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SPECIAL REPORT: WITNESS TO WAR : Memoirs From the Battle Front, the Diplomatic Front and the Home Front : Images From the Gulf: Jets and Fury, Sand and Death, Flags and Victory

March 12, 1991

History has a way of seeming inevitable.

Looking back from the comfortable vantage point of victory, the Gulf War appears from the very beginning to have been a towering mismatch with but one possible outcome:

An isolated and almost-friendless developing nation was propelled by the ignorance of its despotic leader into a full-scale war against the largest, most technologically advanced military machine on Earth. Saddam Hussein--ignorant of the West, misunderstanding the power of technological war, misconceiving his appeal to the masses of the Arab world--confronted George Bush, a President determined to rid his nation of the "Vietnam Syndrome," intent on establishing new ground rules for a post-Cold War world, convinced of the moral rightness of his cause.

Hussein would not blink. Bush would not be swayed. The destruction of Iraqi power was, it seems, bound to follow.

It didn't all look so inevitable as the drama unfolded, of course. And even in hindsight, it's easy to see many moments when things might have gone wrong, when at the very least the human cost of the war could have been much higher.

How could it be otherwise when more than a million warriors, armed with some of the most devastating weaponry known to exist, square off in a desert offering little place to hide? This was the heaviest concentration of hostile firepower since World War II. It was war against an adversary who had already proven himself ready to use the most ruthless tactics, not only against enemies but against his own people.

On hand, too, were those professional witnesses to war: the correspondents who record what they can at the time, but whose images of conflict change subtly and become more powerful as they reflect on the fullness of the experience.

Those images, of chaos and fury, confusion and exhaustion, brilliance and folly, come alive in the memoirs of those correspondents.

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