Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Operation Desert Storm Turns 25 - Gen X War Memories

As I've been noting lately, 1991 was a pivotal year for the rise of Generation X consciousness. It was the year that saw the release of Douglas Coupland's seminal "voice of a generation" novel, the premiere of Richard Linklater's avant garde film Slacker, and the rise of grunge with the dropping of Nirvana's Nevermind that hit MTV like the raucous guitar chord progression of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." These seemingly unrelated, but beautifully linked, moments of generational angst reflected a time and place of confusion and frustration, and the pivotal world event of that year mirrored the feelings. On February 24, 1991, roughly three weeks before Generation X was released, the United States began the invasion of Kuwait/Iraq in Operation Desert Storm.

Being a 21-year-old college student at that time, I felt the ground swell of protest and saw people marching across campus with some pouring oil on the American flag. It was a confusing time, with the United States beginning a military campaign against an ambiguous threat - an all too familiar concern for a generation that came of age politically with the withdrawal from Vietnam and the resignation of a President. (Wait, what? the President is quitting? What do you mean quitting? Can he do that? And why does he seem so happy walking to the helicopter?) And, then the military action seemed to be over almost as soon as it began. It was an impressive - and somewhat terrifying - show of military might. And, it appeared that the wrong had been righted?

Except for that military base in Saudi Arabia - the "infidels in the Holy Land" that sparked the interest ... and deadly ideology of Osama bin Laden and the rise of Al Qaeda.

Now, it's a quarter of a century later, and Generation X is (somewhat un-) comfortably settling into middle age. And the Middle East mess of a Syrian civil war and the rise of ISIS is the standard measure of that pivotal year 1991. What seemed like a quick and successful military might ultimately destabilized an entire region. And the ambiguous sense of ennui that framed much of Gen X's coming-of-age is every bit as vivid and pertinent as it was then. This is our world now - despite the saturation coverage of Boomers and Millenials. We are in the driver seat of a world in a strange bit of turmoil, which is basically how it's felt for our entire lives.

February 24, 1991. Generation X's memories of war.

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