This isn’t any normal museum in any normal city. This is Kuwait City, capital of the wealthy diminutive desert state that most Americans know thanks to the first Gulf War in 1991, in which the US-led team reversed Saddam Hussain’s invasion of the country.
Which is the topic of the Memorial Museum, a name the belies the not-so-subtle message. The sign at the front is less innocuous: Not to Forget Museum: Saddam Hussain Regime Crimes.
You might be wondering: So? (to summarize former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney when recently reminded that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq–thus killing any original justification for the 2003 war). Ask the docent why you shouldn’t forget the Not to Forget Museum and you’ll likely be told there are a couple good reasons: Kuwait is currently celebrating two major anniversaries. The 50th year of independence (from the British) and the 20th year since the end of Iraq’s short occupation of their country. The previous day from the “lookout sphere” atop the Kuwaiti Tower, a photo exhibition showed some of the Iraqi-led destruction of the area. One photo of some concrete rubble was captioned: “Even the air conditioning control center was harmed by the barbaric invaders.” When you’re attacking a country in 120-degree heat, the first thing you apparently attempt to take out is the air conditioning.
The docent ushered us forward through a long, wide hall. The room was still dark until a diorama was lit up, complete with GI Joe-like figures and strobe lighting to create a miniature theater of war (see this video for an example of this fine show/exhibition). Sound effects in the form of crashes and booms assaulted our ears and the voiceover put it all into context, saying things like “As is the Kuwaiti habit, the leaders tried to solve the conflict through friendship and brotherhood.”
But as we know, when it comes to our desire for “black gold,” friendship and brotherhood hardly proves effective for preventing war. Case in point: after being taken through a dozen or so Iraqi-occupation-themed dioramas that could rival a junior high science fair in its level of sophistication, we were ushered into a room showing graphic photos of Kuwaiti war injuries, and, eventually, a room whose centerpiece was a giant bust of Mr. Hussain himself, which the docent proudly said was donated by US troops after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
At the end of the 30-minute tour, I was back in the reception hall, its walls painted with images of emirs and princes past and present.
The docent put an ashtray in front of me and handed me another cup of tea. Which I sipped slowly before finally wandering out into the oppressive Kuwaiti heat again.