The United States is going to war. Or is it?

Not since Vietnam has such an American force been assembled, such tension grown, soul searching begun.

Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait has created a crisis that already has altered the future. Whether they fight or not, for example, the armed forces of the United States, deployed with such speed, faced with such terrible possibilities, will not be the same.

Neither will the Middle East, where nations are in upheaval, new enmities are raging, new alliances forming, new bitterness flowing. Lives, perhaps a country, already have been lost. There, amid festering old fears, burns a new white-hot anger.

Nor will things be the same around the world, where the crisis has brought new cooperation between the superpowers, opportunity to China, discomfort to Japan, disquiet to Europe and new despair to the Third World.

In the United States, a people and a President face a wrenching decision.

On this Thanksgiving weekend, Americans celebrate their uniquely American holiday deeply troubled.

Today, in a special supplement, The Times explores the origins of the crisis in the Persian Gulf and examines its far-reaching implications.

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