The people who would fight listened anxiously to Armed Forces Radio in the desert or watched television in the cities as U.S. and Iraqi delegations met in Geneva.
Then Wednesday's talks ended and Secretary of State James A. Baker III announced that he saw no signs of an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.A few groans broke the silence among viewers at the U.S. military's Joint Information Bureau.
"I think we're going to war," said Sgt. 1st Class Earl Godette, 36, from Ellesheim, Germany, where his 11th Aviation Brigade is based.
"I think the guys in the military want peace the most since they're the guys who are going to get shot at. But I'm not surprised it came to this point," he said after the failed talks between Baker and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz.
At a commercial port where the first shipment of M1A1 tanks for the Marines was being unloaded, Sgt. Bernard Castro was resigned.
"OK, so we'll go in and do our job then. At least we've got something to go on," said Castro, 24, whose Marine Reserve unit operates amphibious assault vehicles.
An army tank unit from Germany that had stopped at a hotel near an airbase in eastern Saudi Arabia to make phone calls seemed stunned by the news as its members in green camouflage milled in the lobby, their rifles slung casually on couches.
"I hope it won't come to a whole lot of casualties," said a staff sergeant, who spoke on condition he not be identified.
Spec. Justin Van Schaik, 20, questioned the entire rationale of war.
"It's more or less a world gone mad," he said. "Great, there are justifications, rationales, but I don't think it goes far enough. Where do you find the reason for men killing men? OK, maybe I should have declared conscientious objector years ago."
"Now I'm stuck here. I can live with it, but I am a little disappointed," he added.
Pfc. Douglas McGahey, 19, an Army operating room technician, said "it would be suicide for the Iraqis not to move out.
"The stubbornness of Saddam Hussein is just mind-boggling," he said. "I hope that he comes to his senses. It's obvious he's a very intelligent man . . . but regardless of what his motives are, to me that's not worth the amount of lives that would be the result of his stubbornness."
Pfc. Aaron Basicker, 23, who is assigned to an Army signals battalion, said Saddam is "in for a world of hurting."
One soldier, at least, remained optimistic about a peace settlement.
"It hasn't started till it starts," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Rick Spier, 34. "I'm just forever optimistic."