On August 2, 1990, the Iraqi army invaded Kuwait, a tiny Persian Gulf emirate. Three days later, US president George HW Bush fielded questions from reporters on the South Lawn of the White House. The key line from, and substance of, those remarks: “This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait.”
Two days after that, Operation Desert Shield commenced with the arrival of US troops in Saudi Arabia. Desert Shield transitioned into Desert Storm — a short, sharp, successful air and ground attack resulting in the ejection of Saddam Hussein’s troops from Kuwait.
The early days of this military adventure were marked by spirited debate on its merits and trepidation over the possibility of large-scale chemical warfare and mass US casualties.
But by late May of 1991, when I returned home from my tour of duty as a Marine infantry NCO, the war seemed an unqualified success. Saddam’s forces had been routed with fewer than 300 Americans killed and only 800 wounded.
Parades were held. Medals were awarded. Returning troops in uniform got free beer at airport bars. Yes, really — I drank my Budweiser on layover at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. And I drank the Kool Aid that followed, too: Desert Storm had blown away the dark cloud cover of Vietnam and looked set to go down in history as a “good war” not unlike World War II.
How quickly many of us, myself included, forgot that World War II had led to 45 years of “cold war” with “hot” interspersions in Korea and Vietnam, turning America into a permanent garrison state. And little did we know that 25 years after Desert Storm we, too, would find ourselves looking back at a similar alternation between “cold” and “hot,” featuring more American dead on 9/11 than at Pearl Harbor, thousands of casualties in ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an emerging police state that puts old East Germany to shame.
These days on anniversaries like this, I still break out some fond memories of camaraderie and esprit de corps, but those memories are overshadowed by regret and by resolve to help my country break the cycle of military and foreign policy adventurism. Those false gods have proven themselves unworthy of the human sacrifices they demand.
Only by refashioning America into John Quincy Adams’s vision of it — “[S]he goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own” — can we hope to dismount this merry-go-round of death and realize our potential as a land of the free. That’s a far worthier goal than any transitory military victory.
Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.
- “Twenty-Five Years Later: A Look Back at ‘The Other Good War,'” by Thomas L. Knapp, Ventura County, California Citizens Journal, 08/02/15
- “Twenty-Five Years Later: A Look Back at ‘The Other Good War,’ by Thomas L. Knapp, Antiwar.com, 08/02/15
- “25 years later: A look back at ‘The Other Good War,'” by Thomas L. Knapp, Muscatine, Iowa Journal, 08/04/15
- “25 years later: A look back at ‘The Other Good War,'” by Thomas L. Knapp, Davenport, Iowa Quad-City Times, 08/04/15
- “Peace is worth more than military victory,” by Thomas L. Knapp, Libby, Montana Western News, 08/04/15