YOU SAW THE WAR, NOW READ THE BOOKS: This year marks the 10th anniversary of the end of the Persian Gulf War. In the current issue of American Heritage, Roger J. Spiller, the George C. Marshall professor of military history at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, evaluates the books that have been written about the conflict (as some prefer to call it).
The professor doesn't think much of the quickie books that appeared immediately or shortly after the cease-fire: Triumph Without Victory, compiled by the U.S. News & World Report staff; Thunder in the Desert by James Blackwell, who became something of a fixture on American television during the war, and Bob Woodward's The Commanders. He scoffs at Woodward's "worshipful" depiction of the foreign policy elite who directed the war from afar (the commanders of the title). The best early book on the subject, says Spiller, is Rick Atkinson's Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War. "Unlike many of his colleagues, Atkinson was conversant with the arcana of modern military operations and with the professional subculture that directs them," says Spiller.
Spiller also doesn't think much of the memoirs the war produced: "Schwarzkopf's much awaited It Doesn't Take a Hero took a year and Peter Petres' help to produce," he says. The best? The Eyes of Orion, "a collective memoir by, of all things, a gaggle of lieutenants" published recently by Kent State University Press.
Those seeking to find out what actually transpired during the war, or why, should consult The Gulf Conflict, 1990-1991 by Lawrence Freedman and Efraim Karsh. It's the first and, according to Spiller, in many respects the best, of the early analytical studies. Other books have since been written, but they are for the most part narrowly technical or bureaucratic. In some cases, the books have mirrored the rivalry between the Air Force and the Army, with each claiming credit for the victory. The Air Force weighed in with its Gulf War Air Power Survey while the Army produced Certain Victory: The U.S. Army in the Gulf War. Also from the Army came Lucky War: The Third Army in Desert Storm, a more analytical work written by Richard Swain, who served in Riyadh as the Army's theater historian during the war itself.
Finally, there's the upcoming fourth volume of Anthony Cordesman's Lessons of Modern War series dedicated to The Gulf War. It "may mark the decade's last real contribution to understanding the war that began it," says Spiller.
_ MARGO HAMMOND