The Backside of War, by P. J. O’Rourke

P. J. O’Rourke, a journalist in the Middle East, writes about his experience as a noncombatant in the Iraq War of 2003.

He first imparts a story about giving food aid to the Iraqis… an interesting illustration:

I could see one reason that relief had gone no farther. I was outside Safwan on March 28, on the roof of a Kuwait Red Crescent tractor-trailer full of food donations. Below, a couple of hundred shoving, shouldering, kneeing, kicking Iraqi men and boys were grabbing at boxes of food.


Aid-seekers in England would queue automatically by needs, disabled war vets and nursing mothers first. Americans would bring lawn chairs and sleeping bags, camp out the night before, and sell their places to the highest bidders. Japanese would text-message one another, creating virtual formations, getting in line to get in line. Germans would await commands from a local official, such as the undersupervisor of the town clock. Even Italians know how to line up, albeit in an ebullient wedge. The happier parts of the world have capacities for self-organization so fundamental and obvious that they appear to be the pillars of civilization. But here—on the road to Ur, in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley, where civilization has obtained for 5,000 years longer than it has, for example, at a Libertarian Party confab in Phoenix—nothing was supporting the roof.

He describes the odd juxtaposition of Arabic and Western culture in Kuwait:

I interviewed a Bedouin the next day. He was tending his camel herd in the desert west of the city. He wore sandals and a sail-sized dishdashah. His gutra (not from Dunhill) was tucked in manifold gatherings under the agal, or headband. On the back of the Bedouin’s riding camel was a carved-wood and tooled-leather footstool of a saddle. The camel’s flanks were covered by vividly woven and elaborately tasseled wool provision bags. This was the first time I’d ever seen anyone really use the kind of handicrafts that tourists bring home. The Bedouin milked a mother camel and offered me the bowl. We sat around. He said, “I have three sons in medical school in the United States.”

And this great comment for a solider is priceless:

“Having looked at the Mideast,” Major Bob said, “I realize how the Arabs came up with the concept of zero.”