Copyright 1995 ABC-CLIO. This review was taken from the ABC-CLIO Video Rating Guide for Libraries on CD-ROM, a 5-year compilation of over 8900 video titles and reviews, 1990-1994. For information regarding order VRGL CD-ROM, contact: ABC-CLIO, P.O. Box 1911, Santa Barbara, CA 93116-1911; 805-968-1911

This following text has been included in the UCB Media Resources Center Web site with the kind permission of the publishers.


  • To the Brink of War
  • Rating: ****
  • Audience: High School to Adult
  • Price: Public performance: $59.95
  • Date: Copyright 1991. Released 1991.
  • Descriptors: United States - Foreign policy - Middle East. Persian Gulf War.
  • Production Information: Live action. Color. 60 min.
  • Production Company: Documentary Consortium
  • Available from: PBS Video 1320 Braddock Pl. Alexandria, VA 22314-1698 (703)739-5380
  • Cataloging: 953.6 Iraq - Kuwait Crisis, 1990-
  • Print Entry #: 2:931
  • Reviewer: DJ Palladino

    On the night the US began bombing Iraq into submission things were not at all clear. The phrase "black box" kept recurring in conversations with friends and on television from so-called pundits. It referred primarily, of course, to the unknown consequences of meddling in the volatile Middle East, and became particularly acute after the Scud missiles hit Israel, a nuclear power with a well-earned reputation for sharp retribution. As an undertone to the "black box" theme, however, there was the deep moral ambivalence felt by many US citizens who had marched in protest against their country's involvement in the Vietnam War. To these people, this new military adventure appeared to be chiefly about oil and US hegemony. It was also obvious that Saddam Hussein was a dangerous lunatic and a potential threat to world peace. Yet, it was the US that armed him. Yet, who else could stop him? And yet, and yet.

    Now that hostilities are over, the world faces another "black box." The plight of the Kurds and the remaining portraits and presence of Hussein hang over the region like Damocles' sword. Regional peace seems to have been advanced somewhat, but the price paid in loss of life and ecological catastrophes makes one wonder if the means and the ends don't cancel each other out.

    This video at least tries to make sense of the decisions that led to the supposedly "clean little war" in the Middle East. A Frontline newscast broadcast, this program aired on 15 January 1991, the night of President Bush's deadline for Hussein to comply with UN accords and withdraw from Kuwait. As such, the video constitutes a moment frozen in amber, and it is fascinating to listen to the many justifications of the war and predictions concerning its outcome.

    Moreover, since none of the principals were available for comment at the time (the president, his cabinet, and the chiefs of staff were justifiably holed up), the whole issue is dissected here by veteran press members who followed President Bush and his staff through the developing crisis. Viewers hear less speechwriter jargon and a lot more informed speculation. (There's even a dash of psychohistory thrown in to illustrate how Bush's experience as a former war hero just might have affected the leap from sanctions to ordnance to solve a problem.) Commentators like the ubiquitous Cokie Roberts - representing both NPR and ABC - bring seasoned insights and presumably a host of deep sources to their balanced commentary.

    For once, this sense of balance on the part of the press doesn't feel like issue-avoidance. Protesters and hawks get equal time, not glossing-over. As usual, the Frontline production values are very good, and the whole broadcast reminds one of how it all happened and just what is left in our historical black box. Recommended for any library.

    Go to Media Resources Center Entry Page

    Copyright (C) 1996 by the Library, University of California, Berkeley. All rights reserved.
    Document maintained on server: by
    Gary Handman, Head, Media Resources Center.
    Last update 7/25/96. Server manager: