Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias The editor of the daily newspaper I worked at a decade ago presented each of us in the newsroom with a uniquely-designed paperweight.

It's followed me wherever I've gone since.

The paperweight is a flat piece of gray metal. Etched on the left side of the heavy object is our front page from Jan. 17, 1991. The image of the page naturally had to be severely reduced to fit on the paperweight.

But the contents of that page still can be made out clearly. There's a photo of President George Bush addressing the nation from the Oval Office. Sprinkled here and there throughout the page are photos of Gov. George Mickelson and local legislators to accompany a story.

At the top of the page, in bold, huge, screaming type, is a simple, two-word headline: IT'S WAR!

Desert Storm had begun.

There was something eerie about that night of Jan. 16, 1991, as our entire news staff was called in after CNN reported, and Bush later announced, that the war had indeed begun.

We really shouldn't have been caught by surprise. It was common knowledge that U.S. troops and a variety of weaponry, from aircraft carriers to tanks and helicopters, were all poised to strike Baghdad.

Perhaps it was the sight of the bombs raining down on Iraq, and the anti-aircraft fire targeted at American planes that left us momentarily stunned.

Perhaps it was the incredibly sobering thought that something like this wasn't supposed to happen in our lifetime. All of the preceding wars the United States had been involved in the last century were so painful, so bloody.

Surely, lessons had been learned from history.

Surely, with the wounds of Vietnam still open and raw, we wouldn't be sending young men and women into danger again. But it appeared that's exactly what was happening.

We all realized that night, with our deadline just a few hours away, that what was taking place was beyond our control. The best thing we could do was tell our readers what was happening.

So while some reporters were working the phones, getting comments from state and local government officials, a photographer and I stopped by the home of a family I had become acquainted with.

The family's story and photo is on the bottom of the page, under the headline "Local families wait and watch." While I was talking with them, our photographer captured their image.

In the photo are a husband and wife, sitting on their couch, with their two children huddled about them. All four of them can't take their eyes off their television screen, tuned to CNN.

Most of the time, they acted as if I wasn't even there. They weren't being rude. They were in shock. The couple's oldest son was in the Middle East somewhere, maybe on an aircraft carrier, maybe in a plane over Iraq.

You didn't have to be a mind-reader to know what they were thinking. Was their son safe? Was he frightened? Was he in danger? Would they ever see him again?

Fortunately, this was a war unlike any of the others the United States has been involved in. It was won thanks to the efforts of American service people and their allies, and some of the most incredible technology ever launched against an enemy, from airplanes that couldn't be detected by radar, to smart bombs guided by computers and lasers.

It's fitting that the right half of the paperweight contains a small etching of my employer's front page of Feb. 28, 1991.

Once again, we had big news to report, news that deserved this huge, bold headline: LIBERATED.

In just a little more than a month's time, Iraq's forces were driven from Kuwait. American casualties were kept to a minimum.

There are people who argue that we didn't finish the job. Saddam Hussein wasn't expected to last long after the war. Here we are, 10 years later, and he's still in power.

Bush, however, did the right thing. He opted to bring American troops home instead of sending them on yet another, more complicated invasion mission to hunt down Hussein.

The effort wouldn't have been worth the final result. Hussein's life doesn't compare to those hundreds or thousands of Americans that may have been lost.

Patience is a virtue. Our military likely will always have a presence in the Middle East as long as Hussein is in power. Our aircraft continue to prowl in the no-fly zone, insuring that Hussein leaves neighboring countries alone.

Occasionally, we still find it necessary to make strategic strikes of offensive weapon build-ups in Iraq.

It's a small price to pay when you consider that 10 years ago, thousands of American families with sons and daughters in the military learned their children were finally out of harm's way.

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