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by William H. Benson

February 25, 1999 

     Operation Desert Storm’s aerial campaign began in mid-January 1991 and was immediately a success.  Wave after wave of Allied bombers and missiles pounded Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, and other key targets during those first days of the Persian Gulf War.  The ground offensive then began on February 24, 1991, and one hundred hours later on the 27th, President Bush appeared on nationwide television to announce “Kuwait is liberated.  Iraq’s army is defeated.”

      But before leaving Kuwait, Iraqi troops deliberately set fire to Kuwait’s oil wells.  The smoke darkened the sky ugly.  And now eight years later the United Nations, still trying to bring Saddam Hussein to his knees, is caught somewhere between threats and actual bombing.

      Recently, I read General H. Norman Schwartzkopf’s autobiography, It Doesn’t Take a Hero.  He mentions that in addition to overseeing the military operation, he also had to play the role of a diplomat to the Saudi’s on whose sandy soil he and his forces stood.  At 10:00 pm. most evenings he wandered over to discuss certain matters with Prince Khalid.  He wrote, “To my consternation . . . what loomed largest for them was the cultural crisis triggered by the sudden flood of Americans into their kingdom. . . . The touchiest issues almost always involved religion.”

     For example, American women soldiers were seen working in T-shirts and were accused of disrobing in public;  Saudi women never show their arms.  Prince Khalid demanded that Schwartzkopf stop such brazen behavior.  Then, Christmas in 1990 presented a problem, but there was no way that even he, a General, could halt services from being held.  Christmas trees appeared, but Schwartkopf warned his staff that “even the very sight of a cross is very offensive to them. . . . We have to be sensitive to their desires.”

      A report of a wild party involving women dancing and alcohol being served was verified when CNN broadcasted a clip of it.  That evening a bewildered Schwartzkopf had to assure the distraught and excited Prince Khalid that he would investigate this matter and put a stop to it.

      James Michener in almost a kind of naive innocence once wrote, “I have been studying Islam for many years, and I cannot see any valid reason why this religion and Christianity cannot cooperate.” 

      The historian Will Durant had a different viewpoint.  “Nothing, save bread, is so precious to mankind as its religious beliefs; for man lives not by bread alone, but also by the faith that lets him hope.  Therefore, his deepest hatred greets those who challenge his sustenance or his creed.” 

     The rival religions and civilizations, Christianity and Islam, have clashed for centuries, beginning almost from their birth, continuing through the crusades, and into the modern era.  A third faith, Jewish, was then caught between the main combatants and cut by both swords.  The crusades of a millennium ago were in part the European Christians’ attempt to free Palestine, the Holy Land, from the Muslims.  After several centuries, the exhausted Europeans gave up, and a curtain dropped between the West and the East.


     The Persian Gulf War was another crusade and yet, different.  Although the liberation of Kuwait, rather than Palestine (Israel), was the primary objective, Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles were sometimes aimed at Israel.  Schwartkopf, the Christian, and Prince Khalid, the Muslim, hammered out agreements in which the Islamic culture was not polluted but remained pure.  Together, they learned to work together to fight and defeat a wildly aggressive Muslim brother, Saddam Hussein.  That curtain dividing East and West had opened but only for a brief moment.