Darkened by Shadow

First published in Woodnotes #12, Spring 1992, pages 30–31.

During the 1990 Christmas season we waited tensely. The United Nations had drawn a line in the sand: Completely withdraw your troops from Kuwait by January 15 or coalition forces will launch a counter-attack. American and other allied troops mustered for the Middle East. Families were separated. Boys left home to become men.

And we waited. New Year’s came and went, somewhat more subdued than usual. Two weeks passed, with a war of words fought on both sides of the Atlantic. No sign of withdrawal. Accusations. Ultimatums. Utter defiance. While the world waited, the rhetoric continued.

letter from the Gulf—

neighbour’s son asks for a picture

of the Christmas tree

I remember well the start of the storm. I got into my car after work shortly after five o’clock. It was Wednesday, January 16, 1991. As I backed out of the parking lot, distant voices crackled desperately on the radio—the war was on! A massive air attack had just been launched on Baghdad. CNN reporters were trapped in the capital. Bomb-laden jets seared their way into history. A thousand points of light exploded under the taut, black sky of a new moon. As I headed home on the highway, traffic moved along more slowly than that morning. A stern pall seemed to cloak the freeway in the last light of an indifferent winter day.

driving home

with the radio on

I miss my exit

Through the days that followed, many of us developed “CNN syndrome,” the blue glow of our televisions burning into our minds with images of war. We marveled at the swiftness and intensity of the air attacks. We held our collective breaths until American reporters escaped from Iraq. We gasped again as the Iraqis took American pilots as prisoners of war. Over and over the bomber jets struck their targets with fearful accuracy. Scud missiles sliced the night sky above Israel and Saudi Arabia—not all to be repelled by Patriots. We heard rumours of Iraqi atrocities, of the raping and plundering of Kuwait. When oil spilled into the Gulf, we shook our heads in continued shock and disbelief.

Then the ground war began. Led by Stormin’ Norman, coalition troops mounted a decisive attack, beginning on February 23. The coalition outflanked the Iraqi army by marching into Kuwait from two directions. The desperate Iraqis set fire to thousands of Kuwaiti oil wells. In a hundred hours it was over. Yet Saddam Hussein claimed victory for his retreating army, then turned his wrath against the Kurds who fled to the mountains of northern Iraq. Soon our troops began to come home, and in our neighbourhoods the yellow ribbons and stars and stripes began to come down.

St. Patrick’s day—

a clearance sale

on American flags

And too easily we went on with our lives, each with an opinion of why or if we should have gone to war, and now it may not matter for it seems like such a long time ago, in a year of a strangling economy, in a year of the Soviet downfall, the coup by communist hard-liners in Moscow and the subsequent disintegration of the Soviet Union that continues still . . .

What will we remember in the future? Perhaps we will not remember. Perhaps we will be busy with yet another war.

January 16th—

the sundial

darkened by shadow