications whatever the outcome (page 22).
Bush, 66, is the child of privilege, tall and
lean, a usually cautious man who climbed so carefully up the political ladder that critics branded him a “wimp.” He has been fighting that image like a curse. The Persian Gulf war may dispel it forever.
His opponent, the 53-year-old Hussein, was bom into poverty. He is a solid, moustachioed man of such brutal ambition that he earned the nickname the Butcher of Baghdad, although Bush prefers to compare him to Adolf Hitler. Hussein is an enigma to Westerners. They tend to dismiss him as a madman, but he seems too politically cunning to write off so easily, and too popular among dispossessed Arabs. In fact, that entire part of the world, with its ancient passions, its fierce piety and its reverence for fearless Arab champions, remains an enigma to Westerners.
In a way, the war, too, seems difficult to understand. There is a nagging sense that, for all their stated reasons and heated rhetoric, the leaders never quite intended a full-scale conflict. Each seemed to back himself into a position from which there was no retreat. Each looked to history as his guide. Bush invoked British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s fateful appeasement of Adolf Hitler in 1938. The American President has his own memories of the Second World War, in which Japanese antiaircraft fire shot down his Avenger bomber over the Pacific. At the same time, Bush’s taste for brinkmanship, manifested in the American-sponsored UN deadline for an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, is reminiscent of the way John F. Kennedy faced down Nikita Khrushchev in 1962, forcing him to withdraw Soviet missiles from Cuba.
Hussein was apparently not intimidated. That is part of the enigma. Experts speculated that he has a martyr complex, or that he might actually think he can win. One
common view is that Hussein, with his visions of pan-Arab leadership, might prefer to lose a war than to lose face. He has only to recall the experience of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, who twice suffered military setbacks at the hands of the Israelis, but died a hero to fellow Arabs. Hussein, meanwhile, could review the Americans’ recent history: how the North Vietnamese had ground them into a dubious “peace with honor” by 1973; how a terrorist truck-bomb that killed 241 marines drove them out of Lebanon in 1984. The Americans, he has said, cannot stand the blood.
In the end, as each man called the other’s bluff, associates described both Bush and Hussein as calm: convinced of their rightness, serene in their stubbornness. They seemed likely to direct their war efforts with equal determination. Bush was counting on American firepower. Hussein was banking on Iraqi staying power, perhaps hoping that Bush’s resolve would flag if the fighting dragged on long enough to become politically unpopular. Voices of antiwar activism were already speaking up around the world, and those in Canada seemed certain to rise as Canadian CF-18s took on their new sweep-and-escort duties.
And people everywhere remained slaves to their televisions, caught up in the story, brimming with unanswerable questions. How long would the fighting last? How many casualties? Would the alliance disappear, like footsteps in the sand? No less a warrior than Napoleon described war as “the business of barbarians.” The world could only hope that the business in the Gulf, high drama though it was, would come quickly to an end.
Incirlik airbase TURKEY
Massive air raids ignited the war. American, British, Saudi and Kuwaiti warplanes, along with ship-launched U.S. cruise missiles, hammered Iraq and captive Kuwait. French and Italian air forces reinforced later raids from the south while U.S. planes based in Turkey blitzed northern Iraq. Canadian flyers in the Gulf took on combat duties as fighter escorts on bomber raids.
Iraq fired missiles into Israel and Saudi Arabia. Hits on Tel Aviv and Haifa caused injuries. American defenders in Dhahran knocked out an attacking Iraqi missile.
ia i Island
SAUDI ARABIA Khafji
Defence M AI Rashid
^ Canadian forces headquarters in Bahrain commands the 24 CF-18 fighters and an aerial refuelling tanker based in Qatar, and the ships Athabaskan, Terra Nova and Protecteur in the Gulf. A military field hospital from Canada is to be based at AI Jubayl.
n the early hours if the Gulf war, raqi artillery in (uwait hit an oil efinery in Khafji. J.S. helicopter !unships struck iack and coalition orces advanced owards Kuwait
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