The Hundredth Meridian

Two Deserts

Nineteen ninety-one was Operation Desert Storm.  In 2003, it is Operation Shock and Awe—or was it Awe and Terror, or Shlock and Glock?  We make progress backward, as befits the new millennium.  Twelve years ago, the Pentagon at least managed to get the desert into it.  The Mesopotamian Desert, as the troops have discovered on two occasions now, holds awe and terror aplenty (dust storms, heat, drought, marauding A-rabs).  The desert as you see it in newspaper photographs and on television appears flatter than West Texas on a gray day, with here and there a palm tree growing from a crack in the crazed and baking flats and (sometimes) on the horizon sere sharp mountains like those back home in the state of Utah (another theocracy, formerly polygamous).  All deserts are good deserts, but this Iraqi specimen looks to be really not my type, certainly not my ideal.  The U.S. military seems to agree; anyway, it is more than willing to desolate and flatten it still further, while adding a few bomb craters for the sake of topographic diversity.  Our culture does not respect desert, which it treats with either indifference or contempt (for which it unconsciously pays a penalty).  If Iraq were not largely a desert “waste,” this war might not be happening at all.  

We left Laramie two days after the hostilities had commenced and less than a week after a spring storm dropped three...

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