Toward The Twenty-First Century
Edited By: R. A. Guisepi
The Gulf War
Time present and time past
Are both present in time future ...
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always time present.
T.S. Eliot, "Burnt Norton" (Four Quartets)
Here one of the twentieth century's greatest poets wrestles with that
mysterious dimension, time, which some have defined as a "flow" of
distinguishable events. Civilization Past & Present has narrated the
past-to-present flow of global events; but events can also be assessed in
terms of a future which has yet to occur. In what way, if any, does that
future "point" to our present situation?
The human species seems unique in that we can conceive of time in three
phases: where and what we have been, where and what we are now, and where and
what we might be tomorrow and beyond. To survive, corporations and governments
alike have to be able to think ahead. This process is called planning, which,
of course, is another way of speaking about "time future." Anyone familiar
with systems concepts will understand the term "feedback." In order to heat a
room, for example, a furnace transforms an input of oil into an output of
heat, which then raises the room's temperature to the desired level (say 72
degrees) set on the thermostat. When the level is reached, the thermostat will
feed back that information to the furnace, which then discontinues its input
of fuel. This simple example shows how the future environment we desire can
set in motion activities affecting present behavior.
Nobel laureate Denis Gabor has stated that although we cannot prophesy
the future, we can help invent it. Science and technology have already
initiated actions of such potency that we must plan as intelligently and
creatively as possible for the coming century if our global society is to
endure and prosper. Casey Stengel, with his inimitable logic, put the matter
succinctly: "If you don't know where you're going, you'll wind up somewhere
else." So where do we want to go?
The Gulf War
On August 2, 1990, less than a year after the demolition of the Berlin
Wall had marked the end of the Cold War between the superpowers, Iraqi troops
poured across the border into Kuwait. A week later Iraq formally annexed
Kuwait. Worldwide condemnation resulted in the UN Security Council enacting
economic and other sanctions against Saddam Hussein's regime. In January 1991,
Operation Desert Storm was launched by a coalition of governments, spearheaded
by more that half a million U.S. air, sea, and land forces, to liberate
Kuwait. Unrelenting high tech aerial bombing of Iraq, followed by a swift and
overwhelming ground attack, settled the outcome within a month.
The Persian Gulf War would have long-range consequences, but its
immediate effects were obvious. U.S. President George Bush spoke for a large
majority of Americans in claiming that the victory had ended the "Vietnam
syndrome" and restored the country's "credibility" in world affairs. The
credibility of the United Nations was also restored, at least as that body
exists as a useful mechanism for legitimizing collective security measures
(but what it was never mandated to supervise). The economic consequences were
bound to be momentous. Kuwait's infrastructure and oil fields had been
devastated while Iraq, already impoverished after years of warfare with Iran,
had now to repair vast wreckage in Basra and Baghdad and restore its own
shattered oil industry to working order. Moreover, it could have to pay
billions of dollars in reparations to Kuwait.
The social consequences were no less devastating. Many thousands in the
region had been displaced, wounded, or killed. Only time will tell how many
civilians had been permanently traumatized by the incessant bombings or how
deeply humiliation and resentment runs in the Arab world. The political
destabilization of the Middle East could make this area of the world more
volatile than ever. Like nature itself, geopolitics abhors a vacuum. All in
all, the war raised serious questions about Iraq's future as a country, to say
nothing about a festering problem which the Gulf War had done nothing to
resolve: Israeli-Palestinian relations and the occupation of the West Bank.
Conceivably, the most terrible immediate consequence of Desert Storm was
the damage inflicted upon the region's environment. The largest oil spill in
history covered vast regions of the Gulf, endangering species, fisheries, and
coastal settlements. Hundreds of oil wells were set on fire, so that during
the many months before the fires were extinguished, huge clouds of smoke
poisoned the atmosphere of the region and beyond.
Ironically, the Gulf War occurred in the very region where (as we saw in
Chapter 1) the first civilization arose. During the conflict, archaeologists
requested Washinton to do everything possible to preserve priceless historical
artifacts, but some destruction was inevitable. Their concerns raise a somber
question: After 5,000 years, how far has society progressed? We humans are
still warring with one another and destroying the environment to an extent
inconceivable to the men and women who built Ur with its ziggurat, crowned by
a sanctuary or "high place." Have we demonstrated yet again a fixation to
enlist science and technology to be ever more destructive in the "killing
fields," or in this case, a "desert storm"?