Peter Katel in “The Gulf Crew” – Persian Gulf Conflict

NEWSWEEK’s Troops in the Persian Gulf

March 11, 1991 | Newsweek
Page: 4 | Section: BYLINES
801 Words

In order to cover the full story of the Persian Gulf conflict, NEWSWEEK deployed a large–and experienced–team to the region; eight correspondents were in the area at various times. The “Gulf Crew,” as they came to be known, included Cairo bureau chief Ray Wilkinson, New York bureau chief Tony Clifton, General Editor C.S. Manegold, Paris bureau chief Christopher Dickey and Miami correspondent Peter Katel. The staffers on point in Washington, covering the diplomatic and military aspects of the war, were correspondents Douglas Waller and John Barry. Even for veteran war correspondents, the gulf conflict could be highly dramatic. “Taking part in a full-scale armored assault was a truly awesome experience, “says Wilkinson, who has covered 21 wars, including Vietnam. “And it was sheer exhilaration to watch an entire nation become deliriously happy when the Kuwaitis were finally liberated.”

Lending a unique perspective to the magazine’s war coverage was retired Army Col. David Hackworth. “Hack, “as he is called, is America’s most decorated living soldier, with 110 medals. At 15, he lied about his age and joined the Army, eventually serving in both Korea and Vietnam. However, he retired from the Army in 1971 after complaining about how the military was mismanaging the war. Hackworth later moved to Australia, became a successful businessman and wrote the 1989 best seller “About Face, “which dealt with his countless military experiences. He now splits his time between homes in Australia and Montana. As the gulf war came to a close last week, Hackworth reflected on the conflict:

On the war:

Before the fighting began, I talked to one American military officer who was quite an expert on desert warfare. I asked him what he thought and he said, “We will just whip the snot out of them [the Iraqis].” And he was so right. A line was drawn in the sand with such precision and competence by General Schwarzkopf. Seldom is there such compliance with the eight principles of warfare. This war couldn’t possibly have failed.

On covering the conflict:

This was my first assignment as a reporter, and I found it wonderful in that I had more freedom. As a commander I was stuck at a post. As a reporter I got a better overview. But I was very unhappy with the military’s paranoia and their thought police who control the press. Although I managed to go out on my own, we didn’t have the freedom of movement to make an independent assessment of what the military is all about. Everything was spoon-fed. We were like animals in a zoo and the press officers were like zookeepers who threw us a piece of meat occasionally. On the other hand, there were a lot of irresponsible, unprepared people in the press who used the power of the press for their own little trip.

On the dangers of the job:

There were five dangers there. There was the danger of being killed by Iraqis. Second, there was the danger of being killed going to the field because you had to travel a long way over narrow roads that are used not only by you but also by Arabs who go as fast as they can go without realizing they’re driving a life-and-death bomb. Third, you had U.S. Army l9-year-olds driving flatbed trailers loaded with 65-ton tanks and playing chicken on the road. The fourth danger was the U.S. Army itself. If you were like I was–not going through press pools or the military thought police–you were subject to arrest. Returning from a Special Forces unit one day, [Newsweek photographer] Mark Peters took a picture through the car window and U.S. troops fixed bayonets and charged us. I had more guns pointed at me by Americans or Saudis who were into controlling the press than in all my years of actual combat.

On modern warfare:

I’m opposed to war. There are no winners. This is even more clear now that the destructive capability of weaponry is so total and weapons are so smart. War is no longer limited to the combatants, but threatens all of humankind. If we don’t destroy ourselves with firepower and environmental damage, there’s a very good chance we could destroy ourselves economically by the incredibly high cost of war.

On how this war compares with Vietnam:

In Vietnam, we were in the wrong war fighting the wrong enemy using the wrong tactics with the wrong strategy. Since we didn’t understand the nature of the war, we were defeated. But I find myself in conflict over this war. Yes, if we had allowed the blockade to stand, it would have eventually brought down Saddam. But it would have taken a long time. It’s a shame that it had to occur. It’s a shame that a great number of innocents – and I mean military and civilians on both sides – have had to bear the cost of the tragedy.

Caption:PHOTO: First assignment: ‘Hack’ (right) in the gulf with a U.S. soldier

PHOTOS: Wilkinson, Katel, Dickey, Clifton, Manegold, Barry, Waller