Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Baghdad Museum destruction round-up:

Here are some editorials about it: (excerpts + emphasis)

The Hartford Courant
This is a public relations disaster for the United States as well as a cultural one for the Iraqis. American troops apparently were nearby during the looting. Why they did not secure the Baghdad museum until it was too late remains unanswered.

Safeguarding Iraq's museums and its archaeological sites is a U.S. obligation, especially while anarchy reigns and until a new government is in place. It is at least as important as protecting the oil fields that fuel Iraq's economy.
Boston Globe
And the awful truth is that the US government bears a shameful responsibility for not preventing this crime against history. Archaeologists and art historians made strenuous efforts before the war to warn the Department of Defense that there had been looting after the 1991 Gulf War, that looting could be expected again, and that the one site above all which had to be protected from looters was the National Museum of Antiquities in Baghdad.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was indulging in misleading public relations when he said on ''Meet the Press'' Sunday, ''We didn't allow it. It happened. . . . We don't allow bad things to happen. Bad things happen in life, and people do loot.''
Korea Herald
American and British forces, their commanders and ultimately George W. Bush and Tony Blair, cannot avoid the blame for their negligence in protecting cultural assets of the nation they invaded. If some of the effort that they expended in winning control of Iraq's many oil fields had been allocated to protecting cultural assets, they would have successfully guarded the precious contents of the Baghdad museum.

In their extreme frustration, critics charge that the coalition forces would have done better if these were Christian sites, comparing the damage with what the crusades did a millennium ago. We also cannot but suspect that ignorance, and possibly cultural disdain, among commanders and troops may have kept them from being more proactive in protecting the antiquities of Iraq, which they also own as members of humanity.
North Jersey Herald News
What is inexcusable about the looting and the destruction of museums and libraries is the lack of visible concern by the Bush administration. Clearly, there was a plan for rebuilding oil fields long before the first precision-guided bomb was dropped. What resources were and are more valuable to the administration: Oil or the Iraqi culture?

What the bombs did not destroy, a lawless populace has. Looting is only abating because there is little left to loot. The administration cannot take cover under platitudes, that free people also are free to break the law. The Iraqi revolution is not homegrown. Saddam was overthrown by the order of the president of the United States. The commitment to change regimes came with a complex price. It is not enough to remove the dictator and his minions; an effective form of law and order must take its place simultaneously.

The loss of priceless works of antiquity could have been prevented. The loss of property and damage to Baghdad's infrastructure could have been prevented. U.S. taxpayers will bear the brunt of paying for rebuilding Baghdad and other large Iraqi cities.
History News Network
The looting of the museum is all the more tragic because so many of the objects were still unpublished. Almost everything that was officially excavated in Iraq since the twenties of the last century was deposited there.

... it is the duty of an invading army to preserve not only the lives of civilians, but also their cultural heritage. With this in mind, archaeologists had supplied our military and civilian authorities with a ranked list of cultural sites that were to be protected once the war broke out and it was our understanding that the authorities agreed to guard these sites once they were under their control. It is both a tragedy and a disgrace that our forces were not prepared to control Iraqi cities once they had abolished local power, and hence did not fulfill that promise.

The public reaction of our government officials has been shameful, to say the least. Rather than express remorse and horror to the looting of hospitals and cultural treasures, our secretary of defense has made merry at the site of looters carrying pottery and excused the plunder as "untidiness." In our democracy administrations come and go, with a shelf life or four or eight years, but the consequence of their actions in the name of us all sometimes last forever. Such callousness is unworthy of our country, and no matter what opinions one holds on the justification and legality of this war, one should expect more from out public servants. There is little shame in admitting miscalculations and mistakes; the whole world is watching us and unless we want to be viewed as the great barbarians of the twenty-first century, we must demand that our elected government take responsibility for what has happened and pledge to do its best to repair the damage and prevent any reoccurrence of these horrific events. The fact that this looting took place on our watch is bad enough, but such statements reveal an utter disregard for other peoples' achievements and for our common global cultural patrimony.
Sacramento Bee
American archeologists warned the Pentagon before the war that some of the world's oldest treasures would be at risk, either from U.S. bombing or the kind of collapse of order that ensued. And Iraqi curators said they had been assured by U.S. officials that their antiquities would be protected as soon as U.S. forces were able to do so.
John Nichols / Madison Newspapers
... when rioters were tearing up the U.S.-controlled city of Baghdad last week, Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld responded by saying, "Stuff happens." Echoing statements by other Bush administration apparatchiks, Rumsfeld described the looting of the city as an "untidy" display of freedom.

Marble carvings, stone tablets, clay pots and tablets containing some of the earliest known examples of writing were destroyed or stolen. The pillaging of the Baghdad museum represented far more than an Iraqi loss. John Russell, an archeologist at the Massachusetts College of Art, described the destruction as a blow to "the world's human history." Noting that the museum's collection included some of the earliest examples of mathematics and some of the first legal codes ever written, the British Museum's Dominique Collon described the damage in Baghdad as "truly a world heritage loss."

Thousands of the finest soldiers in the world were in and around Baghdad. They could have protected government buildings, hospitals and the world's great archeological and historical treasures. ... But the troops were busy elsewhere - pulling down a statue of Saddam Hussein for the TV cameras and defending the building that houses the Iraqi ministry of, you guessed it, oil.

When U.S. and allied troops took charge of the great cities of Europe during World War II, they proudly defended museums and other cultural institutions. They could have done the same in Baghdad. And they would have, had a signal come from the Pentagon.

But the boss at the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld, who had promised to teach the Iraqi people how to live in freedom, was too busy explaining that rioting and looting are what free people are free to do.


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