Action Alert:

The Night of the Unthinkable

Protest against Gulf War, Bates College, MLK Day, January 1991

I have vivid memories of January 16, 1991. George Bush The Previous had imposed that day as a deadline for Iraq to withdraw its troops from Kuwait. A few days prior, I remember shivering with flu symptoms but exhilarated to be part of a huge winter evening peace march near Copley Square, one of the biggest I’d seen since the Vietnam war. I believe there were others occurring elsewhere around the country (and also, perhaps, in Europe?  Not sure.) There was this vast sense of disbelief that, after the unmitigated disaster of Vietnam, Washington could dare oppose such widespread popular opposition and go to war against an industrialized, sovereign nation where the prevailing religion was Islam. In addition, there was great outrage over D-Day nearly coinciding with the birthday of Martin Luther King, who had, in the days before his assassination, become openly critical of the U.S. war on Indochina. I remember watching television the evening of the 01/16/91 and the half-crazed smirk on the face of George Bush The First as, dressed in suit and tie and flanked by American flags and the seal of the POTUS, he announced the start of our air war on Baghdad. I will never forget the euphoric froth of TV anchors as they gleefully informed us how much our nighttime airstrikes and the Iraqis’ futile defense systems resembled fireworks as resplendent as the 4th of July.  Soon thereafter, we got an up-close-and-personal look at our mild-mannered Pentagon secretary, fellow by the name of Richard Cheney.  A benign soul this man seemed, so calm in his candor as he offhandedly spelled out the whys and wherefores of our military assault. But ultimately, the camera did not favor Dick Cheney, and in front of our eyes, he would devolve into the most sinister of characters. Is it possible that in addition to running George Junior’s foreign policy, he also managed his dad’s? I remember how rapidly our national discourse switched gears from Operation Desert Sand to Desert Storm, from virulent anti-war sentiment and cries of “No Blood for Oil!” to a sea of bumper stickers with yellow ribbons exhorting us to “Support Our Troops.”  Out of nowhere, there was a brave new Machiavellian vernacular with phrases like “surgical strike,” “friendly fire,” and the most cynical of all, “collateral damage.”  And, over and over, on the news, we’d see interviews with elated young U.S. bomber pilots insisting, “We’re just doing our job. We have a job to do, and we’re going to do it.”  But, far and away, the worst new narrative of all was that finally, at long last, Washington had laid waste to the Vietnam Syndrome and had once again corralled the U.S. public into going along with going to war. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but I really have to wonder which high-powered P.R. firm held the contract to so quickly transform our public conversation from massive concern over attacking a foreign country to the new clarion call to support the troops, or be branded as disloyal and cavalier. So quickly came the disturbing parade of televised images, of terrified captured R.A.F. pilots — part of the U.S.-led “Coalition,” an Iraqi man hoarsely shouting to the cameras that his family had been killed by one of our bombs, and the outcry when one of our precision missiles hit an infant formula factory mistaken for a military target. And then far worse scenarios — reports of Saddam Hussein’s massacre of Shiite rebels in the south who had courageously staged an uprising expecting promised U.S. air support that never came. And, after our side declared a decisive and near- instantaneous victory, glossy magazine photos of youthful Iraqi soldiers in retreating vehicles, fleeing back north on the highway from Kuwait, strangled dead by a blanket of white U.S. chemical powder dropped from the sky. There were such layers of shock and public indignation in the run-up to that military thrashing.  It seemed so obvious Washington was playing with fire over there, and that back here we would quickly suffer repercussions in the form of terrorist retaliations. Those never happened. Until finally they did.  Tuesday, September 11, 2001. So much has transpired since then . . . In the post-Vietnam era, one can mark 01/16/91 as the late-20th century turning point for U.S. policy in the Middle East, with waves of civilian casualties and trauma that continue to this day. Immeasurable folly and injustice authored and unleashed by U.S. politicians, theoreticians, and military strategists and funded by leading Fortune 500 corporations plus your and my tax dollars. Yesterday, January 16, 2016, 25 years later, there was encouraging news with the announcement of the Iran nuclear disarmament accord.  Is it safe to imagine this, genuinely, constitutes good news and may even support additional positive outcomes in the region? In honor of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, let us dearly hope so.

—  An anonymous MAPA member