A U.S. soldier stands night guard near the Iraq border in February 1991 as oil wells, set alight by retreating Iraqi soldiers, burn in Kuwait.
As the novel starts preparations for the First Gulf War are well under way. It’s in the background for much of the book, the build-up and then the brief weeks of the conflict itself, media imagery everywhere. This is an era-defining period of history, the fall of Soviet controlled socialism, the ending of the Cold War, and the beginnings of what would replace it, oil-based Western conflict in the Middle-East. It’s a short-lived period of hope and optimism, the triumph of democracy and capitalism and the naive belief that this is a good thing. The main characters are excited at first to live in such times, where history seems to be happening around them for the first time in their short lives. They respond to the night-vision tracery footage over Baghdad, the technological seduction of heat-seeking missiles and futuristic-looking stealth bombers and all the cine-romantic imagery, like above. Like most people they are unprepared for 24-hour news coverage, for sophisticated propaganda. Thematically, their media naivety and the political idealism in general will mirror the personal kind. But being in a foreign country they aren’t as swept up in it as they could be, and a sense of detached unease begins to evolve. The cinematic theme, what happens on a screen isn’t real, is complicated here. What happens on these screens, television ones and military ones in bombers and control centers, is real, but is made to feel like it isn’t. Fact and fiction begin to merge, as they do for the main character. A moral chasm opens up. The innate fascism of imagery. In the home of fascism.