Klaus Bung: The 1990 Gulf War
This essay was written during the final stages of the 1990/1991 Gulf War, which lead to the expulsion of occupying Iraq from Kuwait. While seeing the necessity of the military action as such, Klaus Bung criticises the enthusiasm and the self-righteousness with which it was experienced by western politicians, media and people and the empty moralising political slogans (e.g. the millennial 'New World Order', where 'henceforth' justice wins over brute force). Even internally 'democratic' nations, such as the USA and Great Britain, can be brutal imperialists in their international relations (and therefore cause resentment), as was Athens, the oft idolised cradle of democracy.
After giving a potted history of Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, Klaus Bung shows the parellels of the Kuwait-Iraq affair and its morality or lack of it with events and arguments in classical antiquity. For instance, Athens behaved like Iraq when, in 416 B.C., it attacked, occupied, depopulated and colonised the independent island of Melos (famous negotiations with arguments of might over right), and like Iraq in Kuwait (or Hitler in Stalingrad in 1943) it got its come-uppance when it overreached itself and attacked the independent city of Syracuse (414 B.C.). The delusions of Saddam Hussain are seen as analogous to those of Don Quijote. The horrendous destruction of the Iraqis withdrawing from Kuwait with their ill-gotten booty were an exact mirror of what happened to the Persian army when their attempt to conquer Athens failed during the sea Battle of Salamis (480 B.C.) and they had to withdraw over land, and is movingly described in Aeschylos's play 'The Persians' (472 B.C.).
These themes are of permanent relevance and throw, from some angle or other, useful light on more contemporary conflicts (esp. all stories of conquest, foreign domination and ethnic cleansing), e.g., at present (2002), the Israeli conquest and occupation of Palestinian land, the modern Balkan conflicts, etc.Klaus Bung:
Contents1 Introduction: So many questions 2 The Gulf War in Perspective 2.1 The importance of Kuwait 2.2 A potted history of Iraq 2.3 A potted history of Saudi Arabia 2.4 The Battle of Nicopolis 2.5 The Turkish threat 2.6 Parallels and lessons 2.9 ... or even as this publican 2.10 Saddam: the new Adam 2.11 The story of Melos and the old world order 2.12 Nemesis 2.13 A new world order? 3 Bibliography
Can we reverse history?
During the Gulf War of 1991, I was asked by supporters of Saddam Hussein whether it was true that Kuwait was once part of Iraq?
Well, what would you say? Was it, or was it not?
If it was, when was it and how was it? Did that justify Iraq's occupation of Kuwait?
Iraq (then called Mesopotamia) was once ruled by Turkey (during the time of the Ottoman Empire). Should Turkey therefore occupy Iraq today?
Mesopotamia was once ruled by Persia (now called Iran). Should Iran therefore occupy Iraq today?
Switzerland was once ruled by Austria. Should the Austrians invade Switzerland? France and Germany were both ruled by Charlemagne. Does that make Germany part of France or vice versa? The Netherlands and Austria were both ruled from Spain. Does that entitle the Dutch to take over Austria?
The United States of America were once under British rule. Should the British take over again (if they could)?
Why are we outraged by Saddam Hussein?
It has been said that Saddam Hussein did nothing but follow the common practices of the Middle East: 'If you want something and if you are strong enough, go and grab it. If indigenous populations are in the way, terrorise them until they go.' Try to answer that question for yourself. Study each change in national boundaries which have occurred in the Middle East since 1918, and ask whether it was brought about by consent or power, by right or by might, and whether the residents' wishes were respected.
Abdul Aziz (later King Ibn Saud) attacked and conquered many small territories on the Arabian Peninsula. He is now remembered as the man who unified Arabia and as the greatest Arab leader since the Holy Prophet Mohammed himself. Was this because he was successful in his wars and in the administration of his conquests, or was it because it is good and great to gather adjacent territories under one rule?
Admittedly, Saddam Hussein has failed in his attempt to conquer and retain Kuwait. Granted also that he is a torturer, butcher and dictator. But he was that even before he annexed Kuwait. So we can set that aside when judging his attempt to capture Kuwait.
Assume he had been successful in keeping Kuwait, in straightening out Iraq's borders, in giving Iraq access to the open sea (which, as a brief look at the map shows, Iraq seems to cry out for), in giving Kuwait fresh water (which it used to import from Iraq), would the historians of the future still talk about the rape of Kuwait (as they do now) or would they regard the union of Iraq and Kuwait as a marriage that was made in heaven (or hell) and call Saddam Hussein, after a few more conquests, 'Saddam the Great', the 'unifier of the Fertile Crescent'? 
Morality rules OK?
International morality seems to be guiding the actions of the United Nations, the Americans, the British and their Allies in their dealings with Iraq. Nine years ago, when the USSR still posed a threat to the West, the security of Saudi Arabia was assessed as follows:
What protects Saudi Arabia now that the threat from the USSR seems to have receded?
Mind your own business?
Why did the 'special relationship' between the USA and Great Britain work so well during this Gulf War? Did Great Britain have any justification for interfering in the disagreements of two Arab States? Did Britain have a special relationship with Kuwait? Did it have a special relationship with Iraq?
Kuwait has been accused of not being a democracy and therefore not deserving protection. Was Saddam Hussein the best qualified person to bring democracy to Kuwait?
Do you know the answers to such questions? Are there simple answers?
If you do not know the answers, do you at least know some facts? Are you able to argue intelligently about these and many other questions which arise as Iraq, Kuwait, the Arab World and Israel try to resolve their problems?
Are you at least aware of how much you do not know and how difficult it is to interpret the facts? Or are you simply happy that you are on the side of the angels and that, for once, your team is winning?
Knowing something about the past
If you want to argue, you have, at least, to know some facts.
Many people do not even know much about their own history. In a survey conducted in Great Britain, adults and children were asked 12 simple questions about British history (Sunday Express, London, 17 March 91, p 12f). If the test was easy, the results were appalling. 25% of the test persons could not name Winston Churchill as the Prime Minister who lead England during the War against Nazi Germany. One woman did not know his name but gave a fair description instead: 'A great big bloke'. Unfortunately the description also applies to the present German Chancellor Kohl and to General Norman Schwarzkopf. Which Roman General invaded Britain with the lines 'I came, I saw, I conquered'? One person thought it was Hitler. Others suggested Brutus and Napoleon. Only 50% had the correct answer: Julius Caesar.
If we know so little about the history of our own country, how much less do we know about the Arabs, the Muslims, their relations with the West and with each other! We have just fought a risky war that seems only to concern other nations. How can we argue about that with each other, or with people who live nearer to the area (e.g. Arabs, Turks) if we know nothing about them? It is useful to know something about how the other half lives.
It is useful to know something about history on the one hand and present-day reality on the other. It is useful to know something about a tiny little state, the Switzerland of the Middle East, which is considered important enough to go to war about - when there was no war about the Chinese annexation of Tibet (1950), and no war about the Soviet invasions of Hungary (1956), of Czechoslovakia (1968) and of Afghanistan (1979).
It is up to you to draw your own inferences from the facts and look behind some of the unanswered questions, which are designed to make you think or read and ask questions.
Since this war was partly about bullying, the discussion about it should not be dominated by bullies. You therefore should prepare yourself. This book does not pretend to go to any depth but it gives you the most primitive tools of discussion, bare facts and a few excursions to give you some perspective.
Perhaps it raises more questions than it answers. That would be very desirable, not least to help you check your own euphoria. Libraries and book shops can help you find the answers to the unanswered questions. You may, for example, find it useful to look at a map of all the major states in the Middle East, especially those which were threatened or attacked during this Gulf War. For each, look at its boundaries in 1918. Then check if these boundaries have changed since then. If they have changed (and that means especially 'expanded'), find out if any territories gained during that time were empty or if there were residents (as there were in Kuwait). How long had these residents been living in their villages and towns? Were they consulted when a new power took control? How many of them are still in their former towns? How many left? Why exactly did they leave? Where are they now?
Through incessant television and radio
reporting, we had a vivid picture of this war. It would be useful
also to have a vivid picture of the past. This little booklet
cannot even begin to answer any of these questions. But you will
be a wiser and more compassionate person if you at least start asking
Kuwait is a tiny country which, throughout its history, has been much more important than its size suggests. These are the reasons:
1 Kuwait has a strategic location, at the furthest end of an long waterway (the Persian Gulf). Before the arrival of air transport it not only provided access to the sea for its neighbours but also was an important link in long-distance routes, such as an overland route to the Mediterranean in one direction and a sea route to India in the other, or on overland route via Turkey to Germany and the North Sea.
2 Kuwait played a critical role in the creation of a huge and important country, Saudi Arabia, at the beginning of this century.
Iraq is the cradle of our civilisation. If you want to study this aspect and gain respect for it (as we should, for should we not respect our cradle, even when it has been soiled?), read books about the names on which we only touch. 3000 B.C. the Sumerians inhabited Mesopotamia (the land between the rivers) and developed the world's first system of writing (cuneiform writing). A thousand years later Mesopotamia belonged to the Assyrian Empire in the north and the Babylonian Empire in the South. The Babylonians had great astronomers. They had a number system based on '60', to which we owe our system of measuring time. From the Bible you know about the city of Babylon (near Baghdad) and of Niniveh (near Mosul in the Kurdish north). About 500 B.C. Babylon and Assyria became part of the Persian Empire, which also threatened the Greeks not long before they indulged in their adventures at Melos and Sicily (see below).
The total destruction of the invading Persian fleet at the hands of the Greek during the Battle of Salamis (480 B.C.) was the subject of one of the first plays still performed and read today, 'The Persians' by the Greek playwright Aeschylos, who himself had fought at Salamis eight years before his play was first performed (472 B.C.). The ghost of Darius, ancestor of the defeated Xerxes, appears in the play and predicts the miseries that will befall the retreating survivors of the battle in retribution for the way in which they have profaned, during their invasion, the sacred ground of Greece [similar to the devastation the Iraqi troops wrought before they fled from Kuwait]:
Mesopotamia belonged, in turn, to Alexander the Great's Empire, and its successor, the Parthian Empire. The Romans did not hold it for long and it became the eastern border of the Roman empire.
In the Middle Ages (637 A.D.), Mesopotamia became part of the Arab Empire and exchanged its Greek name 'Mesopotamia' for its Arabic name 'Iraq'. After the death of the Prophet Mohammed in 632 A.D., his successors, the Caliphs (khalifa = successor), conquered large areas of Africa (ultimately including Spain) and the Middle East (including Syria and Iraq). The first three caliphs, Abu Bakr, Omar and Othman ruled from Medina. In 656 A.D. Othman was murdered by supporters of Ali, the Prophet's son-in-law. Ali was proclaimed caliph, but after a period of civil war, Ali in turn was murdered (661 A.D.) by supporters of Muwayah, governor of Syria and cousin of Othman. So Muwayah became caliph, the founder of a new dynasty of caliphs, the Umayyads, and Damaskus became the capital of the Arab Empire.
Concealed behind the names of these caliphs, is the struggle of two parties for the succession of the Prophet Mohammed. Those who supported Abu Bakr, Omar, Othman and the Umayyads are called 'Sunnis'. Those who supported Ali and his descendants are called 'Shiites'. The Arab peninsula is mainly sunni, Iran officially shiite, Iraq a mixture of both, but a slight majority of Shiites (55%).
A feud had been going on between the Umayyads and the Abbas family (the Abbasids) from a time before the birth of Islam. As the quality of the Umayyad rule deteriorated in successive generations of caliphs, the Abbasids identified themselves with the shiite tradition and declared that all caliphs after Ali were usurpers. They staged a revolution, and in 749 the last of the Umayyad caliphs was killed in Egypt. The first Abbasid caliph, Abul Abbas, collected into one prison every living male of the Umayyad line he could find and had them all killed. He then proceeded to hunt down and kill all of Ali's descendants (i.e. his intention in taking up the shiite cause had not been to reinstate Ali's line). In Spain a member of the Umayyad dynasty survived and established there an independent caliphate.
Mansur, the successor of Abul Abbas made Baghdad his capital. At that time, then, the whole of the Moslem world, including the Arab Peninsula, was ruled from Baghdad. One of the most famous Caliphs who ruled in Baghdad, when the Arab empire was already in its decline, was Harun-ar-Rashid (of the Arabian Nights) (ruled 786-809 A.D.). 'Baghdad rapidly became the centre of a brilliant intellectual and material civilization which spread over the entire Muslim world and reached its height in the 10th century'.
In 1258 Hulagu Khan, grandson of Jenghiz Khan, picked a quarrel with the last caliph, Mustasim, killed him, sacked Baghdad and turned Iraq into a wilderness. In 1393 Timur the Tatar (Timur the Lame, the hero of Christopher Marlowe's play 'Tamburlaine the Great', the first English play ever written in blank verse) conquered Iraq, but his empire collapsed after his death.
In 1508 Iraq was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. It was lost and reconquered several times in the wars between the Turks and the Persians. The final conquest of Baghdad took place in 1638, and Iraq remained in the Ottoman Empire until its demise at the end of the First World War in 1918.
Iraq had contained both sunnis and shiites, the sunnis in the north and the shiites in the south. The sunnis tended to live in the cities and the shiites in the country. The Ottomans were sunnis, distrusted the shiites (whose natural allies had in the past been the shiite Persians) and tended to employ Iraqi sunnis in their local administration.
At the very beginning of the War, in 1914, Great Britain occupied Iraq, in order to 'reassure the sheikhs of Muhammareh and Kuwait, to counter the threats of German and Turkish penetration of Persia with consequent danger to India and to protect the south Persian oil fields'.
In 1920, at the San Remo conference, in the aftermath of the First World War, Great Britain accepted a League of Nations mandate for Iraq. In 1921 Emir Faisal was crowned King of Iraq. The mandate continued and many political complications arose. In 1932 Iraq became a member of the League of Nations and thus formally independent.
In 1933, King Faisal died and was succeeded by his son, who ruled as King Ghazi I. King Ghazi I, drunk in charge of a car, died in a car accident and was succeeded by his four-year-old son as King Faisal II in 1939. His uncle Abd ul Ilah became Regent. After an attempted coup-d'état in 1941, British troops occupied Baghdad. From then on, Iraq supported the allied war effort by sending food and materials to its neighbour, the U.S.S.R. In 1943 Iraq formally joined the allies by declaring war on Germany, Japan and Italy.
In 1948, Iraq took part in the Arab-Israeli war.
From 1956 to 1957 Iraq was under martial law introduced during the Suez canal crisis. In 1958 a union between Iraq and Jordan was proclaimed. A few months later, there was a revolt and King Faisal II was killed. Iraq became a republic, whose head was the revolutionary leader, General Abdul Karim Qassim.
In February 1963, the then still small
socialist Baath party under their leader Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr staged a
coup and killed Qassim. Only nine months later, in November 1963,
the Baath Party regime was overthrown by Colonel Arif. He died in
1966 in a mysterious helicopter crash and was succeeded as president by
his brother Abdul Rahman Arif. In July 1968 the Baath party
staged another coup, with the help of the Republican Guards.
Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr became president again. One of his protégés
was Saddam Hussein, who now proceeded rapidly to build his power base
and to eliminate all his rivals until only Bakr himself was left.
In July 1979, President Bakr resigned, under pressure from Saddam
Hussein, and Saddam Hussein became president. In the same year,
the Shah of Iran was overthrown and Khomeini returned to Iran. In
the same year, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.
The origins of Saudi Arabia go back to an alliance made in 1744 between a small sheikh (a political ruler) and a religious reformer.
The Sheikh was Muhammad ibn Saud, an ancestor of the famous King Ibn Saud, and ruler of the town of Dariyah, not far from Riyadh.
The religious reformer was Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab. Wahhab was the Luther (or perhaps rather Calvin) of Islam, preaching an uncompromising return to the pure teachings of original Islam.
Since in Islam religious practice and political organisation go hand in hand, the spread of the Wahhabi doctrine and the growth of the Saudi rule fed each other. Tribes which accepted the Wahhabi doctrine switched their allegiance to Saudi rule, and those tribes and sheikhdoms which rejected either one or the other were gradually brought into the Saudi 'empire' by military force or threat. Thus the names 'the Wahhabis' and 'the Saudis' have sometimes been used interchangeably. This explains why, to this day, Saudi Arabia remains a theocracy, a state in which everything is done 'In the name of God'.
Adherents to the Wahhabi doctrine do not like to be called Wahhabis and may retort that they are simply sunnis, i.e. orthodox Muslims. The name 'Wahhabi' has also been used by opponents of the movement in a derogatory way, e.g. to mean 'fanatic', 'militant', 'fundamentalist'. However, no convenient alternative name is available, so that, in the literature, the name 'Wahhabi' is generally used.
During the course of several generations the Saudis conquered most of the towns, sheikhdoms and territories that make up the two main regions of the Arab peninsula, namely Najd (from where they came) and Hejaz, which was then part of the Egyptian province of the Turkish (Ottoman) Empire. Eventually they conquered the holy cities of Mecca (1802) and Medina (1806). That was the first Saudi empire, comprising large parts of Najd and Hejaz.
In 1812 the Turks recaptured Mecca and Medina and then began to dismantle as much of the Saudi Empire as they needed to reach its capital, Dariyah, which they did in 1818. They totally destroyed the town, which has remained in ruins to this day. Then they returned to their base in Egypt. The Saudis moved to Riyadh and made it their new capital. From there they built their second empire, smaller than the first, consisting mainly of Najd territory.
Northern Arabia remained largely independent of the Saudis. The leading dynasty there was that of Mohammed Ibn Rashid, whose capital was Hail. Rashid defeated the Saudis in the battle of al-Mulaida in 1891. Thus ended the second Saudi empire.
The Saudi ruler Abdul-Rahman and his young son Abdul-Aziz took refuge in Kuwait, where Abdul-Aziz was groomed for leadership by the Kuwaiti Sheikh Mubarak. With Kuwaiti support Abdul-Aziz reconquered his capital Riyadh, the territory of Najd and of Hejaz. His main opponent was Rashid, who was supported by the Turks. After capturing Rashid's capital Hail in 1921, Abdul-Aziz assumed the title of Sultan of Najd. In 1926 he was proclaimed King of Hejaz. In 1932 he united the two parts of his empire, Najd and Hejaz, which now became known, after his dynasty, as 'Saudi Arabia'. He became King of Saudi Arabia and is best known under the name of 'King Ibn Saud'.
Limits to Saudi expansion were set by the
British who prevented the Saudis from incorporating Kuwait and other
states on the coast of Arabia into their empire or from expanding into
Transjordan and Iraq. Most of the Saudi conquests took place
before Saudi Arabia was known for its oil wealth. The British
therefore had no interest in inland deserts, whereas, as a
sea-faring nation and as the controlling power of India, they were very
much interested in territories along the coast. This
accounts for the puzzling fact that
During the last week of the 1991 Gulf War, in one of his last defiant speeches on Baghdad radio, in which he grudgingly agreed to withdraw from Kuwait, Saddam Hussein showed that, deep at heart, he is a romantic: a man fond of reading about the deeds of great men in history. (Children today love to read about the great deeds of Batman. But woe betide them if they jump out of windows in the belief that they can fly.)
To his offer of withdrawal from Kuwait, Saddam Hussein added the cryptic remark that Constantinople did not fall during the first siege. A few thousand more Iraqi soldiers had to die for that remark, for it meant that Saddam Hussein intended to return and renew his attack on Kuwait when he was better prepared. The allies therefore did not stop strafing the Iraqi troops.
Yet, the history of Constantinople does not augur well for Saddam Hussein. Constantinople withstood numerous sieges, by Persians, Arabs, Bulgarians, Russians and others, for almost 800 years (from 626), till it finally fell to the Turks in 1453.
Nor does history (if history really repeats itself) augur well for Kuwait. For even though Constantinople did not fall for 800 years, it was assaulted for 800 years, and, after 800 years, it fell. Determinists would say it was destined to fall.
Saddam Hussein is deeply steeped in historical folklore, especially the glories of the Ottoman Empire (Turkish Empire), which started about 1300 AD with Osman and survived for over 600 years until it was finally dissolved in consequence of World War I by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. One of its constituents, then released, was modern Iraq.
Even Saddam Hussein's battle strategies seem to be taken from Ottoman history textbooks. In preparation for the ground war, the 'Mother of Battles', in 1991, he placed his least motivated, least qualified, worst fed and worst equipped soldiers 'as cannon fodder' into the front line. This must have had a purpose.
The purpose becomes clear when we read about the battle of Nicopolis (now: Nikopol, Bulgaria, at the Rumanian border), which in parts sounds like a description of Operation Desert Shield or Desert Storm.
In telling the story of the battle of Nicopolis, I am largely following the account given by Lord Kinross in 'The Ottoman Centuries. The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire', London 1977, p 66 ff).
Nicopolis means 'Victory City' (Greek nike = victory, polis = city) but might just as well have been called Hettapolis (City of Defeat) (Greek hetta = defeat), since for each of the many battles that were won there, there was also a battle lost - by the other side: Every silver lining has a cloud, as a Hindu proverb says. But there is not a single city called Hettapolis in the world. Such is human optimism.
The battle of Nicopolis was the end of one of the last crusades, held at a time when, after the eighth crusade, the romance and excitement had gone out of crusading and people had stopped counting.
The western (European) powers grew nervous over the ever expanding Ottoman Empire and felt it was time to put a stop to it. Bayezid I (1389-1403) was in charge of the Ottoman Empire at the time. When he came to power after the battle of Kosovo (1389), he declared that 'after conquering Hungary he would ride to Rome and would feed his horse with oats on the altar of St Peter's' (Kinross, p 66). Strong stuff, and very poetic - as were the military communiqués from Baghdad in 1991 or the shouted pro-Saddam slogan: 'Saddam, Saddam, our boss / Go ahead and hit the Cross'.
King Sigismund of Hungary felt threatened by the Ottomans and tried to get allies for a crusade, to put the Turks in their place once and for all. Similarly, in 1990, US Secretary of State, James Baker, travelled around the world trying to find allies and elicit contributions to the war chest.
Sigismund 'met with little encouragement but words from a succession of Popes ... The Genoese merely vied with their Venetian rivals for commercial favours from Bayezid; while both Naples and Milan maintained amicable Ottoman contacts.' The Iraqi airforce shelters destroyed by American bombs in 1991 had been largely built by British engineers, and Iraq's weapons had been largely supplied by the Western Powers, including the Soviet Union.
Sigismund turned to France and managed to get support from the 'intermittently mad King Charles VI'. He promised to send a force of chevaliers and mercenaries under the command of his young son.
The response in feudal Europe was excellent.
a fair description of the force assembled in Saudi Arabia and in the Persian Gulf for Operation Desert Shield.
The crusaders had some difficulty locating the enemy. The Turks did not invade Hungary as expected, and Sigismund's 'scouts could find no trace of the enemy'. ... 'Still Bayezid, occupied in fact with the siege of Constantinople, did not come.' The crusaders marched down the valley of the Danube and passed unopposed through Serbia and into Bulgaria. In Rahova 'the large Turkish garrison, faced with the whole Christian army of Franks and Hungarians, surrendered, and the bulk of the population, including many Bulgarian Christians, was put to the sword.' These were the civilian casualties of the Gulf war.
Finally the crusaders came to the fortress of Nicopolis. 'There was still no sign of an invading Turkish army.' The crusaders had forgotten to bring any siege equipment and therefore 'they sat down before the walls, hoping to starve the city into surrender.'
How did General Norman Schwarzkopf, during his last press briefing in Riyadh, describe Saddam Hussein: 'He is neither a strategist nor is he schooled in the operational art, nor is he a tactician, nor is he a general, nor is he a soldier. Other than that he is a great military man!'
Christendom had been worried about the Turkish threat for a long time. In 1322 Pope John XXII had ordered that a church bell be rung daily (the 'Türkenglocke' or 'Turks Bell') and that the old (6th century A.D.) Antiphona pro pace be said three times when the bell sounded (Köhler, p 242). Its text is 'Da pacem, Domine, in diebus nostris, quia non est alius qui pugnet pro nobis, nisi tu, Deus noster.' The English version of this text is still used daily during Evensong in Anglican Cathedrals: 'Give peace in our time, o Lord, because there is none other who fighteth for us but only thou, o God' and, no doubt, has been fervently prayed during the Gulf crisis.
The Turkish victory at Nicopolis in 1396 put fear and terror into Christian hearts far and wide, and with good reason too. For 133 years later, in 1529, the army of Suleiman I the Magnificent managed to reach Vienna and laid siege to it after having adopted threatening postures for some time before.
Two famous Lutheran hymns, still sung in German churches today, were written on that occasion.
The first (from which, ad usum delphini, the title and the offensive references to the pope and the Turks have been removed in today's hymn books) was written in 1529 and is entitled 'Ein Kinderlied, zu singen, wider die zween Ertzfeinde Christi und seiner heiligen Kirchen, den Bapst und Türcken, etc.' (A children's song to sing against the two arch enemies of Christ and his holy church, the pope and the Turks, etc.). The text runs thus:
The second of these hymns was written at the end of 1528 or at the beginning of 1529 and is a prayer for peace. The text runs thus:
Use your own television experience of the Gulf War to draw out the many parallels between the Battle of Nicopolis and the tactics, incidents and language used on both sides in the Gulf conflict. You have seen the stakes and barbed wire which was to hold off the allied offensive. You have seen the defeated Iraqi soldiers, sometimes barefooted, trek along the road from Kuwait to Basra, often even ignored by the allies.
If the allied forces had been as ill prepared and undisciplined as the crusaders in the Battle of Nicopolis, perhaps Saddam Hussein could have won. But were they ill prepared, were they undisciplined, were they without a plan?
Who has to learn which
lessons? Could the tactics of putting the expendable troops in
the front line, which were successful in 1396, guarantee a victory
against the infidels (Who calls whom 'infidel'?) in 1991, 595 years
later? Was it right to assume that, what worked in 1396, would
work in 1990, or that the international morality of pre-1945 had not
changed in 1990? And has it changed?
It was Saddam Hussein's misfortune that he was born 600 years too late. Like a Peter Pan of the Baghdad Arabian Nights he lived in dream land.
Saddam Hussein's story has, in fact, been told in depth by the Spanish novelist Cervantes (1547-1616). Cervantes was born in Alcalá de Henares (on the outskirts of Madrid), a town that was destroyed (1000 AD), rebuilt (1038) and named by the Arabs in Spain. Its name (al kala = Fortress) is as military as that of Nicopolis. It also comes from the same Arabic root as 'Kuwait' (kut = fortress, kuwait = little fortress). Cervantes spent the years from 1573 to 1580 as a slave, having been taken captive and sold by Arab pirates on his way from Sicily to Spain. In 1605 he published his most famous novel, 'Don Quixote'.
Don Quixote was a man addicted to reading knightly adventure stories: today they would be comics.
Don Quixote lived 'not long ago', i.e. in the second half of the 16th century. By that time, gunpowder had been invented, people no longer lived in castles, knights no longer fought with swords and lances and no longer wore armour. Dragons had become extinct and the world was no longer full of damsels in distress waiting to be rescued. But Don Quixote took his comics so seriously that he, like a schizophrenic, believed them to represent reality and acted accordingly. He mistook a windmill for a giant, with whom he had to do battle, and criminals who were being taken to the galleys appeared in his imagination as victims of a cruel tyrant from whose claws he had to rescue them, just as Saddam Hussein felt he had to bring the blessings of Iraqi democracy to the poor oppressed Kuwaitis.
Two hundred years earlier, a man with Don Quixote's idealism would have been a hero or a saint. At the time when he actually lived, the same behaviour was rated as that of a lunatic.
If Don Quixote was born 200 years too late, Saddam Hussein was born 600 years too late. That is the analogy. We might therefore interpret Saddam Hussein as a latter-day Don Quixote.
Saddam Hussein did not understand today's
reality. In his (and our) history books countries are continually
being conquered, boundaries changed, territories negotiated about and
traded for one another. But that was in the past, when empire
building was still the duty of Kings. 'A king must conquer', says
the Mahabharata. 'Nation states' in the modern sense did not
exist and there was nothing sacred about territorial boundaries.
It was a matter of what you could get away with. Like Don
Quixote, Saddam Hussein was brought up sharp against reality.
Saddam Hussein did not seem to understand why President Bush would not negotiate about Kuwait: that today national boundaries are sacred: nor did we, in the West, seem to understand why (as a matter of principle) Saddam Hussein wished to negotiate.
Saddam Hussein did not understand that, unlike in past history, in today's world, especially since the demise of the power of the Soviet Union, he would have the whole world against him if he trespassed across a national boundary. Had he been an Ottoman ruler, he would have had a few states against him, but not everybody: he would have had a sporting chance. In 1991, he thought himself a giant when, faced with the whole world, he was in fact a dwarf.
Not only had Saddam Hussein lost touch with reality in historical terms, he also did not know or understand how the other half of the world lived (the more important it is that we understand how the other half lives):
In England, you cannot even bargain about the price of an apple in a supermarket. You have to pay the price that is printed on the ticket.
Much to the naive amazement of the West, Saddam Hussein wanted to negotiate about a national territory. And much to the consternation of Saddam Hussein, the West would not give an inch. Rightly (from the technical angle of negotiating), Saddam Hussein tried one ploy after another to get negotiations going, like Nixon he persisted to the bitter end, true to character, the character of a man who knows from (limited) experience and his knowledge of history that 'everything is negotiable' and that in negotiations you have to persist. In the history of empires, indeed, countries can change hands like goods in a supermarket and the price is negotiable.
How difficult this is to understand for either side is shown in the following incident which happened a few years ago in an American Supermarket in Texarkana, which straddles the border between Texas and Arkansas.
2.9 ... or even as this publican 
A great euphoria has swept through some countries on the allied side during the Gulf War. Like so many, you may enjoy the feeling of being on the stronger side, which is always a good feeling, especially when you can share it with virtually everybody around you.
Being strong enables you to use your fists, and that can also cause great elation - as many football hooligans know only too well.
You can only show your strength if the other guy is weak. Fortunately for the Allies in this war, Saddam Hussein turned out to be weaker than he seemed, and he no longer had his former ally, the Soviet Union, to support him and prevent any war from even starting.
Unfortunately for the strong they often have to inhibit the use of their fists because they lack a good moral cause. Well, it does not usually stop them from using their fists, but a bad conscience spoils the fun. And that is what matters: do you feel good about what you are doing.
From the dawn of history it seems that the bad are strong and the good are weak, and the peaceful are swallowed up by the strong, as was intended with Kuwait, and as actually happened when China annexed Tibet in 1950, and nobody came to Tibet's aid.
What was unique in the Gulf War is that the other guy was not only weak but that he was also bad. If you rejoiced in the strength of the allied forces, then you owe a debt of gratitude to Saddam Hussein and his badness. Without his badness, no fun for you.
This notion is not as absurd as it may seem at first sight. In Christian theology, the first sin is that committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, traditionally sited in or near today's Iraq. It was so serious that Adam and Eve themselves could not sufficiently atone for it, but that all their descendants had to suffer in consequence, and all evil and suffering in the world, including the present Gulf War, are due to it. It was atoned for by the death of Jesus Christ, even though its consequences still endure.
In the Exsultet, one of the ancient prayers sung in Roman Catholic churches during the Easter Night Vigil, Adam and Eve's heinous crime is therefore praised:
Great events cast their shadows far ahead. What happened in Kuwait and what happened to the Iraqi army is epitomised by an event that befell the mother of western democracy, Athens, almost 2,500 years ago.
There was a war between the city states of Athens and of Sparta (on the Peloponnese). This is known as the Peloponnesian War. It was described in detail by the famous Greek historian Thucydides, a contemporary, from whose description I shall quote at length, if only to prove that I am not inventing the close parallels to the Kuwait war of 1990/91.
The Peloponnesian War lasted from 431 to 404 B.C. Athens and Sparta were part of 'the Greek world', as Kuwait and Iraq are now part of 'the Arab world' or 'the Islamic world'. Most communities (e.g. islands, cities, colonies) of the Greek world fought on one side or the other. But, like Jordan today, there was a little island state that wanted to remain neutral. This was the island of Melos, nominally a colony of Sparta. The Athenians were offended by the independent stance of Melos and felt that it would reflect badly on their reputation as a powerful nation if they allowed Melos to go its own way. They wanted to incorporate Melos into their own empire.
In 427 B.C., they therefore sent a fleet of sixty ships and 2,000 infantry men (hoplites): 'They wished to subdue Melos, which, although it was an island, had refused to submit to Athens or even to join the Athenian alliance. However, though they laid the country waste, the Melians still refused to come to terms.' (Thucydides 3, 91). Having tried in vain to intimidate the Melians and having taught them a lesson, the fleet sailed away and devoted itself to other military actions.
However, the Athenians, who had 'sea supremacy' (the equivalent of today's 'air supremacy'), were sorely grieved at having been given the brush-off by the paltry little island and were determined to have their way. The people of Melos, similarly, no longer felt much friendship for the Athenians.
Eleven years later, in 416 B.C., the Athenians returned with a fleet and army that was still huge by the standards of the time and especially when poised against tiny Melos: 36 ships, and about 3000 soldiers (Thucydides 5, 84 ff). Two Athenian generals met the Melian cabinet with last minute proposals designed, as the Athenians said, 'to save your city from destruction'. They did not attempt to use any grievances as a pretext for military action nor did they want to hear any moral reasoning from the Melians, such as that the Melians were neutral in the war and that they had never harmed the Athenians. Instead, the Athenians said,
In other words, the Athenians enunciated the following principle as a law of nature:
In view of the large fleet anchored off-shore, the Melians no longer argued about justice of the Athenians but used a utilitarian argument:
(prophetic words which remind us not only of what befell the Athenians on their next enterprise but also of what happened to the Iraqi army).
The Athenians told the Melians not to worry about the hypothetical fate of the Athenian empire.
The Melians brought the possible reactions of other states into the discussion, the neutrals and stronger protecting powers (such as the USA and the USSR in our time).
The Athenians were not concerned.
The Athenians expect as much favour from the gods as the Melians because their conduct is governed by a law of nature and therefore right:
The Athenians proceeded to demolish the hope the Melians put into their 'mother country', Sparta. [This would be the USSR for Iraq, and the USA or Great Britain for Kuwait.] The Spartans will not help you, said the Athenians, because of their honour or because you are their kinsmen. Like all other people the Spartans believe 'that what they like doing is honourable and what suits their interests is just... If one follows one's self-interest one wants to be safe, whereas the path of justice and honour involves one in danger.' The Spartans will not help you because it means risk and danger and they have nothing to gain by it. You have nothing to offer them, even as an ally, because you are weak and are asking for help. Think it over while we adjourn the meeting, and remember 'that you are discussing the fate of your country, that you have only one country, and that its future for good or ill depends on this one single decision.'
When the meeting resumed the Melians announced their decision:
The Athenians broke off the discussion and immediately began to blockade the island. The Spartans did not come to assist the Melians. The blockade lasted for about six months. During this time, the Melians made a couple of successful attacks on the besieging forces. The Athenians therefore brought reinforcements.
Correspondingly, for some considerable time prior to the invasion, Iraq had been trying to extort money from Kuwait and other Gulf states. (See Miller and Mylroie for details.) The considerations which Thucydides compressed so admirably in the Melian Dialogue were also raised during that period.
The expert called the State Department to report on his conversation. He was told not to be concerned; the government was aware of Iraq's actions, but was persuaded that Saddam was only blustering. He would not invade.' (Miller and Mylroie, p 19)
On 31 July 1990, two days before the invasion, the Melian Dialogue was re-enacted in Jeddah. Kuwait and Iraq met under Saudi auspices 'to mediate their differences.'
As the Athenians changed the population of Melos by killing and deporting the natives and replacing them by their own people, so Iraq, after invading Kuwait, killed and deported many Kuwaitis, imported Iraqis and destroyed the public records in order to make it impossible to distinguish between native Kuwaits and immigrants.
The meeting in Jeddah was only the last step in a long-running dispute and, as the following observations show, American observers seem to be judging it by the standards of Athenian ideology:
You may disagree with
that maxime of appeasement. If you are on a sledge fleeing from a
pack of wolves, you must not throw meat at them to make them
desist. If you do, you will merely attract more wolves. The
same goes for sharks or for blackmailers.
The story of Athens or that of Iraq has not ended yet.
Encouraged by their success in Melos, the Athenians began to look for some bigger fry. So they turned their attention to the island of Sicily in general and the city of Syracuse in particular. Under the pretext of helping two Sicilian cities, Segesta and Leontini, they sent a fleet to Sicily.
[Similarly, the demands the Iraqis put to the Kuwaitis at the last meeting in Jeddah were only a pretext.]
The Syracusans were no saints themselves: 'It seemed clear that Syracuse wanted to get rid of the Athenians only for the purpose of tyrannising over her neighbours' (Bury, p 466). It seems to have been a case of the type that Luther warned against (in 1528) when he advised that before fighting the Turks (as 'infidels') we should become better Christians ourselves:
This was a time when the Turks posed an acute threat to Austria and Germany, one year before they managed to lay siege to Vienna.
The admiral in charge of the Athenian fleet, Nicias, had been against the expedition.
Even democracies can rejoice in war and indulge in imperialism! If Nicias had been a dictator, the Sicilian expedition would not have taken place.
The expedition set sail in 415 B.C. While the expedition was on its way and the people of Athens were in their euphoric and adventurous mood, Aristophanes wrote and performed his famous comedy 'The Birds' (414 B.C.), in which he invented the term and concept of 'Cloud-Cuckoo-Land', in which not only Saddam Hussein and Don Quixote but also some enthusiastic western observers of the 1990 gulf war might well have felt at home.
In 414 B.C. the Athenians began to besiege Syracuse but were not as skillful or successful as they might have been. The siege or blockade was never complete. The Syracusans received reinforcements, supplies and military experts. The Atheneians were forced to send a second expedition to rescue the first.
The Syracusans managed to lay siege to the besieging Athenian land forces and to barricade the mouth of their Great Harbour, thus preventing the Athenian fleet from leaving. Unlike the differently designed Syracusan ships, the Athenian ships were designed for the open sea and could not be manoeuvered well in the narrow confines of the harbour. The Athenians tried to break through the barricade. The Syracusan ships came out from all sides and a long battle developed in the middle of the harbour, where the Athenians were at a disadvantage. At last the Athenians were forced back to the shore.
[Cf the demoralised state of the Iraqi front line soldiers when the ground 'battle' began.]
The Athenians now had only one hope - to escape by land to the territories of their allies in Sicily. The Syracusans [like the allies in the Kuwait war, with an eye in the Iraqi Republican Guards] were determined not to let them escape, at least not altogether, and for the same reasons. They
They therefore found a way of delaying the start of the Athenian retreat, anticipated the route the Athenians were trying to take [the Kuwait-Basra highway in the recent re-enactment], set up road-blocks in strategic places and attacked and harassed the retreating Athenian army from all sides for much of their march, which took about a week.'
The 40,000 fleeing Athenians must have been in a most desperate condition. They had to leave their wounded and dead behind. They were carrying their own water and provisions, knowing that they would not get further supplies until they reached allied territory. Even so there was no longer enough food in their camp. 'There were sad sights for every eye, sad thoughts for every mind to feel... And then there was the degradation of it all and the fact that all without exception were afflicted, so that, although there may be some lightening of a burden when it is shared with many others, this still did not make the burden seem any easier to bear at the time, especially when they remembered the splendour and the pride of their setting out and saw how mean and abject was the conclusion. No Hellenic army had ever suffered such a reverse. They had come to enslave others, and now they were going away frightened of being enslaved themselves.' (Thucydides 7, 75).
As the retreating army started their march to safety, their leader, Nicias, encouraged his soldiers:
After several days marching,
[Cf the bombardment of the retreating Iraqis.]The Syracusans then managed to separate the retreating army. The rear part, under Demosthenes, surrendered. Nicias, for his part of the army, was then asked to do the same. He said
[Like Saddam Hussein, Nicias still tried to negotiate terms even though he was utterly defeated and the allies were determined not to give an inch but to trample him into the ground.] The Syracusans immediately rejected these proposals [as did President Bush when Saddam Hussein tried to negotiate in the week of his defeat]. So the retreat and the attacks on the retreating army continued, and what follows is the prototype for the carnage on the road from Kuwait to Basra.
The Athenian generals Nicias and Demosthenes were put to death by the Syracusans.
The famous theologian Paul Tillich has some useful thoughts for the hour of our triumph:
The old world order is encapsulated in the Melos Doctrine.
It has been asserted, explicitly or implicitly,
- that Saddam Hussein erred
because he played his game by the
rules of the old world order (the
Did Saddam Hussein (Mr Badman) act in accordance with the Melos doctrine, and the USA (Mr Goodman) did not?
Were the Athenians wrong in asserting that the Melos Doctrine would be valid 'for ever'? If so, when did it cease to be valid or was it at least suspended in the one instance of the Kuwait war. When was the new principle (justice triumphs over strength) put into practice for the first time? During the Kuwait war?
When the Soviets invaded Hungary (1956), Czechoslovakia (1968), Afghanistan (1979), and when the Chinese annexed Tibet (1950), nobody heeded the cries for help. Nobody saved the Palestinians when they were driven out of their towns and villages. Ben-Gurion reiterated the spirit of the Melos doctrine in 1937 when he wrote to his son that, when the Jewish state was created 'we will expel the Arabs and take their places' (Palumbo, p 32) or when he said, on 19 December 1947: 'In each attack, a decisive blow should be struck, resulting in the destruction of homes and the expulsion of the population' (Palumbo, p 40).
On 9 April 1948, a massacre took place at the Arab Village of Deir Yassin, west of Jerusalem. The British sent an investigator, who reported:
These were local examples for Saddam Hussein.
The fact that it is widely accepted that the allied cause is just and that the allies won does not prove that the Melos Doctrine is dead.
The Melos Doctrine says that the stronger party wins, regardless of right or wrong, which was the case in Kuwait:
1 Saddam Hussein annexed Kuwait because he was stronger than Kuwait.
2 America and its allies drove Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait because they were stronger than Iraq.
If Saddam Hussein had had the backing of the Soviet Union and if the Soviet Union had been strong enough, the Americans would not have attacked and defeated Saddam Hussein.
The Melos Doctrine therefore still operates: the only novelty is that in the past it was less predictable which alliances would form and therefore which party would be stronger or weaker, and which party would therefore prevail. With the demise of the Soviet Union there are no longer two strongest players in the world but only one, and the outcome of any action is therefore more (but not entirely) predictable.
The acid test for the death of the Melos Doctrine is not whether there is an instance when justice has won, internationally, over injustice but: when did a weaker party win over the stronger party because it had a just cause. When a seemingly weaker party can go to law (e.g. intra-national = domestic law) and win against a stronger party, the 'weaker' party is in fact stronger because it has the law, the police and ultimately the majority of the citizens on its side, i.e. here too the Melos Doctrine applies.
In case of the Kuwait War, we merely have to ask:
1 Why did the allies intervene, because they were good or because they were strong?
2 Why did the allies win, because they were good or because they were strong?
Sources of information and further reading
Aeschylus: 'The Plays of Aeschylus' translated by Robert Potter. Routledge, London, 1892Almana, Mohammed 1980: 'Arabia Unified. A portrait of Ibn Saud.' Hutchinson Benham, London Buchanan, Harvey 1956: 'Luther and the Turks 1519-1529'. In: Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte, Vol 47, p 145-160. Bertelsmann Verlag, Gütersloh, Germany Bury, J B 1900: 'History of Greece to the death of Alexander the Great'. Macmillan, London Cubberly Van Pelt, Mary: 'The Sheikhdom of Kuwait'. In: Middle East Journal, Vol 4, 1950, p 12-26 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1964 and 1989 editions (state before Iraqi invasion of Kuwait) Fischer-Galati, Stephen A: 'Ottoman imperialism and the religious peace of Nürnberg (1532).' In: Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte, Vol 47, p 160-180. Bertelsmann Verlag, Gütersloh, Germany Kennedy, Gavin 1982: 'Everything is negotiable!' Business Books, London Kinross, Lord 1977: 'The Ottoman centuries. The rise and fall of the Turkish empire.' Jonathan Cape, London Koch, E E 1866: 'Geschichte des Kirchenliedes' (History of the hymn). Stuttgart Köhler, Rudolf 1965: 'Die biblischen Quellen der Lieder' (The biblical sources of the hymns). This is Vol 1, Part 2, of 'Handbuch zum Evangelischen Kirchengesangbuch' (Manual for the Protestant Hymn Book) (ed Mahrenholz and Söhngen). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, Germany (p 245 deals with 'Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort') Lacey, Robert 1982: 'The kingdom'. Fontana Paperbacks/ Collins, London (original edition: Hutchinson, London, 1981). (This is an extremely readable history of Saudi Arabia.) Lockhart, Laurence: 'Outline of the history of Kuwait'. In: Journal of the Royal Asian Society, Vol 34, 1947, p 262-274 Lucke, W 1923: 'Die Lieder Luthers' (Luther's hymns). In: D Martin Luthers Werke. Weimar 1923. Vol 35 (Contains detailed discussion of the origins of 'Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort' (p 235-248) and 'Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich' (p 232-235)) Luther, Martin 1528: 'Vom Kriege wider die Türken' (About fighting the Turks). In: D Martin Luthers Werke. Weimar 1909. Vol 30.2 Mansfield, Peter: 'Kuwait. Vanguard of the gulf.' Hutchinson, London, 1990 Miller, Judith, and Laurie Mylroie 1990: 'Saddam Husein and the crisis in the gulf'. Times Books, Random House, New York Palumbo, Michael 1987: 'The Palestinian catastrophe. The 1948 expulsion of a people from their homeland.' Faber & Faber, London Thucydides: 'History of the Peloponnesian war'. Translated by Rex Warner. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Mdx, England 1972 Tillich, Paul 1972: 'Gesammelte Werke' (Collected works). Vol 13. Stuttgart Veit, P 1986: 'Das Kirchenlied in der Reformation Luthers' (Hymns in Luther's reformation). Stuttgart, Germany Winder, R Bayly 1965: 'Saudi Arabia in the nineteenth century'. Macmillan, London
Fertile Crescent': traditional name for the territories of Palestine,
Syria and Iraq
 Text and historical notes can be found in Luther, WA 35, p 467 f and 235 ff. [go back]
 from: Gavin Kennedy: 'Everything is negotiable!' Business Books, London 1982, p 136-142 [go back]
 Luke 18:11 [go back]
'Vom Kriege wider die Türken' (About the war against the Turks), 1528,
WA 30.2, p 111 [go back]