10 unanswered questions

John Fairhall

March 06, 1991|By John Fairhall

NOW that the Persian Gulf war is over, let's find out:

1. Was it a baby milk factory that allied bombers hit, or a chemical plant?

2. How many Iraqi civilians and soldiers were killed?

3. What did U.S. Special Forces teams do before and during the war?

4. Why didn't Iraq use chemical weapons?

5. How many non-military targets were bombed by the allies?

This is just the short list. Military censors -- Iraqi and American -- and the exigencies of war left many questions unanswered. But there's no justification now for secrecy. Journalists and Congress JohnFairhallshould seek answers, not only for history's sake but for future policy-making.

Before we replenish our stocks of high-tech weapons, shouldn't we find out what the Pentagon could not disclose during combat: How many failed?

Some secrets will be difficult to unearth, literally and figuratively, the aftermath of so much destruction. Only Iraq can provide certain information. But what's the likelihood of Saddam Hussein writing a truthful account?

Some more questions:

6. Why did Saddam leave his army in Kuwait to be crushed? Did the Soviets assure him they'd negotiate a deal with Bush?

7. How could the allies overestimate Iraq's fighting capability? Were there really 500,000 Iraqi soldiers on the front lines?

8. What did the war cost in dollars?

9. What did the Bush administration promise Israel to keep it out of the war?

10. How many Iraqis really died in that bombed Baghdad bunker? Was it a military installation?

One of the paradoxes of this war is that while it seemed to happen before our eyes, courtesy of television, in fact very little of the war and the planning for it were revealed. Censorship wasn't the only problem. The sheer scope of events precluded blanket coverage. By allied estimates, there were 1.2 million soldiers and tens of thousands of weapons stretched over hundreds of miles.

Historians are still debating what occurred during World War II.

Who knows what stories will yet emerge from the Persian Gulf war?

Who knows how history will view it?

Journalists combing through the debris and historians mining declassified documents in the future will uncover surprising stories.

Don't be shocked if the neatly focused picture of the war we have today becomes a little fuzzy around the edges.

John Fairhall is Washington correspondent for The Evening Sun.

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