The Days of August, 1990

Photograph Source: http://bushlibrary.tamu.edu/image.php?id=958 – Public Domain

August 1990 began like any other August on the Olympic Peninsula.  It was hot, but not unreasonably so.  There were no major wildfires darkening the skies.  Jerry Garcia turned forty-eight on the first of the month.  There were the normal rumors of trouble in the Middle East but nothing that seemed unusual.  George HW Bush was acting his normal CIA self and Congress was heading into its traditional August recess.  It was a midterm election year and the bullshit was ramping up.  According to news reports that would be published several weeks later, a woman named April Glaspie was telling Iraqi president Saddam Hussein that the US State Department “(had) no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.”

This apparent lack of opinion led Mr. Hussein to conclude that, since Kuwait apparently had no intention of paying debts to Baghdad for the Iraqi military’s protection during the recently concluded Iran-Iraq war, he had every right to send in the Iraqi military to Kuwait and demand payment.  Other issues between Iraq and Kuwait involved a Kuwaiti oil drilling operation which saw Kuwait removing oil from Iraqi territory.  Another factor in the Iraqi government’s calculations was that Washington had been quite supportive of the Iraqis during its aforementioned conflict with Iran.  Part of that support included the export of biological agents, including anthrax, and cluster bombs sold by a CIA front operating out of Pinochet’s Chile. The US support was provided despite the fact that Washington knew Hussein was using nerve gas against Iranian troops.  Horrifically, many of those troops were teenage boys drafted into Iran’s military and sent to the front for use as fodder in what were called “human wave” operations.  In modern warfare, these operations were first noted in the Boxer Rebellion and involve a coordinated mass of soldiers falling upon the enemy force and sweeping them away with their numbers and momentum.  In other words, tsunami warfare.

President Hussein acted on his belief on August 2, 1990.  At 2 AM local time, Iraqi ground troops overwhelmed the Kuwaiti military, forcing them to retreat into Saudi Arabia, and occupied Kuwait’s oil fields.  Within hours, George Bush the Elder told the world that the invasion “would not stand.”  On August 7th, Bush announced the formation of Operation Desert Shield and the Pentagon began sending hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen to the deserts of Kuwait.  Washington would ultimately make a deal with the monarchs of Saudi Arabia to also place US forces on its territory, as well.  This decision by the Saudi monarchy would rile up certain fundamentalist Wahhabi Muslims, who considered the presence of infidel troops on Islamic Holy Lands to be blasphemy.  Among these Muslims was a scion of the wealthy bin Laden family—a man named Osama bin Laden, who had worked in concert with US intelligence agencies in Afghanistan to indoctrinate and train mujaheddin fighters in the US proxy war with the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Given all this movement and a growing hum of war, antiwar groups and individuals across the United States and around the world began to wake from their slumber.  The numerous groups formed to oppose Washington’s contra war in Nicaragua and the US-sponsored death squad government in El Salvador were nascent but not in a deep sleep.  They were certainly more awake than any antiwar organization in today’s USA.  In addition, traditional antiwar and anti-imperialist groups had maintained their viability—from the Fellowship of Reconciliation to the Vietnam Veterans Against the War-Anti Imperialist—their networks were easy to activate and ready to provide a foundation for what lay ahead.  The trick, as some of us independent activists would discover, was to convince them that the US moves were not bluster and needed a quick and popular response.  In the city of Olympia, this meant convincing the local Central America Action Committee (CAAC)—a mishmash of pacifists, leftists, liberals and anarchists that included students, professors, homeless shelter workers, laborers, and state office workers.

After introducing a resolution at the monthly CAAC meeting calling on the US to withdraw and seek a peaceful solution to the quarrel, those of us in the anarchist and communist milieu began organizing our own protest against the impending war.  While CAAC’s less certain members debated the wording of the resolution and readied their arguments for the next meeting, we contacted the local media, drew up signs and composed a leaflet demanding an immediate withdrawal of all US forces from the Middle East and urging our fellow community members to join us in a picket line in downtown Olympia.  Although there were barely a dozen of us in attendance the afternoon of the picket, the local Gannet-owned daily gave the protest several inches of coverage that actually provided the reader with a fairly objective summary of our antiwar position.  The coverage would be enough for that position and our small group to be taken seriously.  By October 1990, the group formed from that protest—the Olympia Anti-Intervention Coalition—sponsored a protest of several hundred that was but one of hundreds around the globe against the ever expanding troop buildup in the Middle East.  Some of those protests were smaller than Olympia’s and some in major cities involved tens of thousands of protesters.  The movement would continue to grow despite political and tactical differences among the protesters and the national organizers.

Thirty-one years later, Washington and its centurions remain in Iraq, albeit in numbers barely in the thousands.  Each president who enters the White House makes promises of withdrawal but, like the serial rapist who can’t stop raping, each president not only fails to remove US forces from Iraq, they can also not resist staging at least one or two military assaults during their reign.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com