December 31, 1969
Desert Storm, Twenty Years On . . .
Twenty years ago this week, the late Saddam Hussein’s army invaded Kuwait. The end of the Cold War meant this type of tragic malevolence wasn’t easily tolerated. The world responded with courage and swiftness. I was then a young, single infantry captain in the army’s specially trained desert forces, and within three weeks was with the first armored force to drive into the vast Saudi desert. I counted myself supremely lucky. A month later I was fortunate to visit my brother, an air force pilot, and share two deeply meaningful hours.
Compared to other wars, Desert Storm looks quick and painless. Blessed few of my comrades died, and only one still visits my dreams. Like most short wars, it accomplished far less than it might have. My war was easier than many. I am unequal to the task of writing about the fighting, so it is better to simply note that when it ended I burned a uniform and chemical suit. I shudder to say those clothes had not been off my back in more than two months. The uniform was filthy beyond account and stained with blood from two other men, and contaminated with nerve gas. Others had it far worse.
Today Desert Storm retreats into history. It is like the Spanish-American War, dividing epochs, but not defining them. But why, one might ask, does this discussion belong in an economics column? I think Edward Gibbon, the author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, understood it well when he credited his experience as an army captain as “useful to the historian of the Roman Empire." Today, little I do in life is uninformed by my military experience. I believe I am a better professor and man for having been a soldier of that war. Moreover, I often quietly wish more of us had a shared wartime experience to fall back on. I think we would all worry far less about the ups and downs of the economy. We would do less violence to one another, and reserve our deep passions for important matters. Wartime familiarity should make us more tolerant of our differences and we’d care more for one another’s children. A common wartime experience wouldn’t make us agree more, but it should make us more agreeable and less often angry. We might be less apt to call our political opponents enemies, rather than ill-advised friends. Of course this is a costly way of reinforcing the lessons we learned in kindergarten; but fear and discomfort are enduring reminders, and we didn’t all have Ms. Huffman to properly teach us.
The two decades since the war have been hard on Iraq and its liberators. That time has been kind to me. I have a healthy, happy family and did not fight again in Iraq (though my brother and his wife did). Last month I received a welcomed reminder of Iraq. Ball State has just entered a teaching partnership with a university in Saddam’s birthplace of Tikrit. To a soldier and scholar, that is a just and sweet victory.
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