Crusade: The Untold Story Of The Persian Gulf War, by Rick Atkinson
One of the foremost aspects of contemporary historiography is the matter of untold stories. There seems to be an obsession among many who are historians or are interested in history that there are a lot of untold stories that need to be told. And yet in reading this ample-sized book, it is not as if the stories here have not, largely, been told. To give but a few examples of many, no one needs to be told that George H.W. Bush had the wimp strong about him, or that 93% of the bombs that were dropped on Iraq were dumb bombs and not smart bombs, or that the Iraqis did not seek to use hostages, including prisoners of war, as means of trying to secure the survival of buildings of military interest in the face of bombing. Nor is this book’s study of friendly fire anything that is particularly new or striking in light of the fact that friendly fire was responsible for a considerable portion of the deaths of the Gulf War, which were also not nearly as much as was expected. Nor even was the bristly attitude of Schwarzkopf particularly surprising. Indeed, as far as the desire of the author to distinguish himself from any number of books that were written in the early to mid 1990’s in the aftermath of the Gulf War, this book does not contain much in the way of new information that was not previously known.
This book begins in media res with a prologue and is then divided into three parts. The first part of the book covers the first week of the war, including chapters that deal with such matters as the dramatic bombing of the first night (1), the following day of conflict (2), the effect of the Scud missiles on Israel (3), the planning of the left hook against the Iraqi forces in Kuwait and southern Iraq (4), and the Delta force efforts to chase down and eliminate the Scud missile launching areas (5). After this the second part of the book discusses the middle month of the war, from the special forces units that were operating in what was labeled as Mesopotamia (6), the Iraqi assault on Khafji and its aftermath (7), the war in Riyadh (8), the thought of the desert as a sea (9), the attack on Al Firdos (10), the political misadventures among coalition military command (11), and the preparation for the ground war (12). The last part of the work then consists of the last week of the war (III), with the life of prisoners at the Biltmore (13), the start of the ground assault (14), the success of the coalition in quickly reaching the Euphrates (15), the march of the coalition forces upcountry (16), the liberation of Kuwait (17), and the closing of the gates to surround the retreating Iraqi forces (18), after which the book ends with an author’s note, acknowledgements, chronology, battle maps, notes, a bibliography, and an index.
What this book does, and does well, is tell a large amount of stories that have been gathered from a large amount of interviews. It is not so much the novelty of what has been told as much as the intimacy and the feeling that one is there listening to arguments taking place in the Allied camp or among journos upset at missing the big stories while the war is going on. What is perhaps most telling is that the interviews and thus the story are heavily slanted towards the side of the coalition forces, since there have not been the sorts of interviews with Saddam or the leaders of the Republican Guard divisions or the ordinary foot soldiers on the Iraqi side who faced the terror of being bombed to bits, buried under in their trenches if they did not surrender fast enough, and being strafed while they retreated. That would have been the sort of untold story of the Gulf War that was worth telling, the wide gulf between soldiers whose logistical systems worked and who could operate in basic safety from the threat of the opponent and the side which was so afraid of the lack of morale of its soldiers that there were rumors that soldiers were having their Achilles tendons cut to make it impossible for them to run away. That is an untold story that deserves to be told, indeed.