Useful Notes: The Gulf War

aka: Gulf War
"We have just started a war, it isn't a one day affair. It is not going to be over before the next commercial break."
Colin Powell, then serving as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Note: This article is about the 1990-1991 war in the Persian Gulf and Kuwait, also known as Operation Desert Storm. If you are looking for what some refer to as "Gulf War II", then please see The War on Terror. In fact, that is the third Gulf War and this is the second: The Iran–Iraq War of the 1980s was originally called the Persian Gulf War because of its impact on shipping.

The Gulf War lasted from August 1990 to March 1991.

Abridged, Saddam Hussein launched an invasion of Kuwait to acquire control of its oil and was ejected by a United Nations coalition led by the United States.

A fuller history can be found in History Of The Cold War, as it was the final "Cold War" conflict.

Tropes Involved with this War

  • The Alliance
  • Airstrike Impossible: Several took place in the Gulf:
    • The RAF attacked Iraqi airfields using the JP233 cluster bombnote  — which had to be delivered straight and a few hundred feet over the massive Iraqi runways, under enemy fire. No aircraft were lost while using JP233.
    • A flight of USAF B-52 bombers flew 14,000 miles from their base in the US to Iraq and back again, returning 35 hours later.
  • America Saves the Day: Justified; the US Military did almost all of the work, and 75% of the Coalition forces were American.
  • Aussies with Artillery
  • Batman Gambit: The Coalition massed naval assets in the Gulf, and pounded Iraqi defenses along the coast, implying an impending massed amphibious assault. Once the Iraqis had committed to defending against that, in came the famous "Left Hook" land invasion via Saudi Arabia.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The Western and the Arabic allies.
  • Black and White Morality: It was this to some extent in the US. A quick, short victorious war won in a landslide by the American democracy, utterly defeating the Iraqi dictatorship and liberating Kuwait. It gets considerably less "white" on the American side when one considers that Kuwait wasn't all that free under its own government, and that we left the Iraqi dictator in power, at least for another decade or so.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: This was the final time battleships fired their guns in anger. The USS Wisconsin and USS Missouri fired Tomahawk cruise missiles as well as 16" and 5" artillery at Iraqi positions in the Shatt al-Arab delta, totaling over 500 tons of ordinance fired, by each ship. Also an example of Schizo Tech, because the battleships launched remotely-piloted aircraft (the first in the US Navy to do so) to scout targets and assess damage. The incoming fire was so devastating that some Iraqi positions actually surrendered to the UAV, rather than get blown to smithereens from a ship they couldn't even see.
  • Brits with Battleships: They were the second largest member of the coalition, with the 1st Armoured Division, Naval Units and aircraft drawn from most squadrons of the RAF — the British naval ship HMS Gloucester scored the first ever missile-on-missile kill, destroying an Iraqi Silkworm missile aimed at the USS Missouri—ironically, perhaps the ship least likely to be seriously damaged by a missile — with a Sea Dart.
  • Canucks with Chinooks: Yes, they were there too.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Desert Storm, the actual air and ground assault to liberate Kuwait and destroy Iraqi infrastructure lasted roughly 2 months. The ratio of Iraqis killed to coalition members killed were 300 to 1. Unfortunately, the Iraqi army and independents would learn from their mistakes a decade later.
    • On an individual level, the Battle of 73 Easting is one of the most lopsided victories in the history of war; one regiment of US armored cavalry rolled up the entire Republican Guards armored division they'd been sent to locate like a cheap rug, losing only one vehicle and suffering only one casualty. And in the following Battle of Norfolk the British First Armored Division scattered four Iraqi infantry divisions before crushing a fifth, armored division in place.
  • Death from Above: Extensive use of airpower, centralized command and control of the numerous different air forces employed, and state of the art technology (stealth fighters, cruise missiles, and smart bombs) went far to contribute to the above mentioned Curb-Stomp Battle.
  • Egyptians with Eagle Fighters: The Egyptians were at 20,000 troops the fourth-largest contributors of manpower to the Coalition (after the US, Saudi Arabia, and UK) and second-largest Arab contributors (after the Saudis who, you know, were right there) and fought well. In return, foreign states agreed to relieve much of Egypt's (substantial) debt.
  • Friend or Foe: According to official U.S. Department of Defense records, 367 Americans were killed in the war, 165 of them due to friendly fire. Of the total casualties taken by the whole alliance, only 48 percent were caused by the enemy according to a United Nations estimate.
  • Gauls with Grenades: The French would be glad to know that they're no longer Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys, considering they took part in the war. Not to mention the fact that the bulk of the Iraqi forces choose to surrender than fight at all, which would make them worthy of the title instead.
  • Grey and Black Morality: From the point of view of most Muslims at least: Genocidal, imperialist dictator seeking more oil revenue to exploit versus Americans fighting to maintain their own stranglehold on Gulf oil and their repressive monarchist cronies.
  • Hero Ball/What an Idiot: If George H.W. Bush, or the United Nations, just went the whole way and just overthrown Saddam Hussein, it would had saved his son as well the Kurds, everyone else in Iraq and the whole world a lot of troubles.
    • However, most argue that due to pre-existing ethnic tensions between Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds in the country, that the occupation would have been just as bloody as the occupation of the 2000s.
    • Dick Cheney argued this himself on TV in 1994 [1], actually-a massive case of Irony compared with his later stance as Vice President.
  • New Roman Legions: Italy took part in this war alongside the USA, Britain, France, and Canada
  • Prequel / Foreshadowing: To the The War in Iraq
  • Qurac
  • Red Shirt Army: Iraq and to a lesser extent, Kuwait.
  • Salt the Earth: The retreating Iraqi forces set Kuwait's oil wells ablaze, just because they could.
  • Semper Fi: Invoked. The Coalition made a big deal about deploying Marines (US and British) in the Persian Gulf, making it look like they were getting ready for a direct amphibious assault on the Shatt al-Arab delta (see also Break Out the Museum Piece above). While the Iraqis were preparing for that, the armored columns snuck in the back door through the desert. Cue Mass "Oh, Crap!".
  • Sequel: To the Iran–Iraq War
  • Stupid Evil: The Iraqi Army putting out its right flank in the open as if to say,"Oh please attack me your blessedness".
    • The Iraqi Army was relying on a trackless, near-impossible to navigate stretch of desert to protect their right flank. A decade prior it might have worked, but thanks to a new piece of technology called GPS...(It should be noted that this tactic wouldn't have worked even against 1940s British Army, which was quite adept in navigating desert by using naval navigating procedures - compass, sextant etc.)
  • 24-Hour News Networks: The first big story to prove their worth.
  • Villain Ball: The war was extremely destructive to Saddam's military, so anything that would put a stop to the fighting would be in his best interests. However, whenever a ray of hope seemed to glow, Hussein always unintentionally found a way to snuff it out:
    • Saddam fired SCUD missiles at Israel in the hopes that Isreal would join the war, which he hoped would shatter the Coalition. The United States responded by deploying Patriot Missiles in Israel, and sending choppers to hunt SCUD launchers. To protect his launchers, Saddam hid them for a while, which made the Americans think they had destroyed them. When they planned to remove the Patriots from Israel, the Israeli government threatened to declare war on Iraq. Before the Patriots could be removed, Hussein redeployed the launchers and began firing at Israel again. Had he waited a few days, Hussein may have got what he wanted.
    • Before the ground assault into Kuwait, the Russian ambassador to the U. N. hoped to bring an end to the conflict by negotiations, which would save Saddam's army. If Saddam would leave Kuwait, the Soviet Union would try to get him a few favors in return. The ambassador's plan involved sympathy for Saddam. The Curb-Stomp Battle was so one-sided that he hoped to tell the world, "Hasn't Saddam suffered enough?" Unfortunately, just before the U.N. session, photographs showed massive oil slick in the Persian Gulf, and multiple oil fields burning in Kuwait. This act of brazen and pointless environmental vandalism enraged the world and all sympathy for Saddam evaporated.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Poor intel and planning led to a bombing in Baghdad that killed three hundred civilians in a bunker. The refusal to help the Iraqi insurgents after the end of the War has been considered this as well.
  • Yanks with Tanks and Stealth Fighters

In fiction


  • In 1990s media, it was very common to establish a character's military credentials with a mention that they had fought in the Gulf War, replacing the purpose which The Vietnam War served in 1980s media.

Comic Books

  • Cherry (of all characters) in "Sgt. Cherry and her Squealing Commandos" in Cherry Comics. (And, yes, it was a satire.)
  • The Punisher has recently had the Gulf War retconned into his past, replacing his longstanding status as a Vietnam Vet. The logic given by the writer is that if he was a Vietnam Vet he would be approaching his seventies, while he wanted to portray Frank as a man in his early forties.


  • In Independence Day, it is mentioned that the relatively-youthful President Thomas Whitmore served as a fighter pilot during the Gulf War. It comes in handy.
  • Three Kings takes place in the closing days of the war, in which four American soldiers attempt to steal some gold from the Iraqis after finding a treasure map hidden on one of the surrendering Iraqi soldiers.
  • The Big Lebowski takes place during the Gulf War. The Dude says "this aggression will not stand, man," echoing George HW Bush's televised speech, while Saddam Hussein (played by Jerry Haleva, who repeatedly portrayed Hussein in movies) appears in The Dude's infamous dream sequence.
  • The remake of The Manchurian Candidate changes the Korean War backstory to Gulf War.
  • Drillbit Taylor the title character was a soldier who served in the gulf war but didn't see any real combat, and AWOL from the army.


  • Anthony Swofford's memoir, Jarhead.
  • Joel Turnipseed's memoir, Baghdad Express
  • Only You Can Save Mankind is set during the Gulf War and makes comments about the similarities between video games and the news coverage of that war.
  • The First of God by Frederick Forsyth is before and during the war.
  • The Man from Barbarossa is set just before the war starts, and the bad guys plan use it to frame their enemies for nuking people, before setting up a coup in Russia and starting a global war.

Live-Action TV

  • JAG: Several references to the conflict are made throughout the series. In the fourth season episode "Mr. Rabb Goes to Washington", rumors are spread on a cable news network (ZNN) that Sarin nerve gas was used by U.S. Marnes during the invasion of Kuwait in 1991.
  • Gunnery Sergeant Leroy Jethro Gibbs from NCIS served as a Marine in Desert Storm and was severely injured, spending nineteen days in a coma. The murder of his wife and daughter while he was in Kuwait did not help things.
  • Dennis from Just Shoot Me! often claimed to have driven a tank during the war.
  • Robert McAllister in Brothers and Sisters is a Gulf War veteran, injured in that conflict. He won a medal that he doesn't feel he fully deserved- he froze in combat.
  • Drop the Dead Donkey referred to the exploits of the Globelink News team during the war; including Damien dunking cormorants in oil in order to provide visuals for a story on the ecological impact of the war.
  • Glee's Finn was told by his mother that his dad died while fighting in the Gulf War. Except he didn't. He was dishonorably discharged and died of an overdose while back in America.
  • Major John D. MacGillis from Major Dad writes a letter to George H.W. Bush asking to fight in Kuwait.
  • House of Saddam, chronicling Saddam Hussein's reign, features the Gulf War, although it mostly shows the aftermath.
  • In the 1997 pilot of Stargate SG-1, Samantha Carter is introduced with a mention that she "logged over one hundred hours in enemy airspace during the Gulf War".

Professional Wrestling

Video Games

  • The Battlefield 1942 mod Desert Combat.
  • One of the final chapters of Eternal Darkness is set in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War. Given an earlier chapter's setting, the game seems to like less depicted conflicts...
    Wherever disaster and death lurk, there is likely to be an Ancient just beyond our senses, waiting. They prey on our misfortune and exploit it for their own twisted ends. When hundreds of oil fields are set ablaze on the heels of war, the Ancient's grip tightens, knowing that lives will be forfeit and resources squandered. Yet there are those who make a difference. People like Michael Edwards - a Canadian industrial firefighter hired to put an end to the insanity at the end of the war. Unfortunately for him, the insanity was just beginning...
  • Popular Electronic Arts helicopter game Desert Strike.
  • SETA Corporation's Shoot 'em Up/Fighter Sim A.S.P. Air Strike Patrol (AKA Desert Fighter), despite the deliberate use of fake names. Among other things. Notably averts the Follow the Leader trend mentioned below; part of the game's main mechanics involve managing public opinion while not wasting supplies (fuel/aircraft/ammo) and quickly destroying enemy targets as much as possible. This is harder than it sounds.
  • Tons and tons and tons of period arcade action games that all had "War Is Glorious" as a unifying theme because the relative lack of casualties and the media's portrayal of Desert Storm as a total Curb-Stomp Battle made it acceptable again to believe that war was cool. Primary offenders include Total Carnage, MERCS, Desert Assault, and many more.
  • Liquid Snake of Metal Gear Solid is said to have fought in the war, being captured near the end and freed years later. He and the protagonist Solid Snake later discuss the war, with Liquid revealing that the "Gulf War syndrome" experienced by veterans of the conflict was the result of the same sort of gene therapy experiments that lead to this game's Genome Army; the "official" story of it being caused by exposure to depleted uranium in tank armor was a cover-up in this game's universe.

Real Life

  • Supposedly, PTSD caused from his time in Iraq, combined with a nasty divorce when he came home, is what caused the DC Beltway Sniper, John Allen Muhammad, to go on his killing spree. His stated intent was to round up orphans and train them into a militia and overthrow the government.
  • Similarly, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was a Gulf War vet and credited it with his Start of Darkness.

Alternative Title(s):

Gulf War