Fragile euphoria

January 18, 1991

The attack on Israel last night ended early hopes of a clean, neat victory over Saddam Hussein. But it should surprise no one that, by its very nature, war defies clean, neat outcomes. The air battle that analysts predicted would open the Persian Gulf war was largely successful, but obviously not a thorough victory. Following the pattern of earlier Mideast wars, air power is proving to be a decisive factor, but not decisive enough to win on its own. As one commentator has noted: War isn't just the surgery of precision bombing, it's also the brutal spectacle of armies slugging it out on land, often at a fearsome cost in human lives. President Bush was right when he warned that this war would bring its share of traumas, for the families of individual combatants, for the coalition arrayed against Iraq and certainly for the people of the Middle East.

Gathering around television sets, tuning in to radio reports and eagerly reaching for the latest newspaper, Americans are experiencing something new in warfare -- the instantaneous reporting that modern communications can provide. This war is being watched and documented on an unprecedented scale. Yet there are many things the pool reports will not include -- such as gruesome pictures of soldiers dying in battle. Regardless of whether we see the wounds, hear the screams, feel the heat of battle or fully grasp the fear, those scenes are what war is made of.

The euphoria of early air successes sent oil prices tumbling and stock prices soaring yesterday. That heady celebration ended when the missiles hit Tel Aviv. In warfare, euphoria is an exceedingly fragile commodity.

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