In August 1990 the United States began a massive deployment of troops--230,000 from all branches of the military-- in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. For troops already on active duty, being sent to a possible combat zone in a desert in the Middle East was not exactly all in a day's work, but they were expected to be prepared for such a contingency. For the more than 125,000 reservists and members of the National Guard who were called to active duty by the Pentagon, readiness for war was another matter. Among them were men and women from all walks of now-disrupted lives. Not all were sent overseas, because some were needed to fill positions vacated by the full-time troops who had been deployed; but the abrupt changes in their lives and those they left behind were considerable.
The effects on most Americans of preparation for war had little to do with strategies or ethics, or even with disruption of their personal lives by calls to service. Rather, their concerns were with what it cost to fill the tanks of their cars with gasoline. Before Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on August 2, the price of gasoline in the United States averaged $1.09 per gallon. By mid-October it had risen to $1.40, even though only about 9 percent of imported oil had come from Kuwait. Various maneuvers by the government brought the price down again, but the episode brought three reminders: First, the reliance of Americans on automobiles was enormous. Second, the vulnerability of the nation's oil supply was something Americans would rather not think about. Third, oil and automobiles are so central to the American economy that anything threatening