On Saturday we went to the Kuwait House of National Works — a museum specifically built as a monument “not to forget” the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. I was 12 when the invasion happened. I clearly remember watching the announcement of war on the TV news and seeing the first pictures of the Americans and Allied Forces arriving on the scene, with thousands of missiles and bombs streaking across the night sky. I remember my dad showing me a newspaper with the thick, black print headline of: WAR.

My husband on the other hand remembers sirens and bombs, running to bomb shelters, leaving on the first British convoy, and leaving his dad behind.

The museum gave a very brief history of the emergence of Kuwait as an internationally recognized country, and then outlined the incidents that led to the 1990 invasion.  Ruled by the As-Sabah family throughout the 1800s and previously a part of the Basra region in the Ottoman Empire, Kuwait started making moves toward independence when oil was discovered in the 1930s.  By 1946 the first National Assembly was voted into parliament, and with their first constitution, Kuwait was recognized as an independent country.

Kuwait generally had friendly relations with it’s neighbour, Iraq — but Iraq refused to recognize Kuwait’s independence, citing that the land belonged to them.  In June of 1990 border negotiations between the two countries failed, and Iraq sent its forces to surround Kuwait’s borders.  On the first day of the invasion my parents-in-law were getting ready to take the family to Kenya for summer vacation.  In the morning they drove to the airport to purchase the family’s exit visas — and that’s when my mother-in-law said, “I smell gunpowder.  Something is wrong.”  They were stopped on the highway and told that they could go no further.  When they returned home, they found out that Iraqi forces had invaded and seized the airport.

The Museum gave a very personal account of what happened during the war before Allied forces helped with the liberation. Small scale, and fully working models displayed different parts of the city and major battles — so we literally walked through and experienced the war with live video, flashing lights, sounds of explosions, speeches made by major world leaders, and first hand accounts by resistance fighters.  There was a huge emphasis on the role of women — how they marched the streets and beat back Iraqi troops that tried to loot.  The stories of martyrdom and resistance fighters were very emotional.

Looting and other war atrocities became a daily reality for the people who stayed.  We have a family friend who kept a bat and a sword next to her door in case looters broke it down. Aadil’s uncle, who worked in the Yemen embassy, risked his own safety by staying behind as long as he could to make sure that people received their passports.  After a month, Aadil, his mom and his sister were evacuated with the first British envoy — they were Kenyan citizens at the time, and therefore members of the British Commonwealth.  My father-in-law had to remain behind, and travelled several times between Kuwait City and Baghdad making arrangements for their assets, clothing, and house possessions.  He joined them later in Kenya.  Others, who were unable to escape through the evacuation routes, tried to drive through to the Saudi border.  The line to get through the border was three weeks long, if not longer. And some that did make it through, ended up becoming lost in the desert.

There were also stories of the mines left for children to find.  Kuwaiti POWs that are still missing today. Destruction of works of art, the burning of universities and schools, the massive looting of the Kuwait National Bank.  One of the worst ecological atrocities was the burning of the oil wells and the dumping of 600 million barrels of oil (if not more) into the Gulf.  My friend from Lebanon says he remembers the sky turning black for months, and that it rained black over Beirut once they set the wells alight.

The museum also presented displays honouring every Allied country that came to Kuwait’s aid.

I was very glad to visit the memorial.  Kuwait has grown and rebuilt since — but you always wonder how war continues when you look at the people.  Every person I have seen using a wheelchair, or a prosthetic limb, or who has scarring on their hands or their face – they all became crystalized in my mind as being possible survivors of the war.  I’m very thankful for our good health and for the endurance of the human spirit to emerge from disaster to clean off the dust.