Because the allies dominated the skies in the Gulf War, the ground phase was over quickly. Its brevity ensured that American casualties were minimal.
When the smoke cleared, the total of American dead turned out to be smaller than the nationwide highway body count on some holiday weekends. It was a hundred times smaller than some Civil War battles.
That ought to have made the job of tidying up the affairs of the dead a simple matter. But months later, it is appalling that some survivors, like Carol Bentzlin, the widow of Marine Cpl. Stephen E. Bentzlin, still are without a full accounting and, indeed, without the combat survivors' benefits due them.
It's an age-old story of military ineptitude, now set in the era of laser-beam warfare.
The government had made a point early on of signaling an intention to do right by military families. But even so, months after the battle for Khafji, where Bentzlin and the six other members of his unit died when their armored vehicle was struck by a missile, red tape is preventing payment of the extra death benefits approved by President Bush last spring.
There can be no excuse for such a sluggish performance by the military bureaucracy. Survivors' bills don't stop coming in when the coffin comes home.
In the meantime, an investigation grinds on into Bentzlin's death, suggesting another distressingly familiar possibility--that these Americans died from "friendly fire."
To add insult to injury, Carol Bentzlin received a letter (on April Fool's Day, no less) that incorrectly said her husband's death was not part of a "friendly-fire" inquiry. The letter was later described as "an administrative error."
At least somebody--even if it's not the U.S. government--recognizes unkept promises and seems embarrassed at the bungling: Kuwait's ambassador to the United States is talking about offering the widow Kuwaiti assistance.
But the U.S. government must cut through its own red tape, and quickly. It's the least expression of gratitude to expect of a nation that could manage to speedily assemble the impressive military alliance that waged Operation Desert Storm.