Cleaning up after war is so complicated.
First there's the question of where to put all of the Iraqi prisoners.Then there is the worry about what to do with all of the Desert Storm "store stuff": the mugs, sweatshirts, books, maps, flags, confetti, ribbons and even candy.
Of the two, the prisoners might be easier to house.
The gulf war was not only America's first media war, it was the nation's first retail war. Within weeks of President Bush's announcement that he was sending troops to Saudi Arabia as a shield against Saddam Hussein's armies, "Desert Shield" motifs began showing up on sweatshirts, T-shirts, hats, mugs and bumper stickers. Nintendo put out desert games. Ninja Turtles showed up in desert fatigues.
When the country went to war, wholesalers went to the drawing board and came up with "Desert Storm" motifs to stamp on even more things.
And Americans bought it. Salt Lake retailers reported a brisk business in "war goods" of every kind ranging from "My Desert Storm Workbook" for youngsters to canvas bags full of saltwater taffy with "I love America" stamped on the pieces.
Everyone found a way to cash in on the war. Nordstrom offered Desert Storm and Desert Shield sweatshirts that "blew out the door," according to Cindy Richards, sales promotion director for the store. Rainbows novelty stores peddled paper bags with American flags on them, women's fans with American flags on them, flags to hang on the wall and flags to hang from a car's antenna.
Osco Drug offered to turn the photo of a loved one in the Middle East into a pin, and bookstores stocked their shelves with books on the Middle East from "Rape of Kuwait" to "Saddam Hussein: Crisis in the Gulf."
"I think some people couldn't believe that we had stuff on the war right away," said Wanda DeNik, manager of the downtown Waldenbook.
Those people underestimated the American retailer as badly as Saddam underestimated the American military. While the military proved its speed and aggressiveness in the gulf, the retailer demonstrated his at home. And it may be a draw as to which attack was most swift and fierce.
But now the war is over. The military must deal with its prisoners. And the retailers must deal with their "stuff."
Some retailers contacted by the Deseret News were already assessing the postwar market. A Nordstrom buyer called the Utah National Guard, learned it planned homecoming parades for its troops and decided the store's Desert Storm sweatshirts would make marvelous parade attire.
Richards said the store expects to do a strong business in the sweatshirts at least until all the troops are home and each soldier has a chance to buy one.
Waldenbook has a similar expectation. DeNik thinks troops returning from the Middle East may want to buy some books on the crisis to learn more about why they were over there. She hasn't seen a wane in sales so far. She sold several "Desert Storm Fact Books" Thursday even though the storm has now become a calm.
The end of the gulf war may even hike sales of Desert Storm goods. This war fueled passionate patriotism. That patriotism might express itself in the purchase of Desert Storm memorabilia for weeks to come.
And when it dies out? Well, conducting an after-war sale can't be much different than conducting an after-Christmas sale. Desert Storm will probably be marked half-off and put on the bargain tables.