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April 12, 2003

Posted by Teresa at 08:28 PM *

I was in the kitchen, sitting at my computer, when I suddenly burst into tears and covered my face with my hands.

“What is it?” Patrick asked from the front room.

I said, “I’m so ashamed—this shouldn’t hit me harder than hearing about people—but—”

“I know exactly which news story you’re looking at,” he said.

Looters have stolen almost everything from the National Museum of Iraq, one of the world’s great museums of antiquities. It’s the national museum of Mesopotamia, for god’s sake:
BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 12 — The National Museum of Iraq recorded a history of civilizations that began to flourish in the fertile plains of Mesopotamia more than 7,000 years ago. But once American troops entered Baghdad in sufficient force to topple Saddam Hussein’s government this week, it took only 48 hours for the museum to be destroyed, with at least 170,000 artifacts carried away by looters.

The full extent of the disaster that befell the museum only came to light today, after three days of frenzied looting that swept much of the capital.

As fires in a dozen government ministries and agencies began to burn out, and as some of the looters tired of pillaging in the 90-degree heat of the Iraqi spring, museum officials reached the hotels where foreign journalists were staying along the eastern bank of the Tigris River. They brought word of what is likely to be reckoned as one of the greatest cultural disasters in recent Middle Eastern history.
Why mince words? Call it one of the greatest cultural disasters, period. We and all the generations to come have suffered a terrible loss, and we’ll never get it back. We’re all poorer. You can cap a burning oil well. This is irreparable.
A full accounting of what has been lost may take weeks or months. … What was beyond contest today was that the 28 galleries of the museum and vaults with huge steel doors guarding storage chambers that descend floor after floor into darkness had been completely ransacked. Officials with crumpled spirits fought back tears and anger at American troops, as they ran down an inventory of the most storied items that they said had been carried away by the thousands of looters who poured into the museum after daybreak on Thursday and remained until dusk on Friday, with only one intervention by American troops, lasting about half an hour, at lunchtime on Thursday.
We knew this was going on, but we did nothing. Why? because we don’t have enough troops. There may be enough of them to deal with the fighting in Baghdad and beyond. There aren’t enough of them to maintain civic order.

This is Rumsfeld’s fault, him and Richard Perle and all the others—including Mr. Bush, on whose watch it happened—who repeatedly overruled our own military planners, and insisted on cutting troop allotments to a fraction of what was needed. Rumsfeld didn’t go to war with a serious heart. He went into it looking to buy a reelection campaign on the cheap.

This is the real failure to support our troops. Rumsfeld’s left them in dire straits. Our guys are stretched way too thin, and they’re not in control of the situation. This is why little 19-year-old supply clerks are getting shot to pieces. It’s why our soldiers are having to use inappropriate munitions, and in moments of stress and uncertainty are shooting at civilians. It’s why we can’t spare the manpower to preserve hospitals and museums from looters.
Nothing remained, museum officials said, at least nothing of real value, from a museum that had been regarded by archaeologists and other specialists as perhaps the richest of all such institutions in the Middle East. As examples of what was gone, the officials cited a solid gold harp from the Sumerian era, which began about 3360 B.C. and started to crumble about 2000 B.C. Another item on their list of looted antiquities was a sculptured head of a woman from Uruk, one of the great Sumerian cities, from about the same era, and a collection of gold necklaces, bracelets and earrings, also from the Sumerian dynasties and also at least 4,000 years old.
Old gold is terribly vulnerable. It’s easily identified as long as it stays in its original form. Melt it down, and who’s to say what it used to be or who owned it? It’s yours now.
But an item-by-item inventory of the most valued pieces carried away by the looters hardly seemed to capture the magnitude of what had occurred. More powerful, in its way, was the action of one museum official in hurrying away through the piles of smashed ceramics and torn books and burned-out torches of rags soaked in gasoline that littered the museum’s corridors to find the glossy catalog of an exhibition of “Silk Road Civilizations” that was held in Japan’s ancient capital of Nara in 1988.

Turning to 50 pages of items lent by the Iraqi museum for the exhibition, he said that none of the antiquities pictured remained after the looting. They included ancient stone carvings of bulls and kings and princesses; copper shoes and cuneiform tablets; tapestry fragments and ivory figurines of goddesses and women and Nubian porters; friezes of soldiers and ancient seals and tablets on geometry; and ceramic jars and urns and bowls, all at least 2,000 years old, some more than 5,000.

“All gone, all gone,” he said. “All gone in two days.”

An Iraqi archaeologist who has participated in the excavation of some of the country’s 10,000 sites, Raid Abdul Ridhar Muhammad, said he had gone into the street in the Karkh district, a short distance from the eastern bank of the Tigris, about 1 p.m. on Thursday to find American troops to quell the looting. By that time, he and other museum officials said, the several acres of museum grounds were overrun…

Muhammad spoke with deep bitterness toward the Americans, as have many Iraqis who have watched looting that began with attacks on government agencies and the palaces and villas of Mr. Hussein, his family and his inner circle broaden into a tidal wave that targeted just about every government institution, even ministries dealing with issues like higher education, trade and agriculture, and hospitals.

American troops have intervened only sporadically, as they did on Friday to halt a crowd of men and boys who were raiding an armory at the edge of the Republican Palace presidential compound and taking brand-new Kalashnikov rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons.
I’m sure it breaks our commanders’ hearts that they can’t defend the hospitals and museums and the general civic order. It wouldn’t have taken a lot of men and firepower to keep the museum and the main hospital from being stripped. But they don’t have even that much margin. They can’t afford to pay attention to anything but the fight.
American commanders have said they lack the troops to curb the looting while their focus remains on the battles across Baghdad that are necessary to mop up pockets of resistance from paramilitary troops loyal to Mr. Hussein.

Mr. Muhammad, the archaeologist, directed much of his anger at President Bush. “A country’s identity, its value and civilization resides in its history,” he said. “If a country’s civilization is looted, as ours has been here, its history ends. Please tell this to President Bush. Please remind him that he promised to liberate the Iraqi people, but that this is not a liberation, this is a humiliation. If we had stayed under the rule of Saddam Hussein, it would have been much better.”

The looting appeared to have its heaviest impact on a security guard at the museum, Abdul Rahman, 57, who said he had tried to stop the first band of looters breaking through to steel gates at the rear of the compound on Thursday morning. He said he gave up when the looters started firing in the air with pistols and rifles. “They were shouting, `There’s no government, there’s no state, and we will do what we like. We will take anything we want.’ They said `Open up, open up, there’s no more Saddam so we can do what we like.’ “

Mr. Rahman said he returned to his room and remained there for two days, hiding and heartbroken.
What can any of us say that would console Mr. Muhammed and Mr. Rahman?

And one more thing: Anyone who thinks we’re in control of Baghdad is kidding himself. People who think civil order is going to be reinstated anytime soon don’t loot hospitals. They don’t announce that there’s no government and no state. The American press may be next to useless, but when the guys who are there on the ground think it’s a good idea to lay their hands on hospital supplies now, you’ve got to figure they know something.

Comments on Loss:
#1 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2003, 11:17 PM:

See also:

"Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, dismissed the chaos as a 'transitional phase, born of 93pent-up frustration94 after 24 years of oppression. He accused newspapers of exaggerating the unrest and said television stations were showing the same footage over and over again 'of some person walking out of a building with a vase.'"

Atrios has a good comment on this, too.

#2 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 12:07 AM:

May he live so long that he sees all that he loved as dust and ashes, gauds in the hands of strangers, dross under the feet of armies, trophies of the uncaring; that long, and no longer, before he goes into the dark and leaves not fame nor line nor name behind.

When another conqueror, long ago, burnt the great library of Alexandria, that all within it be lost to the knowledge of men, there is this much that can be said for it, that it was done by choice, after deliberation, as a thing of policy.

Such blind indifferent heedless destruction; oh, may he labour long beside the Styx, so long that he might of his own hands and labour make every brick that ever was in Babylon, once and twice and nine times over.

#3 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 12:08 AM:

The gold lost is painful, but it's gold. It's valued because it's gold, it's shiny, it doesn't corrode. It's a loss, but a minor one.

The texts? The cuniform? The history lost here?

What a loss.

#4 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 01:16 AM:

"History lost . . ."

. . . mention this to the blinkered ideologues who brought this about, and the arrogant blowhards who support them, and they'll point to a picture of Saddam's statue being pulled down and say something smug and self-righteous about the freedom of a people being more important.

This is a good time to slug them.

#5 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 01:22 AM:
How, O how could I keep silent, how, O how could I keep quiet? My friend whom I love has turned to clay: Enkidu my friend whom I love has turned to clay. Am I not like him? Must I lie down too, never to rise, ever again?

Come Nineveh, come Tyre. With any luck some of this will surface on the art market in years to come. But no doubt a great deal of it is lost for good. Bastards.

#6 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 01:28 AM:

I heard Rumsfeld on the radio on Friday talking about the rioting. He sounded...peevish. He said that the press only looked at the bad things. Give him a camera and he could show you pictures as bad in any large city in the states. (May I pause here for a moment, and say that if such were true, it would not be a thing to dismiss as inconsequential?) He said that violence happens during riots, and that we should not misuderstand, the United States was in control of Baghdad.

I hadn't heard about the museum, then.

I hate Rumsfeld. I hate him more than I hate Bush. This is his brainchild, his baby, his passion. We _knew_, we discussed in detail the fact that the US was going to have to take over the role of government for a time. Why weren't we prepared? When we saw what was happening in Basra, why didn't we wait a little and rethink our approach to Baghdad? How could people who believe so fundamentally in the depravity of man be so unprepared for a completely predictable consequence of invasion? Idiots! Fools! Vandals! Bastards!

It has always seemed eerie to me to make war on the city of sultans and strange perfumes, beautiful women and cruel cailiffs, magical beasts and evil djinn. Baghdad is a place of fountains and dreams and... It seemed that no one in the news media or the administration ever realised that the war was, in part, against one of the great myths and legends of the world. One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. "It hath reached me, O auspicious king..."

I'm on Ashleigh Brilliant's email list. (He makes his living by publishing 17 word epigrams.) Today, I got this one:

Today's news about the plundering of the Museum of Antiquities in Baghdad should not, I suppose be any more sickening than any of the other reports currently coming out of that country -- but somehow to me it is -- particularly in view of the fact that, while this Museum was apparently left unprotected from local mobs by the nvading forces, a careful guard has (so I understand) been maintained around the headquarters of the Oil Ministry.

Coincidentally, a small but very fine museum here in Santa Barbara called the Karpeles Manuscript Library currently has on display a remarkable artifact from ancient Iraq, which I have just been looking at. It is a clay cone, dating from 2404 B.C., with little lines and symbols baked onto it in the form of writing called cuneiform. Many thousands of such documents survive from the ancient world. But what makes this one remarkable (according to the English text in the display -- I don't have even a smattering of cuneiform) is something that also makes it chillingly ironic today. This little piece of clay is an announcement of the World's First Known Peace Treaty.

#7 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 02:35 AM:

How could people who believe so fundamentally in the depravity of man be so unprepared for a completely predictable consequence of invasion? Idiots! Fools! Vandals! Bastards!

I'm sorry Lydy, but you know, if it even occurred them ahead of time, they'd just shrug their shoulders. They don't care. It isn't wealth or even something which could be turned into wealth, not wealth as they understand it. And so they just don't care. I'm with Graydon: may they live long enough to see what they do care about turn to ashes and dust. We must must must throw these bastards out of power in the upcoming election. We must take away their power; shut off the spigot of money flowing to them.

What I'd really like to do is flay them, alive, with a dull knife sprinkling salt and vinegar as I go, but I'm a (mostly) civilized person. So I will channel that fury and revulsion into making Never Again come true.


#8 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 03:51 AM:

It gets worse. The museum at Mosul has also been hit:

That's Mosul, as in "Nineveh."

I also read in another article that rare manuscripts had been stolen from the University of Basra too.

Hopefully some will surface on the black market, but that jewelry....

I know part of what was in that collection. Those were the jewels from Pu-abi's tomb, from the deathpits of Ur. The oldest known jewelry in the world.

Not all of it, thankfully--it was split up, part going to the University of Philadelphia, part to the British Museum--but the best of the collection would have remained in Iraq.

Bastards. Too cheap, stupid and evil to guard a museum. And Rumsfeld calls it "untidiness."

#9 ::: Lis ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 07:13 AM:

PNH: Regarding your Rumsfeld quote, I found some better comments on it on HNN.

About the whole situation, I know exactly how you feel. Each new story about the museum looting/destruction kicks me in the gut.

Making matters worse, a recent Guardian article written before these stories came out says: "Apparent lobbying by American art dealers to dismantle Iraq's strict export laws has heightened fears about the looting of the country's antiquities as order breaks down in the last stages of the war."
In other words, our government had advance warning that this might occur! And the notion that our government might look the other way to the advantage of profiteers and the detriment of the world seems all too believable, sadly.

I feel sick. Let's share some more cute squirrel stories or something...

#10 ::: Vancouverite ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 07:36 AM:

A thousand years from now, this will be remembered. How could we even begin to explain this to Rumsfeld; as if your Liberty Bell, your Constitution, God knows what else were lost. Not even. Things ten times older than America in shards, scattered. What will be his sound bite for history? How will this be remembered...The Nazis stealing art, hell, Napoleon's idiotes shooting the nose off the Sphinx, that at least was comprehensible, but this...I cannot begin to wrap my mind around this. And us all "chicken littles", are we? You smug, arrogant fool, Rumsfeld. Bad enough that you might yet get us all killed, but these should have outlived your new and frightening American century and whatever myriad perversions you would warp America into. Long after the last star fell from the Stars and Stripes, these should have endured.

I am sure you will die peacefully in your sleep, Rumsfeld, dreaming the peaceful dreams of Stalin and all those other zealots who remained convinced of their rightness and infallibility until their last breath. When Kissenger passes on, will he be troubled by the thought that he brought the Khmer Rouge to power? No, of course not.

Tell your children and your grandchildren about what has happened here. Tell them to tell their children and their grandchildren. Let this story never be forgotten, and let the names of those responsible be spat with the venom of centuries.

#11 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 07:36 AM:

"General Eric Shinseki, the Chief of Staff of the Army declared that, 'something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably a figure that would be required,' to garrison Iraq after the war was ended. Both Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz responded by attacking General Shinseki and stating that his estimates 'were wildly off the mark.'"

"He [Rumsfeld] was looking at the [Army] Chief [Gen. Eric Shinseki] and waving his hand, saying, 'Are you getting this yet? Are you getting this yet?'"

#12 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 08:24 AM:

This is what happens when illiterate thugs take over. I like Graydon's curse, though I can't participate. I will gloat at any bad thing that happens to him, though. For example, if he were to lose the ability to move, speak, see, or hear, but have an intact mind trapped inside, I would hope that he would live a hundred more years in that state.

Those who devote themselves to ignorance should be served with ignorance.

#13 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 08:31 AM:

To them it's just, well, why should anyone care about that fag shit?

#14 ::: Chuck Nolan ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 08:58 AM:

I wish I could believe in hell.

#15 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 09:25 AM:

The callousness and vulgarity of Rumsfeld's comments confirm the worst suspicions. This is from The Guardian:

On one of the bleakest days since the invasion began, US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday shrugged off turmoil and looting in Iraq as signs of the people's freedom.

"It's untidy, and freedom's untidy," he said, jabbing his hand in the air. "Free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things."

Mr Rumsfeld insisted that words such as anarchy and lawlessness were unrepresentative of the situation in Iraq and "absolutely" ill-chosen.

"I picked up a newspaper today and I couldn't believe it," he said. "I read eight headlines that talked about chaos, violence, unrest. And it just was Henny Penny - 'The sky is falling'. I've never seen anything like it! And here is a country that's being liberated, here are people who are going from being repressed and held under the thumb of a vicious dictator, and they're free. And all this newspaper could do, with eight or 10 headlines, they showed a man bleeding, a civilian, who they claimed we had shot - one thing after another. It's just unbelievable ..."

In an extraordinary performance reminiscent of the Iraqi information minister who assured the world that all was well even as battles raged visibly around him, Mr Rumsfeld quipped:

"The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over, and it's the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it 20 times, and you think, 'My goodness, were there that many vases? Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?'"

#16 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 10:01 AM:

It is worse than killing people, and you are right to grieve more.

When you kill a person, you snuff out the whole universe that is in their head, who they are, what they know, and all the potential of what they could be and do. But they will, eventually, die anyway: everyone dies. You've killed them and made that happen sooner. It's a terrible thing, but it's within the way things happen.

When you destroy history like that, you destroy something that should never had died. You destroy what a multiplicity of people, dead already, have left behind them, what they have cared to preserve, our remembrance of them, of our ancestor cultures. You destroy cultural context and continuity of place, and something that belongs to all humanity and to all our descendants. You take context and meaning away from our ancestors and you take it entirely out of human history. It's gone. Some of it may be recovered, but if you break a five thousand year old cuneiform tablet it's broken. It could have lasted forever. It could have gone on touring exhibitions to the stars.

"Cursing is the puffery of the weak", as Marge Piercy puts it. And they won't care what we think of them. They will laugh that we think this an unforgiveable barbarism. But what can we do?

It makes me feel like Gildas, despairing that we have come to the end of our civilization in our lifetime, and being reduced to calling on tyrants to repent.

#17 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 10:41 AM:

And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground.

Babylon is suddenly fallen and destroyed: howl for her; take balm for her pain, if so be she may be healed.

And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.

And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.

#18 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 11:59 AM:

Erik said The gold lost is painful, but it's gold. It's valued because it's gold, it's shiny, it doesn't corrode. It's a loss, but a minor one.

The texts? The cuniform? The history lost here?

What a loss.

I respectfully submit that you're mistaken, Erik.

The gold is equivalent to the paper, the clay. The artifact made of gold is the craftmanship, the culture...someone thousands of years ago made that thing that endured.

I cry just as hard for the gold as for the clay and stone. Because the value to human knowledge was not in the cost of the raw materials.

#19 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 12:32 PM:

Bush has been calling such wanton destruction "high sprits."

Stealing Saddam's horses is one thing. Pilaging his palace is certainly acceptable too. But to not try to save the hospitals, museums and libraries is hideously short-sighted. In short, a typical behavior of our current administration.

Sure, they might not have enough troops to really keep the peace in Iraq, but to completely ignore places like hospitals and libraries...gaak...

The identification of the Rowena's art, though, was the best laugh I've had in a while!

#20 ::: --k. ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 12:38 PM:

Seven billion dollars to cap nonexistent well fires.

Not a penny for the cradle of civilization.

Jesus wept.

#21 ::: Will Shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 01:14 PM:

Destroying a museum isn't worse than killing a person--there's no museum that I would save instead of a baby--but I understand the sentiment. In this case, it was hardly as if anyone had to choose between a human's life and a culture's. I read--I think in one of the online Arab papers--that the US did secure one building, the Ministry of Oil. Now, I have no idea if there's even such a thing as a Ministry of Oil. But I do know that when you send in troops and you have maps of the place you're sending them, you decide what you're going to secure. The notion that you don't secure the cultural history of the world is-- I want to say "ludicrous," I want to say "tragic," I want to just walk away shaking my head.


#22 ::: Bob Devney ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 01:22 PM:

I dislike Mr. Bush, Mr. Rumsfeld, et al. as much as any here. And it's already clear they arrogantly risked American and Iraqi lives, as well as what Rumsfeld dismisses as Iraqi "vases," by leaving military police and sufficient reserves out of the force component to make political points.

But come on: almost 20 posts and not one word of rebuke for the Iraqi people who did the actual looting? As if they were all children or savages who didn't know any better? Let's acknowledge that, out of a city of 4.8 million, at least a few thousand are thugs and barbarians who have committed a great crime against history and civilization -- not taking a human life, but taking away some of our shared humanity.

(A faint hope: that a few of those looters were actually art-lovers or museum employees, wrapping a precious cuneiform in their shirts to hide under the bed for awhile until the madness returns to normal levels. I'd love to hear about some real heroes rising from this invasion.)

This said, let's return to our regular program, adding these new counts to lengthy charges of criminal negligence against our Frat Boy King and his court.

And on another angle: was going to bring up the parallel with Alexandria, but Graydon beat me to it.

However, it's worth pursuing even further. Look at the eerie echo of Teresa's point about not bringing enough troops, from a site at

"[T]here was a fire -- and it did destroy large parts of the collection. But the person behind the fire was Julius Ce6sar, the year was 48 BC, and the damage was probably not intended.

"In 48 BC, Egypt had been a client kingdom under Rome for several generations. In Alexandria, two late Ptolemies, a brother and a sister, were fighting each other. The brother was Ptolemy XIII. The sister was Cleopatra VII (2). Ce6sar intervened in the quarrel.

"In this power struggle, Ce6sar supported Cleopatra. But Ce6sar had only brought a small force to Alexandria: 3200 foot soldiers and 800 cavalry. For several months he was surrounded in the royal palace by the much larger army of Ptolemy XIII -- about 20000 men. At one point -- we do not know the details -- he used fire as a defence. And the library was badly damaged.

"This fire was, in any case, not the end of the library. It was still active 150 years later."

All I can think, Teresa and friends, is that folly has many fathers. And great great great grandfathers ...

#23 ::: Cassandra Phillips-Sears ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 01:46 PM:

I'm going to notify the people I work with at the visual resources dept. here (the slide library) and see if we have images of these things, or can get images of them, before they are entirely lost to time and memory.

I was in sixth grade when I first learned about Mesopotamia, and I remember thinking that it would have been really neat to live there.

#24 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 02:46 PM:

I am sure you will die peacefully in your sleep, Rumsfeld, dreaming the peaceful dreams of Stalin and all those other zealots who remained convinced of their rightness and infallibility until their last breath.

I understand Stalin died thrashing, unable to call for help, alone in his room, because everyone was too afraid of him to burst in when they heard what turned out to be his death agony.

Sic Semper Tyrannis!

Bob, the library was burned later, systematically and deliberately, by a Moslem general whose recorded reasoning was "If it's in the Qur'an, it's redundant; if not, it's blasphemous." This is not in the usual character of the Islamic world, I'm's not a coincidence that words like algebra, alchemy, alcohol, and alkaline are all from Arabic roots, not to mention al oud, both the word (which became a lute in English) and the object (which became the guitar in Spain).

That particular guy, though? Like others here, I wish I believed in Hell because of guys like him.

#25 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 02:48 PM:

Bob --

Y'know, technically, if you punch me in the nose, I'm supposed to un-ass the area and make a complaint to a peace officer, rather than slugging you myself.

I don't think anyone would think too highly of the need to note that I really ought ot have un-assed, etc., rather than slugging you in that circumstance, and in this circumstance, yup, the Iraqis engaged in looting ought not to have done so.

O'course, we saw clear statements that one fo the reasons for the whole war was to rescue them from a tyranny so terrible that it has dissolved the bonds of civil society, and so on, and so forth; either that was yet another line of bullshit, or the current US government had a responsibility to plan for the entirely predictable consequences of removing that regieme.

The knowledge of peace is shrinking; that is not, in any way at all, a good thing.

The growth of ignorance is the constriction of hope.

Anyone, anywhere, who is for that increase in ignorance is the enemy, part of the precipitate, however you want to put it. Time to stop being wishy-washy about this, I think.

#26 ::: Mona ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 03:11 PM:

This is horrible. A terrible, terrible tragedy in the classic sense, brought upon humanity by some within their ranks having the audacity to crush history and science under their barbarian heels.

#27 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 03:15 PM:

There are organizations that try to take as detailed a record of artifacts and pieces of art as possible -- the same thing Cassandra was saying above, only on a larger/systematic scale. When we've all taken a few deep breaths and had some time to get over it, those groups could be good people to support with spare pennies.

I know, I know, there's never a shortage of good people to support with spare pennies. But if you think of how hard this is hitting you, and if you think of how little you trust governments (and, heck, natural disaster) not to let it happen again...wouldn't it be nice to do what you can to keep other stuff like this around in some form?

#28 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 03:16 PM:

Regarding the contention that coalition forces guarded the oil ministry only: via Max Sawicky, we see this Washington Post story that says they guarded the ministries of oil, irrigation, and the interior.

#29 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 03:16 PM:

But come on: almost 20 posts and not one word of rebuke for the Iraqi people who did the actual looting?

My thoughts exactly, although it doesn't absolve Bush, Rumsfeld and Company.

I'm reminded of people ridiculing Dan Quayle's comments on the riots in L.A.: "Who is to blame for the riots? The rioters are to blame. Who is to blame for the killings? The killers are to blame." Even a blind pig sometimes finds an acorn.

#30 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 03:34 PM:

Actually, I just had a slightly optimistic thought on all this:

Thanks goodness for the British Museum

They probably have lots of stuff from the "bad old days" of imperialist countries raiding "the colonies."

I remember seeing many interesting cunieform tablets there.

#31 ::: elise matthesen ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 03:38 PM:

Cassandra, if a site with some of that information on what was lost, especially if there are images, is put up, please, please, make it known. It was my first thought. Well, after incoherent grief and


And Trinker, thank you for saying, about the gold. Yes. What you said. Exactly. And those gold artifacts carry so much information about what was valued, what was sacred, what was beautiful, how people worked their most precious materials into lasting expressions of what was important to them.

The learning is worth innumerable times the value of the gold itself. It's not like these were lumps or bricks. They were communications, if you will. What messages about your heart, your spirit, your society, would you entrust to a metal that is incorruptible by rust and time?

And Bob, I make no assumptions about who did what looting, and I excuse no one. It's just that I grieve the loss of our common heritage, when the leaders who allegedly represent me and work for me could have done something about it, and instead they spit on the photos of the comfortably far-off wreckage and call it nothing. I am ashamed for the way the leaders of my country are acting, and I cannot expunge the stain on my honor by looking for somebody else to point fingers at real quick. Please do not mistake this for excusing someone else's crimes. It's just that I have my hands full being outraged and griefstricken about the ones done with my money and in my name, and those are the ones I have to see to first, before I can hold my head up and point fingers at anyone else.

That's how my father, a staunch Republican, raised me. It rather shocks me that his views would be apparently considered out of step with his party just now. Perhaps I should call and discuss this with him. I suspect it might be a fascinating conversation. He will certainly mourn for all the Biblical-related history lost, at the very least, too.

#32 ::: elise matthesen ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 03:44 PM:

Just talked with Juan, who told me that he heard an interview on the Beeb with an expert from Chicago on Mesopotamian culture. Juan said the expert claimed to have been talking with the Pentagon about this danger since January.



My God.

#33 ::: Vancouverite ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 04:09 PM:

What's the point of stating the obvious? It's hardly like the thought didn't occur to me, but come on. Wishing them suffering seems a little bit redundant, don't you think? I suspect that most of those who did this are far more likely to suffer or have suffered some kind of consequence (one way or another) for their actions than Rumsfeld and his ilk.

If the sheriff stands aside and lets the lynch mob come and hang the innocent man, yes, the mob are criminals. But how much worse the failure of the man who could have stopped them and didn't?

#34 ::: Lis ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 04:12 PM:

Elise, a March article in the Philadelphia Inquirer talks about some of the pre-war efforts to save the antiquities.
I just noticed this warning before the war, not only talking about the risks of bomb damage, but saying "the situation after the war will be even more dangerous if the Museum is not managed properly"

They knew. They were warned. They stood by and did nothing.
I feel ill.

#35 ::: gmoses ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 04:12 PM:

If our government was run by decent human beings, its immediate reaction would have been to offer massive, no-strings-attached cash awards to anyone returning stolen artifacts. But, of course, that's a pipe dream. Still, why aren't there private philanthropists doing that very thing right now?

#36 ::: Bob Devney ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 04:16 PM:

Two quick responses to responses to my post (hey cool, we've got a real dialog going):

Xopher, nice point about Stalin's uneasy sleep ... But that story about the Moslem general's burning the Alexandrian library has been debunked regularly since the 1700s, by worthies from Edward Gibbon to everybody's current favorite Western scholar of Islam, Bernard Lewis. Google around: there's some fog of history about the destruction, certainly, but the Caliph Umar story looks by far the LEAST likely to have any credibility. Julius Caesar smells awfully guilty, and is right on Teresa's original point. Sound familiar: an invading Western general for whom destroying the library was an untidy (read: criminally careless) bit of collateral damage? Lewis has a capsule history of the subject in a 1990 letter to the New York Review of Books:

Graydon, I stand by the feeling that, on seeing rioters gutting a museum, my first thought is, "Damn those rioters." My second, certainly closely allied thought is, "Where are the damned police?" You agree that "the Iraqis engaged in looting ought not to have done so." Would you be satisfied merely murmuring "the Administration engaged in permitting looting ought not to have done so"? Thought not; me neither. I say, let's hope without the faintest trace of "wishy-washiness": Damn both sets of yahoos with all the curses you put so beautifully in your original post, brother.

#37 ::: Lis ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 04:39 PM:

Bob, the New York Times reports that when an archaeologist arrived and discovered looting, he sought out troops and police to protect the museum. They scared off some of the looters, but then left, despite repeated requests to stay. Within a half-hour of the troops leaving, the looters were back.

And, looking through Google News, I'm finding numerous articles over the last month with warnings about the risk of looting after the war. Besides the example of what happened after the last Gulf War, the DoD & Pentagon were notified, a House Resolution was filed in Congress, scholars signed public declarations...

They received every form of warning short of somebody painting himself purple and dancing naked on a harpsicord pointing and singing "they're going to loot the museums!"

#38 ::: Vancouverite ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 04:43 PM:

Xopher, well pointed out about Stalin. I guess dying of old age isn't all that peaceful sometimes. Yet it still seems better than he deserved.

#39 ::: rob ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 04:43 PM:

I understand your deep sense of grief at the loss to mankind. I suspect some of your tears, like mine, are about the human tragedy that is taking place before us. In the end (no matter how valuable to mankind) it was just stuff. There is reason to morn its passing, but there is another emotion to feel as well, compassion.

Rather than follow the first rush of anger, have compassion for the sad fools that perpetrated this deed: the thoughtless that attacked what really was not a symbol of Saddam, but became one in the moment; the greedy organized thieves, that have no clue, or just don't care of what the destruction meant, in the end it is their loss as well; and have compassion for the morons that organized this entire mess. "... forgive them because they know not what they do".

Our leaders obviously have no clue. They are highly educated and extremely ignorant. Maybe in the next election we will have better luck.

What sad circumstances led those people to do what they did? Perhaps we will never know because there will never be that much pain in our lives. And that is something to be greatful for.

Compassion and gratitude are worth more than any objects ever can be. Just a thought. Respectfully yours, rob.

#40 ::: John Bridges ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 04:57 PM:

Robert Fisk points out that under the rules of the Geneva Convention, we are responsible for controlling the situation, including stopping the pillaging:

Even as tape of the pillage in Basra was being beamed around the world, there was Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Blackman of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards cheerfully telling the BBC that "it' s absolutely not my business to get in the way." But of course it is Colonel Blackman's business to "get in the way". Pillage merits a specific prevention clause in the Geneva Conventions, just as it did in the 1907 Hague Convention upon which the Geneva delegates based their "rules of war". "Pillage is prohibited," the 1949 Geneva Conventions say, and Colonel Blackman and Mr Hoon should glance at Crimes of War, published in conjunction with the City University Journalism Department 96 page 276 is the most dramatic 96 to understand what this means. When an occupying power takes over another country' s territory, it automatically becomes responsible for the protection of its civilians, their property and institutions. Thus the American troops in Nasiriyah became automatically responsible for the driver who was murdered for his car in the first day of that city's "liberation". The Americans in Baghdad were responsible for the German and Slovak embassies that were looted by hundreds of Iraqis on Thursday, and for the French Cultural Center, which was attacked, and for the Central Bank of Iraq, which was torched yesterday afternoon.
But the British and Americans have simply discarded this notion, based though it is upon conventions and international law. And we journalists have allowed them to do so. We clapped our hands like children when the Americans "assisted" the Iraqis in bringing down the statue of Saddam Hussein in front of the television cameras this week, and yet we went on talking about the "liberation" of Baghdad as if the majority of civilians there were garlanding the soldiers with flowers instead of queuing with anxiety at checkpoints and watching the looting of their capital.

Apparently, the Geneva accords only apply when our opponent's are breaking them.

#41 ::: CatharineWebGarden ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 05:20 PM:

"If I can't have her, no one can" is a sadly common cause of murders here in the US and elsewhere. "If I'm going down, I'm going down in a big way" also not an unknown thought process seen with individuals or criminal groups.

Why, then, did Rumsfield dismiss- or not even think about- that some looting was sabotage? When you can set your old office on fire, burning up incriminating documents, and the US just dismisses it with a "don't worry, must be drunk with the first taste of freedom"- that's clever. If you tried to blow up a hospital or power plant- if you're caught you'd be tried as a war criminal. If instead you loot, or instigate looting, so that the building is unusable- again, Rumsfield forgives you.

And if you've snatched, smashed and burned the photo album of 250 generations of humanity? Someone put Rumsfield on the organ transplant list- he is obviously missing his heart.

#42 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 07:16 PM:

Does anyone remember Kitty Genovese? She was repeatedly stabbed in front of her apartment building while her neighbors looked on. No one called the police. Her attacker _came back_ and stabbed her again, and still no one rendered her assistance, or called the police.

Who killed Kitty Genovese? Her murderer, the guy with the knife.

Who should be tried, convicted, and put in prison? Same guy. (Actually, he got the death penalty, come to think of it.)

Are the 38 people who did nothing entirely innocent? What do you call their role? If nothing else, isn't it a sin of omission?

Who looted the museums? A number of Iraqis, all men as far as I know, and all unidentified, as far as I know. Some of them were almost certainly Baathists, or other adherents of Saddam Hussein. Some of them were guys that got caught up in the frenzy. Some were people who'd been poor so long that any chance to get something was too tempting to pass up. How do we judge them? Individually.

However, that said, the grief here isn't a matter making moral judgments. It's grief over real losses, things that will never be seen again, priceless artifacts of our personal history. The anger against Rumsfeld isn't an attempt to blame him for other people's actions, but to blame him for his own. He didn't do anything. Doing nothing can be doing something, and in this case, it was.

#43 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 07:17 PM:

As a couple of final awful notes--and I feel like crying, though I'm not:

  1. The people who looted the place were probably largely from Saddam's regime. Law-abiding citizens don't loot museums.
  2. Should a part of the history of Western culture is in the hands of a Islamic radical, this will be remembered.
  3. This will make us enemies in the here-and-now, as well as in generations to come.
  4. I suspect that rather a lot of Japanese who otherwise might have ignored this war are going to be outraged. Japan does not have a history of cultural amnesia like most of the rest of the world. Even well-educated Japanese, I think, often do not understand this (I can name at least two noted architects who do not).

Oh, god. I have stuff due on Monday. How can I work?

#44 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 07:33 PM:

More than once in my life, I've grieved for the Library at Alexandria.

#45 ::: Rachael ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 08:21 PM:

I cried too Theresa, I just took 100 6th graders to our local art museum last week. It was so inspiring and reaafirming to hear them discuss which of the "ten cultural universals" a given artifact represented, how interesting it all was to them, and new. We had several conversations earlier in the semester about Iraq and Mesopotamia, contrasting the popular beliefs about the modern middle east with the knowledge that writing, the wheel for goodness sake, were invented there. Gone, all gone. How can I face them on Monday and tell them about it? There is a video on art restoration that I show my kids each semester, during the video a small sculpture being cleaned is cracked, eventually destroyed. Every semester as I watch the sculpture crumble I cry. Every time. To image so much of early art and culture melted down...

What Lydia said, times two!

#46 ::: Lilian ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 08:23 PM:

The Independent and The Observer both cover this story in depth. I'm sure you can find the web sites. My reaction was the same as Teresa's: somehow this got to me even where the story of the little boy who lost his arms did not. This was not just about cultural relics older than America as someone says above: this was about the *oldest civilisations we have*. I wept too, or as near as you could on a packed plane from Oslo.

Anyway the Indy says the museum people consulted with the Pentagon back in Jan and had the museum (s) in question put on military databases specifically so they wouldn't be bombed - and had the most valuable items moved off public view to vaults. But the mob tore down the security in their way and mostly smashed rather than looted (the reports I read spoke mostly of text and pottery, not gold). I think what we are seeing is simple anger: not sense, not even poverty, just "we have lived in fear and now we can do ANYTHING". And this will not be popular, but I do not blame the looters for that, or not very much. I blame Saddam's regime, yes, but I also blame our own complicity in 10 years of sanctions which did their best to impoverish this country. And our own folly in being interested only in securing the gold that is oil, not (as is said evocatively above) "fag stuff" like the oldest relics of human city culture we have. How could they not have predicted this mob rule would break out once Saddam had gone? How can one not assume the callous decision was made that once the PR winning of the war had been accomplished, the actual welfare of Baghdad and its cultural artifacts and hospitals mattered not a damn? Stupidity or conspiracy? A wonderful choice.



#47 ::: Jane Yolen ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 08:37 PM:

And now our unelected president and his cronies are turning their gimle eyes towards Iran, Syria, and . . .

I have sent one letter already about impeachment. I think it's time to send another.


#48 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 09:34 PM:

WRKO, Boston's right-wing talk radio station, was raving about how "nobody cares" that the museum had been destroyed and that the New York Times was unpatriotic, despicable - Oh, God, I don't have the words - because the destruction was the front page story rather that the return of Jessica Lynch. They went on about "Jessica's" treatment by the Iraqis - the 18 year old virginal blonde in the hands of those evil greasy wogs - and it was clear that they got aroused by the thought of her being raped.

Meanwhile, Bush threatened Syria again, because they supposedly have chemical weapons. How many weeks will it be?

It took a six year war of the entire world against Germany plus years of reconstruction before the poison was drained out of that society. Is that what we need here?

#49 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 09:36 PM:

And where are those defenders of Western culture, Lynne Cheney and William Bennett, now?

#50 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 09:53 PM:


You do not understand my "deep sense of grief at the loss to mankind." You dismiss it in one sentence, going on to bemoan lives lost, and then into platitudes of love and compassion.

Love and compassion do not keep people from doing something ever again, and are not why the bumper stickers on my car read KEEP THE BOOKS--BURN THE CENSORS and THEY GOT THE LIBRARY AT ALEXANDRIA--THEY'RE NOT GETTING MINE.

I am not going to forgive Rumsfeld. I'm going to curse him the same as I curse Herostratus for burning the Temple of Diana at Epheseus, Caesar for the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, and the Vatican for the burning of the great libraries of the Aztecs.

Actually, I take that back: I'm going to curse Rumsfeld and the Vatican more than I curse Herostratus and Caesar, because the first two are still around and it may still do some good. "Good" here meaning concrete benefit for this and future generations in the form of preserved wisdom and knowledge, not airy-fairy nonsense about thinking nice thoughts about bad people because thinking nice thoughts will save the world. Tinkerbelle is dead, and if she'd been a real fairy, she would have chosen Option C: Feed the poison to Captain Hook.

Yes, of course, I'm all for saving the people, but this wasn't a case of save-the-people-or-save-the-museum. It was tear-down-the-ugly-statue-for-a-photo-op-or-save-the-museum.

Rumsfeld also made tearing down the statue a higher priority than guarding the hospitals, come to think of it, and that's equally unforgivable. Even if the photo op was necessary for PR purposes, a single mortar round at Saddam's crotch would have taken the statue down and made for just as good of a picture, and you could have left the populace to beat his head with their slippers while you guarded the hospital or museum.

#51 ::: Skmr ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 09:55 PM:

Prhps y nc flks cn tk mmnt r tw t xpln ths yr rsnng t ltng f msm b ppl wh'v bn rprssd, strvd, trtrd nd mrdrd fr th pst svrl dcds s smhw wrs thn th kllng f sm ppl?? nd, t tp thngs ff, t's mrc's flt?

Pls. wt yr brllnc.

#52 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 10:01 PM:

The looting of the museum was completely predictable--completely predicted--and nothing was done to stop it.

I don't see anyone here claiming that it would be better to have let some, many, all humans die to protect the museum, or that the deaths of humans are unimportant. I see people decrying the short-sighted and arrogant monsters who knew this crime would occur as a result of their actions and failed to take steps to prevent it.

The people who robbed the museum are criminals, and if they are found, they should be punished. The people who saw to it that there could be no police to stop the robbery are also criminals; they should be punished.

#53 ::: Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 10:05 PM:

I have been in a state of shock and fury all day about this, trying not to let the full magnitude of the loss in past my defenses. When I came here and read this thread, I couldn't deny it any more. I broke down and sobbed. Mesopotamia. Nineveh.

How could they not have planned for this? Shallow, shallow men. Petty, spiteful, greedy, blind, selfish. I cannot curse them as they should be cursed, though Graydon came near.

There will be no impeachment. Don't hope for it; it won't happen, not the way your system is set up. These execrable men, who let this occur, will keep unchecked power until January 2005. Please don't let them keep it after that.

#54 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 10:28 PM:

"Sekimori" writes:

"Perhaps you nice folks can take a moment or two to explain this your reasoning to me...the looting of a museum by a people who've been repressed, starved, tortured and murdered for the past several decades is somehow worse than the killing of same people?"

You appear to have posted to the wrong weblog. There doesn't appear to be anyone here who's asserted that "the looting of a museum by a people who've been repressed, starved, tortured and murdered for the past several decades is somehow worse than the killing of same people."

Perhaps you have some kind of technical problem. I'd look into it if I were you.

#55 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 10:28 PM:

My practical and realizable curse: May the members of the current administration be forced to finance their retirements giving speeches over rubber-chicken Rotary Club dinners.

#56 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 10:31 PM:

Sekimori, do you have a stopwatch? Hit the "start" button now and keep reloading the comments thread.

#57 ::: Comrade Ogilvy ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 10:39 PM:

I feel the loss of antiquities, too, but I have trouble believing a lot of the comments here.

"...they'll point to a picture of Saddam's statue being pulled down and say something smug and self-righteous about the freedom of a people being more important."

It's not? Stop and think about it -- you prefer the museum collection's integrity to the lives an freedom of Iraqis?

"In this case, it was hardly as if anyone had to choose between a human's life and a culture's."

That's precisely the choice they'd have to make. There's real, honest-to-goodness, life-and-death fighting still going on in Baghdad. The sooner that ends, the sooner people will stop dying. Human lives are more important that museums.

"This is horrible. A terrible, terrible tragedy in the classic sense, brought upon humanity by some within their ranks having the audacity to crush history and science under their barbarian heels."

Crush history and science? Science? Deep breaths, please. Also, I suspect you're accusing the Bush administration, here, but reread what you wrote -- doesn't it apply much more aptly to the looters?

"And if you've snatched, smashed and burned the photo album of 250 generations of humanity?"

Again, who did the snatching, smashing, and burning? Don't infantilize the Iraqi looters.

"It took a six year war of the entire world against Germany plus years of reconstruction before the poison was drained out of that society. Is that what we need here?"

I had to read this twice before I figured out you were comparing the US to Germany, and not Iraq (or perhaps Syria, given the context). I have trouble expressing how wrong-headed that is. Oppression is real, not just a rhetorical pose, in those countries.

"I don't see anyone here claiming that it would be better to have let some, many, all humans die to protect the museum, or that the deaths of humans are unimportant."

As best I can tell, that's exactly what people here are saying. The troops should have stayed at the museum and protected it, rather than rooting out the pockets of resistance, remember? Not that that would have quieted the criticisms here -- then you'd be accusing the Bush administration of looting the antiquities like the conquering army you *insist* it must be. Wouldn't you? Be honest with yourselves.

#58 ::: Jm Trchr ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 10:48 PM:

Dn't frgt t rmv ll th vwls frm th qt n Ptrck's strrng rbttl.

(Y'r wlcm!)

#59 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 10:57 PM:

Be honest with myself? Why not. Sure.

Park a tank on the steps of the museum. Station soldiers around it as guards. Take the embedded reporter and put him with a couple guards inside the museum and keep a 24/7 CNN/Fox/MSNBC feed going while he interviews the currators, talking about how they're keeping the world's cultural treasures safe from the chaos outside. The live news feed would be pretty good proof that the Bush administration isn't looting any of the treasures. So, for that matter, would the currators giving a tour of the museum after the war and showing that the entire catalog of materials was there.

Rooting out resistance in the rest of the city? So some holdouts wait in a house for a couple extra days waiting for US tanks to finally show up. It's not like Saddam's troops were shooting at the regular citizens.

#60 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 10:58 PM:

"Comrade Ogilvy"'s declared email address is "". Quite the profile in courage, there.

That said, I'm comfortable with what I've said. Despite the impression you might get from the hysterics of certain right-wing cheerleaders, I supported the invasion of Afghanistan. I'm not a pacifist. And I don't think US power is inherently evil. So you can put that set of Tinkertoy assertions into your hat.

The point is that, first, coalition forces weren't just forced into an uncomfortable choice between saving lives and stopping looting. Encouraging looting was a deliberate policy. Note where that report comes from: the conservative, Murdoch-owned, pro-war London Times.

Second, as noted above, war planners had plenty of warning that the museum might be looted.

Third, if you think this sort of thing is good for the long-term prospects of the US in the Middle East, you're nuts. I don't know about you, but as a patriotic American, I want the US to do well in the world. You may feel differently. Indeed, evidently you do.

Fourth, if this war hadn't been undermanned and fought on the cheap, we could probably have saved lives and protected infrastructure at the same time.

Anyway, I suspect you know all this already, and that the main point is to try to make me waste time refuting your shit. Nice try.

#61 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 11:09 PM:

"I don't see anyone here claiming that it would be better to have let some, many, all humans die to protect the museum, or that the deaths of humans are unimportant."

As best I can tell, that's exactly what people here are saying. The troops should have stayed at the museum and protected it, rather than rooting out the pockets of resistance, remember? Not that that would have quieted the criticisms here -- then you'd be accusing the Bush administration of looting the antiquities like the conquering army you *insist* it must be. Wouldn't you? Be honest with yourselves.

No, lad, we're saying that the culpable negligence and poor planning of Rumsfeld et al. put too few troops into theatre to both fight a war and protect the citizens/infrastructure/culture.

We're saying that Rumsfeld and his cronies were warned, repeatedly, by many folks including by his own generals, and he decided to do it his way, with the utterly predictable results that we've seen.

Some people might even say that this war, at this time, was unnecessary. That's a different argument for a different time.

Who knows what people's motives are?

What I can tell you is that Rumsfeld and his pals knew, or should have known, that five thousand years of art was in danger of being destroyed, and decided not to send enough troops to make sure it didn't happen. That the complete civilian infrastructure was in danger of being destroyed, and didn't send enough troops to stop it. Intent is the difference between manslaughter and murder, but the victim is just as dead.

#62 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 11:17 PM:

Patrick, I don't think it's really that complicated. Comrade Ogilvy is a wuss, that's all.

It's not that I don't appreciate your excellent rebuttals. Do please continue. The arguments are interesting where he is not. But I truly believe that his advent here can be summarized thus:

Ogilvy: I am a wuss.

Populace: You are a wuss.

Ogilvy: You weren't supposed to think that.

#63 ::: KC ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 11:30 PM:

First of all, this event was tragic and U.S. forces should have intervened. With that said, Iraqi civilians should have intervened as well. This is from the NYtimes article(the curator speaking):

I asked them to bring their tank inside the museum grounds," he said. "But they refused and left. About half an hour later, the looters were back, and they threatened to kill me, or to tell the Americans that I am a spy for Saddam Hussein's intelligence, so that the Americans would kill me. So I was frightened, and I went home."

The guy ran off. The place is a war zone. There are undoubtedly weapons all over the place there. If the curator knew what was going to happen to his museum, why didn't he organize some people to protect it? Did he expect the U.S. to protect it immediately? Why should he have thought that? Did we tell him we would?

Again, we should have helped out here, and I am embarrassed that we didn't. But I don't believe that the Iraqi people are completely helpless. This guy, as soon as the looting began, should have rounded up some people, himself included, to go and defend his museum.

#64 ::: Lis ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2003, 11:42 PM:

KC, if you read the paragraph above what you quoted, notice it said "the several acres of museum grounds were overrun by thousands of men, women and children, many of them armed with rifles, pistols, axes, knives and clubs, as well as pieces of metal torn from the suspensions of wrecked cars."
How many volunteer civilians will it take to hold off such a mob? How much more impressive is a tank and some uniformed members of the organized military at keeping the peace?

The Christian Science Monitor mentions somebody at the museum when the mob arrived:
"I took my white underpants off and put them on a stick and ran up the street to the US Marines," says archaeologist Mohsin Kadun. "I asked them - no, begged them - to help me preserve our treasures, but they would not drive down the street."

Museum workers had taken precautions, moving artifacts into vaults that were supposed to be secure. And the first day of looting, those were still safe. But requested protection still didn't show, and over the next days looters broke into those as well.

#65 ::: Robin Goodfellow ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 12:06 AM:

Priceless cultural artifacts vs. 24 million people freed from a generation of tyranny, oppression, and brutality. You're having a hard time convincing me the latter isn't vastly more important than the former.

#66 ::: KC ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 12:18 AM:

Lis, I don't disagree with what you say, except that if this truly is one of the greatest museums in the world and a bastion of the region's culture, then I would expect that there would be a lot of people willing to protect it. All I am really saying is that I don't think that the archaeologist (I called him the curator earlier) did as much as he could have.

There are clearly not enough troops there to police everything. However, while we are there to help, the Iraqi people must realize that they must take action as well to restore order to their country. Also, I don't think that anyone realized how quickly Baghdad was falling. It was suppposed to be the last stand of the regime.

#67 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 12:22 AM:

Fortunately, no one is trying to convince you of any such thing.

What did Teresa write? She wrote:

93What is it?94 Patrick asked from the front room.

I said, 93I92m so ashamed97this shouldn92t hit me harder than hearing about people97but9794

What did you wrote? You wrote:

"Priceless cultural artifacts vs. 24 million people freed from a generation of tyranny, oppression, and brutality. You're having a hard time convincing me the latter isn't vastly more important than the former."

In other words, you're straight-out lying about what Teresa said. You should be more than ashamed; you should be embarrassed.

#68 ::: Duckman GR ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 12:28 AM:

Consider this: U.S. Troops help to destroy statue. See the sequel.

I can't begin to get into the heads of the looters, but it seems that if an oppressed people rise up against the state, they might not be all that particular in choosing which part they take down. I'm sure that there were many motives behind the museum looting, and the mentality of the mob. I remember watching the L.A. riots after the Rodney King trial, speechless. Watching Reginald Denny beaten near to death and some kid crowing about it, uncomprehending. But those riots and looting had a different genesis then Iraq's. The behavior is the same and totally deplorable, and, yes, wrong, but the reasons behind it, why it happened, how it happened, those are vastly different.

Could the police have done much in L.A.? Maybe, maybe not. Could the U.S. military have done anything in Iraq? Yes. Why didn't they, then?

Because they do not have the manpower, the organization, or the plans. Ruthless dictators have a tendency to destroy power centers within their feifdom. The more ruthless, the more rivals are destroyed. When those dictators are violently removed, a power vacuum is created. Those culpable in that removal should be aware of these consequences, and in a supposedly law based society, should take actions in anticipation of a power shortage. Indeed, as others have noted, they would be legally bound to provide for the care and feeding of the civilian population, and the society as a whole.

Looting of hospitals, hospitals fer chrissakes, museums, government offices, should have been dealt with before it occured. How many top secret papers were destroyed in government offices, how many lists for score settling, for power fights were created on those days? And to think that the museum for the cradle of civilization has been ransacked for want of a platoon of troops and a tank or two, well that just boggles my mind.

For those who say that a life is more valuable than a piece of history, I point out the vast number of people killed over the Wailing Wall, the Dome of the Rock, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Life is a tapestry, full of many threads, from family, history, cultural values, likes, dislikes, icons, devils, shared experience, shared loves, friendships, good tastes, bad tastes. It is sometimes hard to place any particular thread over another, especially from person to person. Life just isn't that simple and "tidy."

Those that are culpable (I like that word, don't you?) are those that created this mess in the first place. And especially culpable are those who took actions to initiate this particular course of action. That would be bush and rummy and powell and cheney and perle and wolfowitz and rice and the rest of 'em.

We lost history this week, we lost some of our past. It's hard to quantify, or, better yet, put a dollar sign on it, but it is a loss, and one that will be remembered for quite some time. I just hope that those who created this situation will renumerate all those who feel this loss.

Damn them!

#69 ::: Reg ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 12:34 AM:

I realize that I am new here, and that no one knows me yet. I posted over on the saints discussion earlier today, responding to something Xtopher said. I'm a former ICU RN with a MSN in Community Health, but right now I'm going to Memphis College of Art, so I'm looking at this situation from two different angles:
On the one hand, the thought of losing irreplacable parts of the record of humanity to this kind of vandalism just crushes my heart. But on the other, we were losing actual *humans* to Hussein's vandalism.
I wish the Iraqi people had not done this to their museum. I don't understand why they did it, because it was their heritage, their culture. It was theirs to guard, to show the roots of their civilization. Why would the coalition troops need to protect something priceless to the people from the people it was priceless to?
I'm going to agree with my husband (and Robin) on this one: the past is very important, but the future is more important.

#70 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 12:50 AM:

So what would everyone's response be if the headline had read "Coalition troops open fire on angry civilians" instead of "Looters raid museum"? I think that's the most likely result under the present circumstances, and, as much as I abhore the loss of real historical treasures such as these, I've got to thank the soldiers for not turning military weapons on an angry mob.

The thing about police is, when they say "stop or I'll shoot", sometimes they have to shoot. How many lives were these museums worth?


#71 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 12:52 AM:

I agree with Teresa that the immediate cause of the looting of the Museum is the shortage of troops, due to Rumsfeld's idiotic strategy.

I would say the problem with the Bushites is not simply criminal ignorance and indifference to history, but tunnel history, a focus on *their* warped view of history. I think the Bush admin may be ideologically biased against ancient Near Eastern civilizations and cultures that weren't Jewish. The Old Testament provides mainly a negative view of the non-Jewish Near Eastern peoples. The ancient Israelites viewed these others as idol worshippers and were defeated and oppressed by them (e.g. the Babylonian Captivity). The Bush administration contains and caters to Christian and Jewish fanatics (Bush himself is born-again).
Their focus on "democracy" and "human rights" (sickening in its ironies) also has a historical dimension: the ancient Mesopotamian kingdoms were not "democracies" (in contrast with classical Greece) and hence the Bushites could care less about them.

#72 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 01:22 AM:

Food for thought:

#73 ::: dc ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 01:23 AM:

Ds th rtcl sy whthr thy stl th wrld's smllst vln, nd whthr r nt t ws plng jst fr yr prcs hstrcl trsrs

#74 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 01:37 AM:

I really really want to scream at some of you people. Listen here to what we are saying. THERE DIDN'T HAVE TO BE A CHOICE BETWEEN PEOPLE AND ARTIFACTS. Rumsfeld chose, for his own venial reasons, to understaff this this war in a serious way. Had he listened to what he was told, and cared about more than his power and his future plans to invade the rest of the Middle East he wouldn't have sent too few people to take care of the job and no choices would have to be made. THIS DIDN'T HAVE TO HAPPEN.

My head hurts.


#75 ::: Comrade Ogilvy ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 01:52 AM:

"The point is that, first, coalition forces weren't just forced into an uncomfortable choice between saving lives and stopping looting. Encouraging looting was a deliberate policy."

The article you link to here says British forces encouraged people to loot Iraqi Army and Baath Party buildings, not museums.

"Looting of hospitals, hospitals fer chrissakes, museums, government offices, should have been dealt with before it occured."

How? In the NY Times article, the American soldiers scared the looters once by shooting over their heads, but how long would that have held them at bay? How would you be responding if coalition forces had had to start shooting looters? I don't think there's any action that U.S. and British forces could have taken that would satisfy you. An oppressed nation is (fingers crossed) liberated, and your reaction is to complain about (hopefully temporary) disorder after the regime falls? You complain when U.S. forces *don't* shoot looters and *don't* swoop in and secure the booty?

It's also worth noting that the Times article says that the contents of the museum were stolen, not destroyed. Hopefully, the looters plan to sell the treasures they stole. If that's true, many of them may not be lost to history, they just need to be recovered or bought back.


""Comrade Ogilvy"'s declared email address is "". Quite the profile in courage, there."

"Patrick, I don't think it's really that complicated. Comrade Ogilvy is a wuss, that's all."

I'm nobody you have heard of, I expect -- including my name and email address would not have added any weight to what I had to say. And I realize my opinions are out of step with most of the posts here. I certainly didn't intend to intrude. I've been reading Electrolite and Making Light, even though I don't agree with everything that's said in them, because I respected Patrick and Teresa, having read their posts for years on rec.arts.sf.written -- I wanted to read what they had to say, because I wanted to hear the other side from someone with whom I thought I had some common ground. I never imagined that the response I'd get would be name-calling. Was my original post insulting? I suppose I suggested that the posters here hadn't thought the issue through. I have to say that the responses here haven't given me reason to change my mind.

If I'm not welcome, just say the word, and I'll go away.

#76 ::: Andrea Harris ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 01:53 AM:

I like Sara's comment best: Bush and co. don't care about the trashed museum because they're all born-again Christians and they prefer Jews! My mind = boggled.

Anyway -- the phrase "the Iraqi people" in reference to the museum looters interests me. Because after all, it was not "the Iraqi people," en masse, who looted anything, but certain Iraqi persons. Individual human beings, not a force of evil orcs. What were their motives, beyond "revenge" for "oppression"? I am thinking good old filthy lucre, but what do I know. Also, I am wondering why the museum directors and other involved parties, if they were so concerned about the possibility of this happening that they were bugging the Pentagon about it months ago, didn't take steps of their own to insure the safety of the artifacts. Don't museums have vaults? And if they couldn't put the stuff away for safekeeping because they were afraid that Saddam and his cronies would kill them for doing so, then the fault for all of this goes right back to the elephant in the room no one wants to blame: Saddan Hussein himself.

Note: disemvowel away, but I'll just repost it on my blog.

#77 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 02:24 AM:

It needs to be remembered that the failure to protect that museum undermines all our future policy-making in the region. The Iraqi are aware of, and proud of, their land's history. The US failure to protect it is going to make forming any government in Iraq much harder. Beyond that, it's given the Islamic radicals a powerful argument.
I wish no lives had been risked in this stupid war. But, yes, in war lives are risked on things as well as people.

#78 ::: Preston Whip ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 02:28 AM:

Hey, what the hell! Some stuff gets stolen (and from a museum of all places). It's not like it's disappeared into a black hole. It'll all reappear; on the black market, at eBay, Christie's auctions, all those trendy little art boutiques you people visit hoping you'll find a priceless artifact that everyone else has overlooked.

Which is more than anyone can say about any SINGLE person killed by Saddam's thugs. None of them will pop up on eBAy.

Or what? You see them too when you're out scouting antique shops when you travel overseas.

Less complaining, people. Less false tears. If you're really concerned, save your money, buy a stolen Iraqi treasure and donate it back to the new national museum.

#79 ::: KC ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 02:49 AM:

Seriously though, we didn't drop an H-bomb here. I think some of you are overeacting a little bit. What happened is definitely bad, but man, let's have a little perspective.

#80 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 03:12 AM:

"Comrade Oglivy"

It's a common tactic of trolls to invent a silly, fictitious handle (such as "Empress Mau-Mau" or "Comrade Oglivy") and then, on top of it, give a false email address.

If you didn't mean to intrude, why did you post? If you're not ashamed of what you've posted, why the silly mask and the wussy fake email address?


Read the articles. The museum curators put all of the pieces in vaults. The mobs took two days to break into the vaults.

Preston & KC--

You obviously don't remember the story of the Hope Diamond. That it was originally the jewel in some Indian idol's forehead that was stolen, then recut for smuggling purposes, finally made into a necklace.

What's it now? A valuable Victorian necklace, not an ancient Indian artifact.

Pu-abi's jewels and the gold harp are probably never going to be seen again, at least not in their current, historically important form.

Recut or melted? They're no different than any other jewels or gold being currently mined.

#81 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 03:37 AM:

When you make a choice, you acquire some responsibility.

Just like 'he made me do it' isn't a good answer when one's specific artillery or airstrike targetting is called into question, it's not a good answer when you don't live up to your obligations under the laws of war to prevent local chaos, looting, and violence, and it's not a good answer when you permit the destruction of irreplaceable cultural treasures. It's just generally not ever a good answer.

The patriarch Abraham came from one of those cities in Summeria, long, long ago. A third of the people in the world are in a culture that looks back to that.

#82 ::: Kevin Parrott ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 03:38 AM:

What really makes me cry is thinking of the The Ark of the Covenant wasting away in that government warehouse forever, after Indiana Jones worked so hard to find it.

#83 ::: CatharineWebGarden ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 03:49 AM:

Comrade O and Preston- Do you have no suspicions that *some* of the looters could have been motivated by sabotage? Do you have no worries that the black market in stolen museum goods might be a way for groups we don't like to launder money? (i.e. that the $1000 someone pays to get a tablet back will be $1000 not in the pocket of an ordinary Iraqi but $1000 for an ex-Baath member (or worse)?). You said my statement on destroying a 250-generation old photo album (which the museum was) would "infantilize the Iraqi looters". Do you not find some insult in Rumsfield's 'Newly freed boys will be newly freed boys' treatment of Iraqi looters?

Certainly I can understand the looting of palaces and offices by ordinary Iraqis. Heck, when the Linux Jihad rolls around I'll certainly be tempted by Bill G.'s fine mansions and plasma TVs: I've paid for them in a hundred blue screens of death.

However, I'm very suspicious of this idea that the looting of critical infrastructure- economic or cultural- was done by the same people. I've read that some power stations and hospitals were stripped to nonfunctionality, that buildings were set on fire, that museum pieces were smashed- to me this isn't looting, this is Baathists throwing infrastructure onto the pyre of their dead government.

To me the false dichotomy of "museums or lives" is like saying "housing or lives." We usually don't ask people to make that decision- we try to save both their lives and the quality of their lives.

If I see a family that was rescued from a house fire, that their lives were saved doesn't mean I can't imagine or empathize with the secondary loss of non-replaceable photos, videos, etc. Here, imagine that the family had a well known book collection. Yes, the family will be grateful knowing the fire department did all it can. But what if we and they learned that the fire department had not done all they could? That they only sent firefighters- no trucks, hoses or other ways to fight the fire- so they could only rescue the people? And that this lack of service was a choice by the department.

Do you think that if we'd announced that critical infrastructure was taboo for looting, with a few tanks parked near each one, that the crowds of hundreds would still have been there? That we would have had to shoot civilians assumes the civilians would be there- but they were there because we weren't.

#84 ::: Comrade Ogilvy ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 03:56 AM:
"Comrade Oglivy"

It's a common tactic of trolls to invent a silly, fictitious handle (such as "Empress Mau-Mau" or "Comrade Oglivy") and then, on top of it, give a false email address.

I'm not a troll, I'm participating in a discussion (or trying to). Since I didn't want to give my real name, I picked the name of a character who was fictitious in the novel where he appeared, figuring that would be a pretty clear way of saying "Anonymous". Too convoluted a joke, I guess -- it's a bad habit.

If you didn't mean to intrude, why did you post? If you're not ashamed of what you've posted, why the silly mask and the wussy fake email address?

Sigh. I remember a time, not so long ago, when everybody used fictitious handles in online discussions. I feel old.

Is posting a dissenting opinion here considered intruding? If this is a hermetically sealed anti-war-only forum, I will leave and trouble you no further.

(By the way: "Silly"? "Wussy"? Are you going to threaten to beat me up after class, too?)

#85 ::: Catherine Faber ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 04:26 AM:

I have something to say to "Comrade Ogilvy":

Let me put it this way. Suppose France and Germany formed a coalition, against the wishes of the majority of Germany's population, and most of the rest of the world, to invade the US, throw Bush out, and install the guy who actually got the most votes in the last election. Suppose, just for a moment, that they won. Suppose that they *could* have brought enough people to protect *our* hospitals and schools and the Smithsonian, but they couldn't be bothered. Suppose, after weeks of being bombed, and the complete collapse of the Bush administration, the very poorest of the poor around D.C. rose up and stole everything moveable out of the Smithsonian, and smashed what they couldn't take. While you're at it, suppose the original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution were looted, as well as Betsy Ross's flag, the Liberty Bell, George Washington's sword, the entire contents of the Library of Congress and most of the original manuscripts of Mark Twain, Thoreau, Faulkner and Hemmingway. Suppose the statue of Liberty had been destroyed, and the Lincoln memorial had been smashed to rubble. Then suppose Jacques Chirac said--"Oh, well, it's not like that stuff had any significance; it's more important that the people be free."

Now do you understand why we're mad?

#86 ::: Comrade Ogilvy ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 04:34 AM:

Catharine, it seems to me that you're suggesting that some of the antiquities from the museum, as well as the some civilian infrastructure, may have been purposely destroyed in a last Baathist gasp to discredit the allies. If that's the case, isn't the Hussein regime, rather than the allies, to blame for, in effect, booby-trapping the country?

U.S. and British forces appearing simultaneously all throughout Iraq and somehow protecting all infrastructure from looting/wrecking without shedding any blood is clearly an impossibly high standard. The allies didn't achieve it. Are you going to condemn them for that?

I think there are two kinds of criticisms being made here. The one I'm addressing here, made by Catharine and I think also by Patrick, seems to me to be the more substantial one: the U.S. war plan didn't allocate its forces correctly, and so the museums got looted. That's an honest and supportable criticism, but we simply don't have enough information to support it yet, because we don't know how else U.S. forces were occupied while the looting was happening, and we don't know what they would have needed to do in order to protect the museums. And if it really was some kind of dying attempt by the regime to make the allies look bad, how could the allies have stopped it unless Baghdad fell instantaneously without resistance?

The second kind of criticism here, although not usually stated so baldly, is a broader suggestion that this is the kind of thing you get when you have wars, so you shouldn't have them. That's the one that really gets me. Museums are good. I love museums. (You can have my Rosetta Stone t-shirt when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.) But saying that it's better for museums to be kept safe than for oppressive regimes to be overthrown is repugnant, isn't it? Shouldn't people be free instead of living in police states, even if some beautiful old stuff gets scattered, and maybe destroyed? It would be great to have both, but I'd never sacrifice the one for the other.

#87 ::: Comrade Ogilvy ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 04:53 AM:

Catharine, your scenario isn't parallel to the current situation in Iraq. Try this: Suppose the U.S. was ruled by a cruel Hussein-like dictatorship, and the French and Germans mounted a war against international opinion to remove that dictatorship, and a lot of valuable national symbols and treasures got lost or destroyed, and then Jacques Chirac said, "Oh, well, it's not like that stuff had any significance; it's more important that the people be free." Would I be mad? Heck, I'd agree with him wholeheartedly, and then we'd set about the business of putting our country back together, and maybe finding some of those treasures.

Note that I've put your more inflammatory words in our imaginary Chirac's mouth. If he said the much less offensive thing that Rumsfeld said, "to move from a repressed dictatorial regime to something that's freer, we've seen in that transition period there is untidiness, and there's no question but that that's not anyone's choice", I find it hard to imagine anyone would slight him for it. It's untidy, it's regretable, but the result is worth it.

I'd be pretty upset with the people who did the looting and smashing, though. Wouldn't you?

(I'm still having trouble imagining the part where the French and the Germans go against international opinion to free us from tyrrany, though. It's not really their style.)

#88 ::: Prestong Whip ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 05:03 AM:

To Kevin Andrew Murphy:

Kevin, telling me that the Hope Diamond went from the forehead of some Indian idol to a Victorian era necklace just reinforces my conviction that these things just don't matter. The diamond was out of reach before, and it still is. A diamond is only as important as some people attemt to make it; the people who lived, for example, in the area where the diamond was originally housed are important merely by being human beings. People make diamonds important (or not); humans need no such silliness.

Let's take this a bit further. You say that "Pu-abi's jewels and the gold harp are probably never going to be seen again, at least not in their current, historically important form". Thank goodness Bush had the guts to go in an excise a regime that actually made the same argument about humans that you're making about jewels. That is, a value judgement about their importance. You say the jewels are historically important. Saddam said that some humans were more important than others. What bunk. I care not a jot for jewels. This is just the thing I can never get my head around: if those jewels were tomorrow deemed fake - let's just say - you'd give up on them in an instance. But we can't make or unmake the importanc of humans. I'lll stick with humans. I can't see that the jewels are important. Nor the Hope Diamond.

To CatharineWebGarden:

I'm not interested in motivation. Someone takes jewels. End of story. They haven't disappeared. They'll turn up in some form or another. I'm not insulted by anyone, least of all Rummy's 'boys will be boys'.

Binaries: false or otherwise. Houses aren't museums. If I didn't have a house (err, flat) to go home to tonight I'd be really annoyed. If the museum wasn't here I couldn't care less. Probably wouldn't even notice. Nor would you if you didn't have a house. Or food.

Stop worrying about trinkets. They're meaningless. If you really care, go and get them back. Or buy them when they come onto market and donate them back. Good grief.

Less water. More action.

#89 ::: Preston Whip ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 05:05 AM:

That should have been Preston, not Prestong. Makes me sound like soup in Cantonese. Ho ho ho.

#90 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 05:41 AM:

George Wargasm Bush and his buddies.... Bush and buddies climaxed with the toppling of the Saddam statue, and weren't interested in whatever else was going on.... roll over and take a nap feeling smug and satisfied, and who cared about the locals who weren't? Not Bush & associates....

Rumsfeld's tone about about the looting versus the icon knockover was obscene. Looting of hospitals, government offices, fire trucks, private businesses.... I did a quick Google search on looting and basically, looting breaks out when civilization's broken down and the amoeboid scunge slimemold come pouring out, all the vilest rottens slime out to spread their poisonous spores and destroy and descrate in a orgy of nihilism.

The airport at Baghdad is open. What would it have taken to shipped a few planeloads of guards in after there airport was secured, with Kevlar vests?

Think back to WWII -- Patton protected the Spanish Riding School and the Lippizan stud against looters and refugees looking for shelter and food -- Europeans eat horsemeat in good times, not just bad times, and those horses probably would have been meals for some number of hungry people.... But Patton went to the effort of providing military protection for them, and the Spanish Riding School facilities. Regarding historical value and value to a functioning society/rebuilding a functioning society, an institution dedicated to literal horseplay and entertainment based on forms predicated on elite cavalry units of obsolete military technoloy, ranks to me, as a lot less valuable than the desks and papers and equipment for government offices, and irreplaceable archeological treasures -- there was no shortage of horses worldwide, and little unique about the particular breed Lippizan -- but Patton provided protection. Compare the historical and emotional value of the museums of Iraq, to the Spanish Riding School -- but the US government preserved the latter, and enabled the devastation of the former.

Expecting handfuls of unarmed civilians to deal with a wall of untrammeled slimemold mob out to grab and smash in a looting frenzy, without no civil order and no authorities to say "Stop that! And if you don't, we WILL apply force to you" -- most bullies have a high regard for their personal hides and the threat of force, is often enough to deter them -- is unreasonable.

Baghdad has what, 5 million people? 5000 people is one in a thousand -- one-tenth of one percent of the population having criminal inclinations, with civil law gone and no apparent interest on the part of the invading force to maintain any form of civil order, would easily produce thousands of looters. And I've been wondering just what have the former Republican Guard, etc. who melted way, done with themselves. Goonish thuggish bullying slime don't stop being goonish thuggish greedy bullying slime just by taking off a uniform....

#91 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 06:06 AM:

The museums were symbols of millennium of unbroken civilization and art, agriculture, achievement of Mesopotamia/Babylon/Nineveh/Akkad/Baghdad/Iraq, of the achievements of the people there and their links from the past, through to the present, and to the future. And it's not just the legacy of the peoples of the Tigris and Euphrates, it's a major part of -world- heritage and "-the common heritage of humankind.-"

Consider the musuem curator in Afghanistan who risked his life overpainting as many works as he could touch up to make Taliban overlook them, to help preserve what he regarded as heritage of Afghanistan and works of arts, which Taliban otherwise would have destroyed as offensive to Taliban's strict and narrow and unyielding concept of offensive and unacceptable. He viewed his life as less important that preserving the art he carefully applied -removable- coverup art media to.

The museums themselves stood as monuments of all the people who spent their time and effort and dedication to doing the archeological work, to digging, studying, writing, preserving, putting on display, and studying the past to better understand past, and present, and make a better future for the world, find solutions to current problems with old solutions -- records of the the past of grain harvests, river flooding, and how the people of then built irrigation systems, planted, harvested.... are important today. The irrigation systems in use today, some of them go back millennia, and still -work-, based on design and implementation proven by their continued use. And when they;re destroyed, as happened in Afghanistan, disaster ensues.

#92 ::: Vancouverite ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 07:26 AM:

Here is what it boils down to:
if this war hadn't been undermanned and fought on the cheap, we could probably have saved lives and protected infrastructure at the same time.

That's the point here. This wasn't an either/or case. Rumsfeld has very explicitly and in a very well documented way made out that this war is being fought with fewer troops than the Pentagon requested. I think it can be clearly agrued that this directly leads to a situation where there aren't enough resources to move a tank and an infantry squad 300 yards to the museum. If you want to quibble with that figure then please go do your reading.

Anyone who wants to argue that this means I--or anyone else here--somehow values the archeology of the oldest human civilizations above human life has got some serious tinfoil in their ears. It would have taken so little to do both. So very little. If toppling Hussein is such a priority, why not commit those extra troops?

And to those wondering why people don't mention certain things, it's because certain things are so obvious they don't need to be stated. Yes, Saddam was a tyrant. Yes, stopping him is a good thing. Yes, freeing the Iraqi people is a good thing. None of these change the fact that this particular episode of this tragedy could have been prevented. It's of a piece with not having a plan in place to provide aid and restore water and electrical services. Is there a plan? You'd think they'd be telling us if there was.

The point remains: why do it on the cheap and in such a bungled way? If you want to stake everything on a gamble, then you'd better commit everything you have to making it succeed. There is no place for half-measures in war.

Don't make out that I am somehow unconcerned about human life. That's a cheap rhetorical trick. Anyone who advances such a case had better have shed a few tears for the waitering staff that were blown to smithereens along with Saddam Hussein, or the innocent bystanders that were taken out by US snipers aiming at Iraqi fighters who hid behind women and children. This war is being fought at an immense cost, is the point. If you want to equate my anger at that cost with some endorsement of tyranny, then all I have to say is;

Any thinking being would have to agree that what has happened is tragic, appalling, and preventable. Unless of course, you love Hitler.

#93 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 07:33 AM:

I for one am willing to take the brave, contrarian position that Saddam Hussein bears a great deal of responsibility for the woes of Iraq today.

#94 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 07:55 AM:

By the way, it could hardly be clearer that the folks in charge of this war were warned, clearly and repeatedly, of the danger that the national museum might be looted at the first opportunity. Here's the (pro-war) Washington Post, this morning:

"In the months leading up to the Iraq war, U.S. scholars repeatedly urged the Defense Department to protect Iraq's priceless archaeological heritage from looters, and warned specifically that the National Museum of Antiquities was the single most important site in the country.

"Late in January, a mix of scholars, museum directors, art collectors and antiquities dealers asked for and were granted a meeting at the Pentagon to discuss their misgivings. McGuire Gibson, an Iraq specialist at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, said yesterday that he went back twice more, and he and colleagues peppered Defense Department officials with e-mail reminders in the weeks before the war began.

"'I thought I was given assurances that sites and museums would be protected,' Gibson said. Instead, even with U.S. forces firmly in control of Baghdad last week, looters breached the museum, trashed its galleries, burned its records, invaded its vaults and smashed or carried off thousands of artifacts dating from the founding of ancient Sumer around 3,500 B.C. to the end of Islam's Abbasid Caliphate in 1258 A.D."

Australian blogger John Quiggin noted yesterday that it was evidently official coalition policy to encourage looting--not just a matter of too few personnel, or having to choose between saving artifacts and saving lives. A senior British military officer quoted in the (pro-war) London Times said last week, about the widespread looting, that 93We believe this sends a powerful message that the old guard is truly finished."

In reponse, Quiggin's comment section has been peppered with some of the same grasping-at-straws excuses that we see above. (Welcome to the Responsibility Era.) Quiggin has begun to catalog the various strands of justification; his comments apply just as well to some remarks over here:

"A further line of exculpation is that the Coalition forces couldn't have anticipated, when they encouraged looters, that the looting would extend to sites like the Museum. Except that, as the WashPost reports, they were repeatedly warned about the likelihood that the Museum would be looted under the cover of civil disorder (it appears that professional thieves, looking for gold, played a major role in the attack, while generic looting helped them overwhelm any resistance and cover their tracks). The Coalition response was to create as much disorder as possible, then ignore pleas from the Museum for protection."

#95 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 08:17 AM:

Would I rather have had the US troops in the city saving actual lives, rather than guarding a museum? Yes.

If the line being pushed regarding the destruction of priceless historical treasures was "we would've loved to protect them, but we were too busy guarding the hospitals, and had to choose between saving live humans and ancient art," I'd accept it, albeit sorrowfully.

That's not what the choice was. They didn't protect the hospitals, either. Both live humans and ancient art seem to have lost out to option C, "knock down ugly statues, and take funny pictures in Saddam's palaces." That's disgusting.

Scrolling all the way back to the beginning, I can't join Graydon in wishing that Rumsfeld/Bush "sees all that he loved as dust and ashes, gauds in the hands of strangers, dross under the feet of armies, trophies of the uncaring" because it's my country, too. But I can wish to see them removed from power as swiftly and comprehensively as possible.

#96 ::: Rivka Wald ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 08:25 AM:

There's an article here from March 12, in which "an expert at Iraq's board of antiquities" is cited as saying that "every moveable piece was packed up in crates a week ago and removed from the museum."

I haven't seen reports of that in later articles, and it's hard to know how to reconcile them. It could be that the removal of artifacts didn't happen after all. It could be that they decided, erroneously, that the vaults would be safe enough after all. It could be that the artifacts were removed to some other location presumed to be safe, and were looted or bombed from there. It could be that the people reporting the present devastation don't know what was removed.

It could be that many, many artifacts were in fact removed and preserved, and will be recoverable when order is restored. I hope to God that's so.

#97 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 08:28 AM:

"Both live humans and ancient art seem to have lost out to option C, 'knock down ugly statues, and take funny pictures in Saddam's palaces.' That's disgusting."

Hey, now. I've already remarked that I'm pretty sympathetic to the urge to pose for funny, staged pictures in the now-empty homes of former Iraqi bigshots. First, soldiers have been doing this kind of thing for as long as they've had portable cameras to do it with. Second, it's far from a major drain on resources. Third, it's pretty unambiguously a poke in the eye to the old regime, rather than a slap in the face to ordinary Iraqis and their country and culture.

#98 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 08:59 AM:

Robin Goodfellow said: Priceless cultural artifacts vs. 24 million people freed from a generation of tyranny, oppression, and brutality. You're having a hard time convincing me the latter isn't vastly more important than the former.

I'm surprised. You must not have read my post. I never said artifacts were more important than people's lives. In fact, I started the post by saying the opposite. What I did say was that it was a grievous loss, and an unnecessary one. I'll repeat that now: It was a grievous and unnecessary loss, and we are disgraced by having let it happen.

Let us now move on to your glaringly obvious unsupported assumption that this was an inevitable tradeoff, ruination for liberty. It wasn't. It was a hideous piece of bungling, not by our beleaguered troops but by the people responsible for the planning and conduct of this war.

I have always tried for forbear feeling contempt for people on brief acquaintance, but I have no such policy regarding arguments; and I have no respect whatsoever for the argument, made here and elsewhere by yourself and others, that by objecting to the culpably wasteful, careless, arrogant, and inhumane conduct of this war, I necessarily place no value on the lives and freedom of citizens of Iraq. You lie. I do.

I don't know where you picked up that meme, but you should have looked at it more carefully before you put it in your pocket. If this rolling clusterfuck had been a joint operation of the BATF and OSHA, would you so lightly dismiss the destruction of people's homes, businesses, social institutions, and cultural heritage?

Bush's reaction to news of the looting was to giggle. Rumsfeld made denigrating remarks about there not being that much in Iraq worth looting. It was an appallingly callous performance.

So, Robin. Tell me again how much genuine sympathy you feel toward actual human beings in Iraq?

#99 ::: Kathryn ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 09:22 AM:

Umm....excuse was the Iraqi people that looted their own museums. Yes the Americans didn't stop it, we should have, and it was a great loss. BUT THEY DID IT. Americans didn't loot the museum.

As far as "losing stuff forever" is concerned, you'll see, those artifacts have been around for thousands of years. Yes, we may lose some of the gold to those who will melt it down for quick cash. But the looters will not destroy what they took, they will sell it for a vast amount of money to private collectors who will care for them properly. Some pieces will be tracked down by museums. It may take 50 years before we see them again, but I would be willing to be bet that we haven't lost them forever.

And I hate Bush and Rumsfield too, for the record.


#100 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 09:51 AM:

And why has no one mentioned the obvious possibility that the cowardly regime principals stole everything valuable from the museum before the US troops even got there and took them to Syria or Russia?

No one's mentioned it because it's ludicrous. The Iraqi army is shattered, the Republican Guard is demolished, and Saddam is probably dead, but some loyal Baathist secretly transported the treasures of the National Museum of Iraq--along with those pesky WMD's, no doubt--to Syria or Russia? You're flailing helplessly, aren't you?

Your love for the Iraqi people is touching. Tell me, did you even know where the Fertile Cresent was two years ago?

#101 ::: Lis ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 10:19 AM:

"Some stuff gets stolen (and from a museum of all places). It's not like it's disappeared into a black hole"
Actually things weren't just stolen, but some were smashed up and destroyed. Clay cuneiform tablets are fragile, and the reports of them lying all over the floors with the busted water pipes spraying over them doesn't bode well for their recovery.

Andrea: "Don't museums have vaults?"
Yes, and things were put into vaults for safekeeping, which actually protected those items from the first day of looting. However, after the first day of looting emptied the display areas and troops still refused to come to protect what's left, the mobs managed to break into the vaults and loot them.

#102 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 11:07 AM:

On blaming the rioters and looters: Yes. Of course. But in any society there are people whose good behavior is wholly conditional on their estimated chances of being caught and punished. Part of the work of civilization is to help its citizens grow up with a better sense of responsibility and cooperation than that, but you're always going to have some people who'll do whatever they can get away with.

To get a sense of this, look at employee theft, which is relatively well-documented phenomenon over a very broad sample of the population. Experts in employee theft prevention estimate that 10-20% of all employees are honest. They won't steal no matter what anyone else is doing. Another 10-15% will steal anytime they think they can get away with it. The rest might or might not, depending on need, opportunity, and whether or not they see others getting away with it.

You can see this same principle demonstrated during morning rush hour in the New Jersey Turnpike approaches to the Holland Tunnel, where there's a traffic light with a very long timing cycle. A mile of cars will stack up while the incoming turnpike traffic waits for its turn. However, if you illegally drive in the breakdown lane, you can bypass all that and go straight to the head of the line. Most drivers won't. A few will. But if more than two or three cars go zipping past in the breakdown lane, you'll see drivers who've been sitting patiently, awaiting their turn, start to pull out and do the same themselves.

So. Back to the looters. If you smash the previous system for maintaining social order (no matter how evil or benevolent it was), but you make it clear that you're not going to maintain law and order, you're giving permission to that 10-15% who're always waiting for an opportunity. Once those guys get going and are visibly unchecked, the middle range will start to follow.

This is the logic behind the controversial practice of announcing, during episodes of temporary catastrophic disorder, that looters will be shot out of hand. The point isn't that any particular looter deserves to die; it's that looting will snowball if you don't get it stopped fast.

There've been reports that the early rounds of museum looters, the ones that cleaned out the gold artifacts, went in hard and fast, and appeared to know what they were looking for. The indiscriminate ransacking mobs followed after. This is classic looting behavior, entirely predictable. The same thing could have happened in Winnipeg or Houston.

(There's a thought. Would Bush have laughed it off as "high spirits" if it had happened in Texas?)

There've also been reports of COW troops -- mostly British, was my impression -- explicitly encouraging the population to ransack properties that belonged to Saddam Hussein, his supporters, or the Baathist Party. This was a culpably bad idea. What could they have been thinking? Nothing could have been more predictable than that the looters wouldn't stop once they'd cleaned thoses out.

So. Were the looters at fault? Sure. Are the leaders who created this situation at fault? Deeply.

#103 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 11:49 AM:

I also read early reports that the US troops were initially just letting the looting happen - mobs were attacking government buildings on Wednesday, and US soldiers were taking no action because it was felt that allowing the mob to trash the buildings would be proof to the Iraqis that Saddam Hussein's regime had fallen. If so, then that was truly an appalling tactical mistake.

#104 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 11:56 AM:

Kathryn wrote: As far as "losing stuff forever" is concerned, you'll see, those artifacts have been around for thousands of years. Yes, we may lose some of the gold to those who will melt it down for quick cash. But the looters will not destroy what they took, they will sell it for a vast amount of money to private collectors who will care for them properly. Some pieces will be tracked down by museums. It may take 50 years before we see them again, but I would be willing to be bet that we haven't lost them forever.

I'm not an archaeologist, but I know enough about archaeology to know that the most priceless information - the value - comes from not just the precious artifact (golden harp or cut jewel) but from where it was found. A good museum will keep track of that kind of information: but a thief doesn't care.

As a writer, too, I am thinking of the clay tablets that would not have been stolen - intrinsically, they are valueless, just pieces of baked clay - that may have been smashed, or left where water can destroy them.

Writing is important to me. The act of writing. The essence of it, the letters themselves, the history of the characters. There is some evidence - based on the study of ancient clay tablets - that we can trace the alphabet we use all the way back to distant origins in Mesopotamia. There are thousands of clay tablets that survived for millennia. The stored history of the place where, as far as we know, humans first set down words, pressed symbols into clay and created the thing that does not die: the written word. What have we lost, irretrevably, over the past three days?

#105 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 12:07 PM:

Oh, this just gets better and better. Here's another reason those thugs currently in charge of the US government didn't send enough troops to restore and keep order once they'd destroyed what order existed. They're contracting it out to their major campaign donors.,6903,935689,00.html

Jeanne d'Arc has more info at Body and Soul

The only things I can think of to say now are extremely profane so I sign off so as not to offend our good hostess.


#106 ::: Jim Treacher ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 12:15 PM:

"I for one am willing to take the brave, contrarian position that Saddam Hussein bears a great deal of responsibility for the woes of Iraq today."

Voluntarily revoweling to point out that while I realize you're being sarcastic with the "brave, contrarian position" part, doesn't it seem like some people really are leaving that part out? "This is all because of Bush! And Cheney! And Rumsfeld! And... oh, who's that one guy? You know, with the moustache? Likes long walks, Meg Ryan movies, and feeding people through shredders?"

#107 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 12:23 PM:

Those claiming that we'll get all of it back on eBay should check this one out:

#108 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 12:39 PM:

Jim Treacher, you're starting to sound like the Church Lady trying to get someone to admit they're in cahoots with Satan. Knock it off. I've said enough times and in enough places that Saddam is a thoroughly bad man.

Or, if you insist: Saddam Hussein is a thoroughly bad man. And while that is true, it doesn't get George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, or any of the rest of those lamers off the hook. They are, as ever, responsible for what they have done and for what they have failed to do. And this time, they have screwed up royally. But -- Saddam Hussein is still a bad man.

And your point is?

#109 ::: Lis ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 12:52 PM:

And this morning I discovered reporting vandalism at Iraqi libraries with people hurling books to the floor in order to steal the bookshelves and fixtures.

From the Times of London:

The moment British troops pull out of one base, the mobs are in. Three hours after the Scots Dragoon Guards left a technical college earlier this week to push further into the city centre, teenage gangs had cleaned it out.

Yesterday, Captain Alex Matheson walked around the language library of Basra University, decorated with posters of Shakespeare and with thousands of English books, all of which he fears will perish when his men move on to their next base later today: 93We can92t bear to leave it to the mobs, but what can we do?94

And as for what locals can do, another news story reports:
Mosul's university library, celebrated for its ancient manuscripts, was sacked, despite appeals from the minarets of the city's mosques for people to stop destroying their own town.

#110 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 01:39 PM:

My first experience of this was during the first Gulf War (I guess it would be ironic if that wasn't a dead option). I was watching birds covered with oil with black smoke in the background and for the first time the tragedy was small enough to fit into my mind and I cried.

Bulldozers and poison gas are too big for me, I guess. I understand, though, about the tracings of a human mind and a human spirit finding a way to leave a message to people a universe away (us, in fact). I understand that his voice is still now and that tenuous connection is lost. I understand that the people who planned and executed this war don't have a value for that small still leavings of a life, any more than they have a value for the lives that are ending now.

I can fit that into my mind, and feel the grief I feel for the things that are too enormous.

I'm sure there are copies of the things that are gone, but now there is nothing solid left of that long-ago mind and it grieves me.

WADR, if there's anyone that's not enough for, it's not going to keep me up nights.

#111 ::: Jim Treacher ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 02:10 PM:

"Jim Treacher, you're starting to sound like the Church Lady trying to get someone to admit they're in cahoots with Satan. Knock it off. I've said enough times and in enough places that Saddam is a thoroughly bad man."

Well, I wasn't talking about you. I apologize for not making that clear. There have been plenty of comments here and elsewhere, though, that seem to either ignore or dismiss the idea that Saddam has anything to do with any of this. Those were the comments I was addressing.

#112 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 02:18 PM:

Chad --
I don't think the US that's your country is on the list of things Rumsfield, Rove, Bush, Cheney, and Wolfowitz love. I thought about that, before I posted that curse.

As far as 'getting it back from the private collectors' -- aside from the authoritative reports of widespread artifact destruction, no, they won't. Private collectors lose context, break stuff, and -- with rare exceptions -- just generally destroy things, since their motivation is possession, rather than preservation. This is is a major tension for well funded museums, for pity's sake; how many private collectors have conservation staff, or even a decent consultant?

#113 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 02:28 PM:

Mr Teacher --

Saddam didn't have anything to do with this, not unless you want to blam the US's capitalism fiscal policies for malnourished poor children in Ohio.

You make a decision to invade and conquer, you make a decision about costs and ways and means and force levels and effort and all that good stuff; the decisions made in this case were that major, widespread destruction of cultural artifiacts was a good thing. (Oh, and social infrastructure of all types, too.)

That was their call, not Saddam's.

Like-so David Drake's observation about putting 19 year olds in foreign countries behind machine guns; they're making your foreign policy, and honest people don't get to pretend that they didn't know that when they put them there.

Same with this -- Saddam's evil doesn't excuse other people's evil, venality, stupidity, whatever you want. It's not an excuse; you are responsible for the consequences of your choices, world without end, amen. You're culpable for the foreseeable consequences of your choices, and this was -- we have it well atested -- entirely a forseen consequence.

The whole argument that Saddam was evil and those people needed rescuing is, well, bullshit, as a defense of the execution of policy; it's the (current, claimed) justification for the policy, it doesn't defend either the choice of policy -- one has to demonstrate that invasion was preferable to the other options in some convincing way to do that -- nor the execution of the policy, which has been execerable on the grand strategic level.

#114 ::: Jim Treacher ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 02:33 PM:

You can just call me Jim.

#115 ::: Vera Nazarian ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 02:49 PM:

This may sound horrible, but given a choice between saving a museum and saving a baby, I would probably run and save the museum. Better yet, I would probably offer them a choice of shooting *me* if that means the historical artifacts remain unharmed.

I strongly agree with what Jo Walton said upstream. Yes, the destruction of one human life is a tragedy, but the distruction of a historical memory is an unforgivable crime against all of humanity.

One person dies and the tragedy affects those who are near and dear and those who are aware of the loss. One historical treasure is lost, and it affects all of us, unto the future generations.

#116 ::: Andrea Harris ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 03:05 PM:

Well, Vera, now we know where you stand. What if it was your own baby vs. the historical treasures? Oops -- sorry, that was terribly unfair. Feel free to take out the vowels.

Re: the mob breaking into the vaults. All I have to say is: then those were some fecking lousy vaults, and if I were the museum people, I'd want my money back from the firm that installed them. To be serious: the ability to "break into" a vault hints at something of an inside job, as a reader in my comments points out. Or at the very least, it hints of prior planning by someone. As for one commenter's assertion that the idea of many artifacts already having been presold/preremoved from the museum, why is that a ludicrous idea? You say so, but you do not state your premises other than to mock the notion.

#117 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 03:50 PM:

A day is excellent time for a vault to withstand unrestricted hostile access.

That's how safes are rated, in time it takes to get them open. (aka, if someone can build it, someone can break it.)

A day is plenty of time to go through the concrete with hand tools, come to that; the whole building -- the multi-story basement vaults -- can't all have bank vault quality doors.

#118 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 03:51 PM:

There have been plenty of comments here and elsewhere, though, that seem to either ignore or dismiss the idea that Saddam has anything to do with any of this.

Oh, come on. Do you really, really, really think that anyone who's commented here isn't aware of what an evil f**k Saddam Hussein is/was? Or are we required to state that ritually before saying anything else? On the contrary, what I see are comments dismissing the idea that the occupiers (that is, us) have any responsibility at all to keep order. What I see is the same argument stated over and over that because Saddam was evil--I'll bet they're just happy not to live under Saddam! He tortured people!--practically anything we or don't do there now is a good idea.

Well, now the museum's looted and the library's burnt; but the Oil Ministries are safe. Look, we're exporting American democracy!

Andrea: That the Iraqi had other things on their minds during the last days besides trucking the relics of Sumer and Mesopotamia somewhere else sounds plausible to me. Then again, you may be right. The WMDs were stored inside the Museum! What a fiendishly clever plan! I bow to your investigative brilliance.

One more remark and I'll shut up: Everyone's free to care or not to care about museums and libraries. But if we really are fighting some larger war in the name of humanity, then the museums, the libraries, and the legacy of 4000 year old civilizations are a large part of what we should be fighting for.

#119 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 04:13 PM:

Bob, you're right about the "systematic burning of the library of Alexandria" story. It's BS. I found that out on my own after posting.

Mea culpa. Even in that post, I had doubts, pointing out that it wasn't really in character for Islam as a culture. But I fucked up, and I apologize for posting urban legend as fact.

As for other conversations:

Blame does not attenuate. Just because one person is to blame doesn't mean someone else isn't, too. Hundreds of people can each be 100% to blame for something. This is morality, not a jury award. It doesn't have to add up, so get over it.

I heard a hopeful note this morning, though. Some looted artifacts are beginning to be returned. So are some of the drugs and supplies looted from the hospitals. Apparently the imams are calling on the people to bring them back, with some effect. (Note: Islam plays useful role in protecting cultural heritage of the entire world -- COWs not in evidence; film at 11.)

This won't help with the cuneiform tablets. But some things may yet be rescued. I hope.

#120 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 04:18 PM:

I suspect there will soon be a post from "Y r ll mrns" just above mine...

Note a) the Godwin's Law instance; and b) the "you people" trope.

You're an idiot, a wuss, and a coward. STFU and go away.

#121 ::: Jim Treacher ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 04:37 PM:

"Oh, come on. Do you really, really, really think that anyone who's commented here isn't aware of what an evil f**k Saddam Hussein is/was? Or are we required to state that ritually before saying anything else?"

No, but if people are going to start making lists, the guy really shouldn't be left out. It's kind of a glaring omission. That's all I'm saying. (And again, that's not directed at Patrick or Teresa.)

#122 ::: Jim Treacher ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 04:38 PM:

Er, and I mean "people" as in "SOME people... not everybody, just certain people." Not as in "YOU people."

#123 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 05:07 PM:

It sounds like what you're demanding is some ritualistic religious phrase, kind of like "Inshallah!" (sp?) before we can conduct any other discussion.

Perhaps an acronym: "Saddam Hussein, exceptionally evil, nevertheless acknowledge..."


SHEENA! The museum was looted because Rumsfeld was too cheap to station troops around it!

SHEENA! Rummy was too cheap to send guards to cover the hospitals too!

SHEENA! Isn't there something in the Geneva convention about us being required to provide policing and safety for areas we conquer?

SHEENA! The United States has taken part in the first major cultural atrocity of the new millenium! SHEENA! Our names will go down in infamy!

#124 ::: Cassandra Phillips-Sears ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 05:09 PM:

Re: Comrade Ogilvy.

Personally, I don't think he's a troll--trolls I've seen generally don't say, 'tell me to leave and I will.'

I do think it's useful to post a real email--if nothing else, it enables discussion to be carried on outside of just one forum. (And isn't that the kind of thing the internet was created for)? But I myself have posted internet messages with throwaway email addresses if I've been unsure of, for example, the level of spam I might get at first.

Granted, that's not quite the same reason Comrade O's stated for using a fake email.
But at least he's not disemvowelling his posts, and takes the time to form coherent sentences.

#125 ::: Cassandra Phillips-Sears ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 05:09 PM:

Re: Comrade Ogilvy.

Personally, I don't think he's a troll--trolls I've seen generally don't say, 'tell me to leave and I will.'

I do think it's useful to post a real email--if nothing else, it enables discussion to be carried on outside of just one forum. (And isn't that the kind of thing the internet was created for)? But I myself have posted internet messages with throwaway email addresses if I've been unsure of, for example, the level of spam I might get at first.

Granted, that's not quite the same reason Comrade O's stated for using a fake email.
But at least he's not disemvowelling his posts, and takes the time to form coherent sentences.

#126 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 06:28 PM:

Cassandra, Teresa disemvowels posts when they fail the civility test. CO is, IMO, being civil; if he stops, he'll lose his vowels.

#127 ::: Jim Treacher ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 06:28 PM:

"It sounds like what you're demanding is some ritualistic religious phrase, kind of like 'Inshallah!' (sp?) before we can conduct any other discussion."

That's a funny idea, but no. As I said, I just think it's odd to make up a list of everybody responsible for this and leave out that one guy. I'm really only talking about a couple of posts here, if that helps. Again, it's not a "you people" thing.

#128 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 06:28 PM:

Um, if he stops in Teresa's sole judgement, that should have read.

#129 ::: Matt Fanny ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 07:23 PM:

Hi. I have followed this weblog for a little while and I decided to comment for the first time.
This thread seems to really show the polarization in people that the war has highlighted. It's very troubling to me because I find that while I can understand and sympathize with the majority view here (that the looting of the museum was a disaster) I can't find it in me to agree. Should we have allocated forces to protect the museum? Yes, I think we should have. I think however, that the forces we have in the area have been told so many times that 'they are there as liberators and guests, not occupiers' that they feared to err on the side of action and protect the museums, which would bring them into mass conflict with (apparently) thousands of Baghdad citizens. In short, they didn't want to appear to be bullies, so they butted out when in this case, they should have butted in. Does that make sense?
AS to opinions of Bush, et al.- I don't think he is an inherently evil man, and I certainly don't think he = Hitler. That's (in my opinion) ludicrous. He apparently just has a different set of values than most of the people who post here. Does that make him bad? or just different> I don't know. Also, I cannot endorse the idea of wishing a hell on anyone. Purgatory, yes, Hell, no. Some things no one deserves. Just my opinion. Sorry for the long post.

#130 ::: Matt Fanny ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 07:26 PM:

Testing to see if this reads my e-mail address(sorry should have done this first)

#131 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 07:36 PM:

Matt Fanny wrote: I think however, that the forces we have in the area have been told so many times that 'they are there as liberators and guests, not occupiers' that they feared to err on the side of action and protect the museums, which would bring them into mass conflict with (apparently) thousands of Baghdad citizens

I understand the point you're making, but: One, it is clearly stated in the Geneva Convention that it is the responsibility of the invading army to maintain law and order in the country invaded. The US was making big claims earlier in the war that they were obeying the Geneva Conventions and would require Iraq to do so also: how, then, could the US possibly justify breaking the Geneva Convention with regard to protection of civilians? Two: this is not only a matter of protecting the museums and libraries of Iraq. Hospitals and shops have also been looted, and many government buildings. Three, which rather wrecks any claim that the US didn't want to be seen as "bullies" - US soldiers and tanks were guarding two buildings clearly dearer to Donald Rumsfeld's heart than any hospital, museum, or library: the Ministry of Oil and the Ministry of the Interior. No worries about looking like "bullies" when it comes to protecting information that the Bush administration consider useful.

#132 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 07:40 PM:

Jim Treacher wrote: As I said, I just think it's odd to make up a list of everybody responsible for this and leave out that one guy.

Well, what we are specifically discussing here is the looting and destruction in the Baghdad museum and other Iraqi museums and libraries, with some reference to looting and destruction and death elsewhere in Iraq, following the US invasion and fall of the Ba'ath party and Saddam Hussein. It follows that whoever we blame for the looting of the Baghdad museum, it can't be Saddam Hussein, because he wasn't responsible. Blame evil men for the evil they do, but not for the evil they have not done.

#133 ::: Jim Treacher ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 07:52 PM:

"It follows that whoever we blame for the looting of the Baghdad museum, it can't be Saddam Hussein, because he wasn't responsible."

Unlike, say, Bush, Cheney, Rupert Murdoch, etc. Okay, you got me there.

#134 ::: Reg ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 08:01 PM:

Given: Saddam Hussein was a very bad man who made people suffer, coalition troops seem to have made him stop.
Given: The coalition troops are in Baghdad and are aware that things are being looted that should not be looted.
Given: The coalition troops are pursuing goals that call them away/prevent them from guarding said things.
Reasons for the above vary by interpretation, viewpoint, and mileage.

The fact remains that IRAQUI people are tearing their own things apart. They are destroying their own museum pieces, their own libraries and schools, looting their own hospitals. Their own imams, per the above post, have taken to the minarets and are begging them to stop.

Iraqis aren't uneducated, unworldly people. Iraq is a secular state that allowed education for women as well as men, and had a fair literacy rate. I can't lay my hand on the infant mortality statistics right now, but they probably wouldn't be the truth anyway, in retrospect. What I'm saying is, they know better than this, but they are doing it anyway. Is it just the Ba'ath party people? Mobs of thousands of them? How could that be?

#135 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 08:30 PM:

Saddam Hussein and his close male relatives have been vile despicable poisonous rot-spreading slime.

If the USA were invaded by a foreign country bend on removal of George W. Bush and the fine upstanding citizens of Washington DC who commit robberies and murders ransacked and looting the Smithsonian while the invaders looking on and said, "Not our responsibility to protect the Smithsonian's treasure and original copies of the US Constitution, Declaration of Independence, First Ladies' Inaugural Dresses, the Hope Diamond, dinosaur bones, etc. from the rapacious vile US citizen looters," how would people feel about -that-?!

Meanwhile, nobody looted the Rowena-plagiarism painting and another painting which is either the King Dragon original, or more plagirism.... either the looters had an attack of Good Taste in their robbery (dubious) or the US Government considered Rowena Morrill art/plagiarist copyright-raping knocks of it more worthwhile protecting than hospitals, archeologial treasures, and order in the streets of Iraq.

#136 ::: Vera Nazarian ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 08:31 PM:

Andrea Harris posted on April 14, 2003 03:05 PM:

> Well, Vera, now we know where you stand. What if
> it was your own baby vs. the historical
> treasures? Oops -- sorry, that was terribly
> unfair. Feel free to take out the vowels.


I don't have a baby, but if I did, I admit this is a tough question. Nothing unfair about it, though, you raise a good point.

My answer is, I don't know what I would do. But whatever it is, it would equally break my heart.

#137 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 08:33 PM:

PS -- I forgot to add to that last, that a lot of US citizens, especially female ones, majorly find the Rowena painting "King Dragon" extremely offensive and demeaning to women, or did a decade plus ago. The original painting was the subject of a major controversy at an art show at a science fiction convention years ago.

#138 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 08:50 PM:

I don't think it's a case of the looters having an attack of good taste (given that they looted entire palaces filled with Ethan Allan Queen Anne frou-frou) so much as the fact that Saddam's love shack had a secret unlisted address in the suburbs, so the US troops found it first.

But there's a thought--keep the ancient Sumerian treasures safe by putting the vault behind the Rowena "King Dragon" knock-off. No one will ever touch that.

As a side-note, speaking in defense of Rowena here, that painting's a pretty obvious riff on the old "Andromeda chained to the Rock for the Sea Monster" bit, which has been a T&A favorite of artists for centuries.

#139 ::: Marna Nightingale ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 09:20 PM:

Heard on CBC 1 (As It Happens) today --

Interview with English journalist discussing bits of personal correspondance found at the Ministry of the Interior, the interior of which was apparently worth saving because Goddess knows, in this brave new liberated country, we're going to have to know every vile detail of what was done to the abused and by the abusers. Depite the fact that everyone already seems to know who was which already. And I'm sure there were a number of people who wanted to burn a piece or two of that stuff.

Interview with one of the archaeolgists who was trying to coordinate some sort of effort for the last 6 months to protect and save the contents of the Iraq museums, which *in case nobody has mentioned this* USED to contain among other things *some of the first words ever written down for the future by any human being anywhere*.

He thinks, btw, that somebody probably had a key, that there was a coordinated job done on the museum, and that any disorganized looters who went through were presented with an already stripped museum and had access only to the less financially valuable stuff. He's got some reason to suspect that some if it is 'already in Paris' (this is the only bit I recall verbatim) This at least offers some hope that some of the stuff may resurface. Possibly when the first purchasers die, but still. I'm going to try to find a campaign for a general amnesty and join it. Here's some money, we're asking no questions, give the stuff back.

So, and I mean this in the nicest possible way (and that still isn't very nice, but I'm doing my best) I am not falling for this crap.

The choice was not -- their lives or some trinkets. Nobody was ever offered their life on condition that they allow the museums to go to hell. You can hypothesize that it would have cost lives to prevent it, and you might be right and you might be wrong.

The actual choice that was really made was not whether or not to protect things from thte looters, but what to protect and what to let burn.

The choice was between guarding stuff which might be mildly useful to the US government as confirmation of stuff they mostly already knew, but which makes GREAT propoganda, *for the saving of which they apparently could find the humanpower and in the cause of which they obviously had NO compunction about threatening and using violence* --

And guarding the stuff in the museums and libraries, which which was immeasurably valuable to the entire human race, now and in the future. And oh, yeah, the hospitals, too.

Colin Powell, who gets dragged out, poor sod, to play the Nice Guy these days, has said that the US will do as much as it can to find the artifacts.

This is a mild and unsatisfactory sort of good news, but it's what good news there be.

#140 ::: Jackie D ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 09:30 PM:

"If the USA were invaded by a foreign country bend on removal of George W. Bush and the fine upstanding citizens of Washington DC who commit robberies and murders ransacked and looting the Smithsonian while the invaders looking on and said, "Not our responsibility to protect the Smithsonian's treasure and original copies of the US Constitution, Declaration of Independence, First Ladies' Inaugural Dresses, the Hope Diamond, dinosaur bones, etc. from the rapacious vile US citizen looters," how would people feel about -that-?!"

It's not an apt comparison -- unless you think that George W Bush and his administration subject the American people to horrors equal to those imposed on the Iraqi people by Saddam Hussein, in which case I have to wonder how you can type without opposable thumbs.

But let's say that the US came to be ruled by a dictator who subjected the US population to genocide, chemical bombs, torture, rape, imprisonment (for toddlers, kids and adults), murder and all that other lovely stuff. If a country invaded the US at that point and deposed the guy, I'd say, "Screw the Liberty Bell, the historical documents, the dinosaur bones and the Hope Diamond -- secure the water supply (,,2-10-1460_1347029,00.html)!" Yes, it'd be a shame if those things were lost (though I couldn't care less about the First Ladies' Inaugural dresses, honestly), but I'd cry more tears over loss of life than loss of possessions. To use an analogy someone used upstream, I'd be devastated if I lost all of my worldy possessions in a house fire, but I'd definitely want the firefighters to make saving the lives of me and my loved ones the first priority. Your priorities may vary, but honestly, that's how I see it.

Also, the idea that Saddam Hussein bears no responsibility for this is a little hard to swallow. There were no "native" (to use a word I don't like the tone of, but which is appropriate here) people to step into the power vacuum left when he was deposed because the population simply was not allowed, for decades now, to form opposition groups that could actually do so. Hey, it was a dictatorship -- opposition wasn't allowed. That's down to Saddam Hussein. And so it falls to the US to impose their own law and order on Iraq, and to be damned if they do ("Occupiers, imposing their western Christian values on this ancient society!") and damned if they don't ("They should have stopped the looters, no matter what it took to do so!").

#141 ::: David Foster ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 09:57 PM:

Vera say:

"given a choice between saving a museum and saving a baby, I would probably run and save the museum." and also "I strongly agree with what Jo Walton said upstream. Yes, the destruction of one human life is a tragedy, but the distruction of a historical memory is an unforgivable crime against all of humanity. One person dies and the tragedy affects those who are near and dear and those who are aware of the loss. One historical treasure is lost, and it affects all of us, unto the future generations."

I understand your reasoning, but it still bothers me. Who is to say that that particular baby would not have created a great work of art, or a great musical composition, or a great invention? Doesn't the choice of saving the museum basically assign the past more value than the future? I am not trying to be polemical here; I think this is actually a deep and difficult issue. (Speaking in terms of the general principle, not in terms of the practicalities of what should have been done to prevent this specific tragedy.)

Here's an interesting historical case. One of the reasons the French did not defend the city of Paris in 1940 was certainly that they wanted to protect the city's architectural and artistic treasures. Suppose that instead, a determined resistance had been waged--and that Paris had been reduced to ruins, but the Wehrmacht had been decimated and forced to leave France. Something like thirty million people would have been saved, counting both the war and the Holocaust. Would that have been a good trade?

#142 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 10:08 PM:

A number of people have pointed out that some of the things stolen from the museum will resurface eventually. This is far colder comfort than they seem to realize. The value of a museum piece is not just its physical existence. There is something intangible and awe-inspiring about looking at the actual item, a piece of clay with some of the earliest writing we know about. But that value is vastly overshadowed by the value of provenance. Everything that was stolen now has a broken chain of ownership. All of it falls into doubt. Without provenance, much that you can discover about a piece is reduced to conjecture. _If_ it really came from such and such an archeological find, then it would reasonable to conclude... _If_ this is the same object that was stolen in 2003, then we can determine that...

Archeology is a science of placement. The process of excavation and discovery tell us more than the actual items discovered. None of which makes the loss any less keen. Every few years, there is some new technique to analyze things we already have. The item, combined with meticulous records on how it was recovered, plus the new tests that the item is subjected to, can fill in another piece of the puzzle. With the item missing, though, you can't do that.

Records were also destroyed. The destruction of a 4,000 year old pot is more dramatic than the loss of paper, but it sounds as if the records lost during the looting were extensive and completely irreplaceable. The sites have been excavated, all that information is _gone_. It was carefully transcribed onto paper. Now the paper is gone, too, and only a fraction of it was copied. The body of knowledge lost is irrecoverable.

#143 ::: Bob Devney ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 10:26 PM:

Xopher, hey, little harm done with that legend about the burning of the Alexandrian library. This thread is so absorbing (thanks Teresa) that I'll bet almost anybody who read your first post has been back to see subsequent clarifications. And I agree with your main later point: "blame does not attentuate."

Much thanks to poets like Julia and Graydon for eloquence in the face of despair. And to many others for light and some appropriate heat.

I've examined my conscience about something "You are all morons" says:
"Of course, if 'Rummy' HAD gone in to protect the museum, you same idiotarians would have come up with all sorts of tripe about our 'cultural arrogance' in presuming that the Iraqis would not protect the museums themselves."

On reflectio: not guilty. At worst, most of us would have grumbled that at least our negligent leaders were doing SOMETHING right. And the museums would be intact, and this thread could have been about Ali or Faud -- or next week's revelation of shocking new evidence Damascus and Pyongyang funded Santa Anna's attack on the Alamo.

SIDEBAR: Pyongyang is believed to be the oldest city on the Korean peninsula, which is where movable metal type was first made (70 years before Gutenberg) ... and the alphabet itself seems to have been invented around Ugarit, a little north of Latakia in, you guessed it, Syria. (This incidentally might be a good time to visit while the city still has power for, you know, Web servers, incubators, so on.) ... Just getting my facts in a row for Museum Outrage II, now scheduled for the Election War of Oh Four.

More light on our current sad subject:

The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago has what looks a good Web presence, at:

A key link there is of course the What's New section, which can lead you to much current comment on exactly our topic. At:

One valuable link out of many is to a small essay on the History News Network, "The Ransacking of the Baghdad Museum Is a Disgrace," by Piotr Michalowski, professor of Near East Studies at the University of Michigan. He captures some of the same sentiments so many have echoed here, with the exquisitely informed agony of a man to whom the stuff that's gone is literally a life's work.

I'll look at more of this later. Seems we'll have a certain amount of time now to think about our loss ... How much time? Oh, say, the rest of human history.

Right now, I'm very tired.

#144 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 10:34 PM:

I'll field the baby vs. the museum question: There are no guarantees. You have no guarantee that you will save either.

Maybe that child would grow up to save the world or be a great artist? There's the same chance that the child would grow up to destroy the world or be a great vandal. It's a foolish argument, and a distraction.

Nowhere in Baghdad, and I'm pretty darn certain of this, was there a cult of flesh-eating cannibal cultists ready to sacrifice an innocent dewey-eyed baby to resurrect their demonic master, Saddam. Wasn't there. Wasn't happening. In fact, the only babies getting sacrificed were the ones crawling over to the unexploded cluster bombs we'd scattered through the city. And if we have bomb squads out to defuse those before they blow up more children, I haven't heard of it.

What there was were three ministries--including the ministry of oil--that were being guarded instead of the museum of antiquities. If the ministry of oil burned to the ground, it would be a nuisance, but no great loss--after all, the oil fields are secure, and Texas oil men know how to turn on a pump.

However, back to the baby question: A museum is the sum total of many many lifetimes of human accomplishment, and a memory resource for more than one human being. One baby vs. one cuneiform tablet? I'll save the baby. Odds are, there's another tablet out there with the same information that may eventually be rediscovered. The baby vs. the Iraqi Museum of Antiquities? Given even chances of saving them, I'd try to save the museum.

Though again, this is a fake, emotional argument, divorced from reality. Nowhere in Baghdad was anyone saving babies from anything.

Turning tanks and guns at looters at the gate? No one finds it strange to shoot bank robbers in this country, and you can always shoot them in the feet if you want to stop their looting without actually killing them.

#145 ::: Jackie D ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 11:08 PM:

Bob, it's disingenuous to raise the issues of Pyongyang and Damascus. You can't compare a situation where diplomacy seems to be working (Kim Jong-Il having recently agreed to multilateral talks about North Korea's nuclear capabilities), and a situation where even the Guardian is trumpeting the news that "anyone who lives in the real world" has to recognise that the US has no plans to invade Syria (,2763,937105,00.html). Come on, let's compare like with like here.

"Nowhere in Baghdad was anyone saving babies from anything."

What? I know the news is concentrating on the bad stuff, but there are still lots of stories out there about US Marines securing hospitals in Baghdad (indeed, they are all now being guarded by Marines) and giving medical treatment to children and adults. In fact, two Iraqi children have even been flown to the UK by the Royal Air Force to receive medical treatment.

Someone asked upstream about Iraq's infant mortality rate -- one in eight babies there die before their fifth birthday.

#146 ::: Lis ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2003, 11:10 PM:

From the BBC: "The entire contents of Iraq's national library and archives are reported to have been burned down, destroying priceless records of the country's history."

#147 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 12:01 AM:

These are several disjointed points, some of which are recycled from a comment I tried to send to this thread the other night that vanished into the ether somewhere, and some of which are new.

Re the destruction of the Library of Alexandria: actually it was destroyed, or nearly so, three times. In addition to the fire during Julius Caesar's invasion and the final destruction by the Islamic general Amrou, there was a serious riot in 391 A.D. by mobs of fanatical Christians, whose idea was basically the same as the later destroyers, that the knowledge contained therein was pagan and/or heretical, and thus a blight rather than a jewel, so to destroy it was somehow to glorify God. (Kyrie eleison.) There had been an effort to rebuild the collection in the meantime (between 321 and 642, that is). There were other large libraries also destroyed during those times, any one of which would be dearly sought after by historians and librarians now.

Meanwhile, today at work I was going through some new documents we had received as part of the Federal Depository Library Program, and came across one, dated February 2003, with the title "The National Strategy for The Physical Protection of Critical Infrastructures and Key Assets", from what's now the Department of Homeland Security. This is about protecting American infrastructure and American assets from terrorist activities a la Sept. 11, but the existence of this book (it's 96 pages) and the timing of it just flabbergasted me. Yes, these doofuses knew better! They knew that protecting hospitals (see page 41, or 53 in the .pdf file) and cultural assets (p. 71/83) are important. At least that they're important to Americans. Too bad they couldn't get their heads out of their [expletive deleted]s long enough to realize that it's important to the rest of the world, too, even to the Iraqis whose land they were busily planning to invade. Much less that Iraqi "cultural assets" might be important to some Americans who vote.

Teresa, this doesn't make me cry. It's beyond sadness. It makes me angry. It makes me want to yell, in disgust and anguish and frustration.

Graydon, I appreciate your attempt at a curse, but I don't think it goes far enough. I'm not sure what would go far enough. I will leave that to whatever God, or whatever gods there are, decide. "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just," said a man who knew about crimes against humanity and human dignity (a little too well), but that's how I feel about this. My country is in large part responsible for this -- at the very least they knew it could happen and failed to take steps to prevent it -- and there's nothing I (or Teresa or any of the rest of us) could do now or in retrospect since our government refuses to listen to us.

November 2004 can't come soon enough for me. Voting is one thing I can do, and I will never vote for a Republican again.

"Human beings live and die, but history and culture survive -- if they are allowed to," says an editorial in today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

"The question is whether U.S. military forces could have done more to prevent the looting of these artifacts. . . it is legitimate even now to ask whether protection of these treasures was given enough attention in military planning. Certainly their recovery should be a high priority once law and order are re-established in Iraq."

I wonder whether, if the collection had been insured by U.S. (or British, for that matter) insurance companies, if the security of the museums would have been a higher priority.

I keep wondering what that golden harp sounded like, and who in ancient, almost pre-ancient, times might have listened to it. Was it anyone we know from history or from the Bible? Did Abraham hear it before he migrated to Canaan? Did Hammurabi hear it? Did it accompany the Hymn to Inanna or the legend of Gilgamesh? What was the sound like? More metallic than a wooden harp, I would think, but harsh?

Gold is not a terribly hard metal. One would hardly need to melt it down; a good hammer would do considerable damage.

"History and culture survive -- if they're allowed to." That harp, and so many of those other artifacts, lived for hundreds of generations, and may be "dead" now, as dead as the burnt scrolls of the Library of Alexandria. That's why so many of us feel as if they might be even more valuable than a living human being. Though many of us would be mollified if there had been security for the hospitals -- poor and underequipped even before the war -- at least.

A counterpoint to Graydon's curse: If there's an afterlife for such things, may they rest in peace there, and be enjoyed by beings who appreciate such things, not nincompoops and barbarians like so many who seem to inhabit the Earth we live on.

And "Comrade Ogilvy", the rest of us use our real names and e-mail addresses. You could try it. Teresa doesn't really bite, I don't think. Disemvoweling is about as bad as she gets.

#148 ::: Malthusiast ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 12:08 AM:

For a more upbeat "analysis" of the looting phenomenon, see this post:
"LIKE, MAN, IT'S SO, LIKE ... SURREAL!"(Monday, April 14, 2003).

#149 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 12:38 AM:

I just found out that the Iraqi National Library, with its collection of antiquities, burned today. This--is like something from a fantasy novel. The part where the evil wizards try to not just conquer but destroy all memory of what was before. Or something from 1984. Or the historical Crusades. And Islam gives almost as much weight to history and scholarship as Judaism--probably learned it from Jews in 7th-century Jerusalem.

I think this, and the looting of the National Museum, have lost our leaders their war--not for control of Iraq, but for the Middle East. If it isn't the last straw for the Islamic peoples of the Middle East, it's the next-to-last. In two generations, I expect the Middle Eastern Islamic peoples to successfully reestablish themselves as a power in the world. They aren't likely to be gentle about it.

I believe wisdom now suggests that the West immediately begin to attempt to resolve the grievance the Middle Eastern peoples have held since their control of their lands and lives was wrested from them at the end of the First World War. Make reparations. If we hurry, maybe it is not too late.

#150 ::: Michael Bernstein ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 12:57 AM:

So, the question becomes, what can be done now?

Recovering a significant portion of the looted artifacts is actually not an impossibility, given that Baghdad is currently occupied and stuck in the middle of a desert. I'm certain that it's currently rather difficult to leave Baghdad unexamined.

Also, the fact that a number of artifacts are already showing up is heartening, and makes the problem one of acceleration.

I suggest that an announcement of amnesty (for looting) in exchange for the return of the artifacts could be made, in conjunction with a 1% finders fee (based on appraisal of 'street value' from, say, Christies or Sotheby (ONE of them would do it free for the publicity)) for information leading to the recovery of those which are still unreturned would work wonders.

Nothing will bring back the artifacts that have already been destroyed, but I think quite a bit can still be salvaged, at least in the historically-significant-but-not-fungible category.

#151 ::: Jackie D ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 01:01 AM:

Further to Michael's comment is this good news:

'Some people are surrendering the booty they took in the Dura district of Baghdad, perhaps in response to a rumored edict by a Muslim cleric forbidding Iraqi wives from having sex with looter husbands.

Muslim clerics have been demanding that ill-gotten goods be surrendered, though none here could confirm the sex-ban order, said to have been issued in Najaf. One cleric said the rumor of the edict was widespread and that it would be consistent with Islamic teaching.

9191A good Muslim woman would not let this man touch her, as a signal to everybody that this is not a way to behave,94 said Sheik Ali Jabouri, who also preached Monday morning that people must give up their loot.'

#152 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 04:35 AM:

Kevo, I know this is a long thread with a lot of comments but if you're going to bounce in with silly accusations, you really need to read them all and accuse in detail, because blanket accusations aimed at "you folks" :-) ring a little hollow.

#153 ::: piranha ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 05:13 AM:

andrea harris said: "Well, Vera, now we know where you stand. What if it was your own baby vs. the historical treasures? Oops -- sorry, that was terribly unfair."

i think it's a valid question to ask, but you don't seem to be prepared to hear any answer that's not selfish. i'm with vera, mostly. i don't think i'll ever be in that position, but if i were, i might choose to save the museum and not the baby. unless i could just quickly sling that baby over my shoulder and heroically do both at the same time. people don't always make the selfish choice. or maybe their selfish choice is different from yours. for me so much depends on the circumstances that i find such hypothetical dilemmas mostly useless.

the main point here is, however, that it hasn't been a question of saving babies. the US hasn't protected the hospitals either, and i am so angry about this i haven't spoken a word about it all day; i can't trust my voice.

btw, the use of a handle is an old, old net tradition, and doesn't automatically translate to being a wuss. my handle is more real than my given name (i didn't pick that), and i am better known to people here under it (*waves*). my email address is real, i own the domain, and read the mail that comes to it. there is nothing innately real about a name that looks like "firstname initial lastname" instead of like "handle", as any con artist can tell you. please judge each individual by zir behaviour; it's bad enough that i have to put up with idiocies claimed about "the iraqi people" as if they were one hivemind. why does anyone find it strange that in a population of 5 million there'd be a few thousand who are criminals? a few more thousands who are overcome by mob mentality? "the iraqi people" are not out looting. some iraqi people are. don't flatter yourself that some american people wouldn't do the same to the smithsonian.

oh yeah, SHEENA. and i, for one, said that already back in the 80's when rumsfeld shook his hand and smiled at him, the bastard.

(your journal rocks, teresa.)

#154 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 07:10 AM:

To Cassandra Phillips-Sears, I have this to say: "Comrade Ogilvy" may not necessarily be a troll, but over on Slashdot they have a technical term for his ilk -- an "Anonymous Coward", someone who is afraid to stand behind their own identity but hides on the sidelines, sniping. Massive respect -- not.

Getting back on topic, a point I'd like to mention is that killing an individual is a tragedy; but destroying a museum like this is, in a small way, killing part of every human being who has not yet lived and who will be, to some extent, diminished.

And as for Rumsfeld's take on the significance of the "untidiness", the phrase "Wenn ich Kultur hf6re ... entsichere ich meinen Browning" springs to mind. (Or would if I spoke German -- I had to google for the original, a line from a play by Hanns Johst that Goering was quite font of quoting: "When I hear the word 'culture', I reach for the safety catch on my Browning.")

#155 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 09:05 AM:

Selfishly going wayyyyy back to answer responses to my own comments (If an insane madman were going to either destroy my weblog, or kill a cute, fuzzy little kitten... Oh, forget it...):

Graydon writes:
I don't think the US that's your country is on the list of things Rumsfield, Rove, Bush, Cheney, and Wolfowitz love. I thought about that, before I posted that curse

I wish I shared your confidence about the ability of armies of uncaring strangers to separate out the intangible qualities of America from the, you know, real estate.

Also, Patrick writes:
Hey, now. I've already remarked that I'm pretty sympathetic to the urge to pose for funny, staged pictures in the now-empty homes of former Iraqi bigshots. First, soldiers have been doing this kind of thing for as long as they've had portable cameras to do it with. Second, it's far from a major drain on resources. Third, it's pretty unambiguously a poke in the eye to the old regime, rather than a slap in the face to ordinary Iraqis and their country and culture.

I can certainly understand the impulse to take silly pictures in Saddam's palaces, and as long as their effort is being put into poking around the city finding tyrannical love nests, I don't really begrudge them a little extra fun.

It's less clear to me, though, that having them poking around the city looking for tyrannical love nests is really the best use of the limited resources we have there. I mean, Saddam-is-an-evil-evil-man-and-must-pay-for-his-crimes, this-is-the-word-of-the-Lord-thanks-be-to-God, but I kind of think our time would've been better spent parking the tanks in front of some hospitals and museums and suchlike and holding off on the door-to-door search for abandoned former residences until things calmed down a little bit.

(Assuming, of course, that we didn't have the ability to accelerate the restoration of order...)

#156 ::: Oliver Morton ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 10:21 AM:

I'm coming late to this because I was in France over the weekend, and thought it worth mentioning that in the French media the museum looting was being ascribed largely to poor shiites. This reminded me that Saddam Hussein had made various specific attempts to position himself as successor to the great Mesopotamian civilisations, and that part of the story here might be the backlash from that identification. I'd not be surprised to learn that a poor and repressed Iraqui shiite sees the treasures in the national museum as part of *his* cultural heritage a lot less than many of us do. No idea of how much of the story this might be, but it could be a factor and possibly an as yet underappreciated one.

FWIW, on Monday's French breakfast TV, the man doing the "review of the press" saw the looting as a reason to recall with glee Clemenceau's quip that America was the first nation to move from barbarism to decadence without an intervening period of civilisation. The anchor saw fit to point out that it was not the Americans doing the looting.

#157 ::: Jackie D ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 11:42 AM:

But Oliver, Saddam bears no responsibility whatsoever to the looting! At least according to some here.

"the US hasn't protected the hospitals either"

That is incorrect. Indeed, as I posted above, all hospitals in Baghdad have been secure for a couple of days now, and are all under the protection of US Marines.

#158 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 12:33 PM:

Jackie D wrote: But Oliver, Saddam bears no responsibility whatsoever to the looting! At least according to some here.

No, I can't see that Saddam Hussein can be held responsible for the looting. Legally, under the Geneva Convention, the invaders are responsible for maintaining law and order, not the defeated power. I follow your reasoning that says Saddam Hussein is responsible because he oppressed the people so much that there was no opposition party to rise up and take power the moment that the Ba'athist power was toppled, but that is specious: even had there been a group able to take power as soon as the Americans invaded, it is still the legal responsibility of the "coalition" army to maintain peaceful law and order. (You have also ignored the point that the US army was quite willing to defend the Ministry of Oil and the Ministry of the Interior over the days of chaos - just not willing to defend the hospitals or the museums.)

Indeed, as I posted above, all hospitals in Baghdad have been secure for a couple of days now, and are all under the protection of US Marines.

That may be true now, but it was certainly not true for 5 days of chaos and looting in Baghdad. If it is true, can you post a link to a news story about it? I've seen none. The only report mentions the eye hospital being defended.

#159 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 12:41 PM:

Kevo said (anonymously):

Don't get me wrong, the loss of these treasures is indeed tragic, but I find it hard to believe that before yesterday they really meant more to the majority of the complainers than a couple of slides on their Western Civ mid-terms back in college.

You would be wrong. I, personally, have been to a museum with Teresa Nielsen Hayden where she became entranced with a pottery exhibit of pottery from Iran and Iraq.

I contend that the 'immeasurable value' of these artifacts to the human race is largely nostalgic.

I think that you don't understand the situation. The loss of beautiful, rare, or antique things is tragic, but their value is far greater than just their beauty, rareness, or age. Properly studied, they reveal history. It's awfully hard to study something that isn't there, anymore. A slide isn't the same thing as the actual clay tablet. When a new form of evaluating the age of that clay and identifying its exact region is developed, it cannot be used on the slide. Neither can another tablet be substituted, except in extremely rare cases.

As I said earlier, the value of the items is tied up in provenance and the record of where they were found. An ancient pot is all very nice, and will look nice on one's shelf. But that same pot, with impeccable provenance, taken from a carefully excavated site, is not just a pot, but a piece of the story of human life on this planet. It is that latter piece that has been destroyed.

Referenced in this very forum are several other instances of the loss of antiquities with little actual evaluation of the impact of their loss.

I know I said that there have been days when I have grieved for the loss of the Library at Alexandria. That was not an exaggeration, but the literal truth. When I was in high school, I was doing a lot of reading about classical history. I found out that all but 8 bars of music by the ancient Greeks had been deliberately destroyed by the Church. I was grieved. There is so much that I want to know about how people lived 3,000 years ago that were in those scrolls that will never now be known. It may not matter to you, but it matters to me, and still does.

I've been born into a world where the loss of that library, of so many other things, is a fact so old that our culture has adjusted to it, and that loss is a part of our history. That doesn't mean that it doesn't affect people. It would be a different world if those things had not been destroyed.

How, for instance, has your life been affected by the vandalism of the pyramids?

When I go to Egypt, beauty that has existed within human memory will be gone. Pictures are never the same. I resent the vandalism done thousands of years ago, for heaven's sake. So many sculptures with damaged facial features, or even headless.

Do I know every little bit of the story of the human race? No. There are areas where I'm more interested than others. However, other people study the parts of the story that don't personally interest me. Eventually, all of the stories intertwine, so a piece of someone else's puzzle may well suddenly change the whole shape of what is known about history in Western Europe.

What have been lost are artifacts, not the rich history they represent.

Here is where I don't think you understand the issues. The artifact is only a small part of the history. The records of where it was found, what it was found with, the studies that have been done, much of this was also destroyed.

History is important to a lot of people. It may be that you haven't given a thought to history since your Western Civ. class, but that is not true of most of the people here.

There are people who think that history has no value. *shrug* There are people who think that literature, painting, dance, music, poetry, architecture, gardening, and politics have no value. I'm not one of those people. Had I ever been to Baghdad, you can be sure I would have spent as much time as possible in that museum. Now I will never get the chance.

Unfortunately (and finally :-D), the vast majority of this carping comes across as disingenuous because it seems to have just started yesterday.

You know, I assumed that there was a plan to deal with unrest in the streets when the Iraqi government collapsed. The looting is as predictable as sunrise. When it appears that there was no plan, there's a sudden gush of shock and horror. Then we start looking in the archives (ah, the value of history) to try to see where things went wrong. The records show that our government knew that this could happen, and they show that we did nothing to prevent it. Looting was predictable. Looting the museum because there was no effort to protect it was not.

#160 ::: J L McCall ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 12:58 PM:

In an article I read yesterday (can't remember the source -- maybe Robert Fisk?) it was noted that there were two Ministries in Baghdad that were given military protection against looting. The Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Oil were NOT looted by Iraqis due to the fact that they were surrounded by Marines. Please note that I have not yet verified this with two other sources.

#161 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 01:04 PM:

"the vast majority of this carping comes across as disingenuous because it seems to have just started yesterday"

Ahem. I raised this issue, here, some time back. I started seeing reports in the press that curators and archaeologists were also concerned after that; I assume there were reports beforehand, but I didn't pick up on them.

"What have been lost are artifacts, not the rich history[...]"

And the ability to validate that history through those artifacts and to do further research on it. The National Library in Baghdad has also been looted and burned, taking more historical documents. For Middle Eastern Islam, it is as if he Smithsonian and the Library of Congress have been destroyed. What Islamic intellectual will be able to hold up his head and defend the USA now?

#162 ::: Bob Devney ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 01:10 PM:

Jackie D., can't say I feel "disingenuous" about even sarcastically raising the possibility of BushCo's invading Syria and/or North Korea next. Since it isn't me but half the U.S. Department of Defense -- Rumsfeld, Feith, Perle, other neocon hawks, a few generals, etc. -- that have been rattling their bloody sabers at Damascus, for instance.

As the GUARDIAN article you cite (,2763,937105,00.html) points out, these guys were reviewing old war plans and making new ones within the last couple of WEEKS to bash Bashar al-Assad. The article's point is that Mr. Bush and his handlers are starting to give hopeful signals. Meaning that while they are hoping to get (for once) elected, adding another couple invasions on top of two nationbuilding projects, a War on Some Terrorists, etc., might have to wait until those plans for Emperorhood ripen. So Rumsfeld's statements might function as empty bullying threats that gain Syrian concessions. Rather than full bullying threats to be followed closely by bombs, blood ... and free three-day passes for museum looters.

Anyway, thanks. These days that would pass for good news, if it proves to be true.

Sidenote to Lois Fundis: you might want to go back, read earlier posts and citations before being so sure the Library of Alexandria was destroyed "three times," once by Julius Caesar, then by Christian mobs, then an Islamic general -- the last two to burn books outside their religious tradition. Actually, the whole history is extremely foggy, with absolutely no contemporaneous accounts. But my quick scan of five or six secondary sources, most of which you can find via Google, showed decent suspicion of Caesar's guilt versus near certainty that the Islamic general story is a hoax. The Christian story lies perhaps in the middle, although it's apparently doubtful there was much left to burn by the story's time. And it seems somewhat likelier it was not a mob under the Christian Patriarch Cyril but an earlier Church-building project under his unca Patriarch Theopholis that did the damage, if damage there was done.

Hope our generation leaves clearer documentation. On exactly whose watch was THIS cultural treasure trashed? For the record, that's G-E-O-R-G-E W B-U-S-H, not to be confused with Patriarch George HW Bush.

Kevo, about your complaint that: "All of a sudden there are a zillion links to articles about how the powers-that-be should have known better--by posters who have shown no previous signs of foreseeing this themselves." We poor posters weren't getting advice beforehand from howling mobs of archaeologists that world historical sites were in grave danger from 1) bombs then 2) looting -- but the Administration was. Certainly, a lot of bad things can happen in the fog of war. Good reason not to elect to have one. But if you do decide to invade, you shall and should bear your portion of responsibility for every corpse and cuneiform.

And to switch tones: Charlie Stross, great to meet you, however briefly, at Boskone! I and many of my fellow Hugo nominators/voters believe you'll have good reason to come to Torcon. (See, this conversation isn't entirely among faceless etheric entities. But sorry to go off-topic, everybody.) I'd always seen that Goering quote as, "When I hear the word 'culture,' I reach for my gun." Thanks for teaching us the original German for "the safety catch of my Browning." If he hadn't died at his war crimes trial (say, do you think? naw, Ashcroft would never go for it), the bastard would certainly demand a product placement fee.

#163 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 01:35 PM:

Two things:

1 - 'entsicher' actually means 'unsecure' - as in 'flip off the safety catch of'. He's not just reaching for it, he's made the decision to fire it.

2 - many of us have been talking, not necessarily here, about this issue for a very long time. Catal Huyuk was destroyed in the Iran-Iraq war; I became aware of this fact in 1988. And this has been one of the major reasons I've been wincing every time they bomb. This looting is beyond the pale.

#164 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 01:36 PM:

CNN is running, beside its article "U.S.: We didn't anticipate looting"(!) a poll on the question, "Should soldiers be expected to protect cultural treasures in times of war?"

As of this writing the votes are running 43% yes vs. 57% no. I thought some participants in this thread might want to help increase the "yes" vote, for whatever good it may do.

(Aside to Bob Devney: the source that I cited last night jibed with what I've heard and read before, as a librarian and as a history major and history buff. That's why I posted it. I will look to see if I can find sources that support your version of the events and will consider whether I find them more credible. I think there are probably many murky parts in the history of the destruction of the Library, and few primary sources.)

#165 ::: Fred Boness ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 03:29 PM:

I am surprised anything of value was in that museum. I would have expected anything portable and of value to have been moved to Syria as a part of prudent retirement planning by the upper echelons of the Baath party.

#166 ::: Hugo ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 03:37 PM:

May the presidential library of George W Bush be looted someday, and may the choicest items end up being available for subpeona.

#167 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 03:58 PM:

To add to the information of the value of the "vase" Rummy kept disparaging, the value is not just in the shape of the vase or it's aesthetic value, but in the dirt and grime in the cracks of that vase.

Want to know what was cooked or stored in a pot? Stick a piece of scotch tape on the inside, take it out, and under the microscope you can do pollen analysis.

That's current day science.

Speaking of current day science, we completed the Human Genome project yesterday. We have DNA analysis right now that will let us match people's DNA to find out if DNA belonged to an individual or not. Using that on the greasy spots in the Mansoor district's rubble to see if they're Saddam and his sons or just more innocent bystander.

Crosspollinate these two facts. How long will it be before we can stick some DNA into a device and have it spit out a computer generated image of what that person should look like when fully grown? Police departments would love to have that.

So would archaeologists. Not just for the mummies and bones, but for the little bits of dried blood on the tips of spears, or the minute bits of trace DNA that would be trapped in clay of those pot sherds. Put your hands on a potter's wheel and see if the clay doesn't abrade your skin just a little bit.

Yes, that's future. That's science fiction. So was pollen anaylysis back in the days when the Victorians were first gathering and catologing pots. Doesn't change the fact that its being done on those same pots now.

A scroll penned by an ancient poet will have had his hand rubbing across the page. If you can get DNA from a licked envelope, why not that?

Photographs, copies and pictures in textbooks will tell us none of this.

That's what's been stolen and been destroyed.

#168 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 04:07 PM:

The other shoe drops:

"``Our national heritage is lost,'' an angry high school teacher, Haithem Aziz, said as he stood outside the National Library's blackened hulk. ``The modern Mongols, the new Mongols did that. The Americans did that. Their agents did that,'' he said as an explosion boomed in the distance as the war winds down.

"The Mongols, led by Genghis Khan's grandson Hulegu, sacked Baghdad in the 13th century. Today, the rumors on the lips of almost all Baghdadis is that the looting that has torn this city apart is led by U.S.-inspired Kuwaitis or other non-Iraqis bent on stripping the city of everything of value.",1280,-2568215,00.html

(And you were hoping for a brief occupation followed by a return to normality and a grateful Iraqi population?)

#169 ::: Jennie ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 04:17 PM:

Fred Boness says, above:
I am surprised anything of value was in that museum. I would have expected anything portable and of value to have been moved to Syria as a part of prudent retirement planning by the upper echelons of the Baath party.

Fred, have you followed the thread? If you have, can it have escaped your notice that we're not just talking about shiny things that fetch a pretty price on the open market, but about reams of paper, piles of pot shards, loom weights, clay tablets and all the bits and pieces that have little material worth but great intrinsic value?

But that's not why I opened this thread again. I opened it because the whole artifact/baby question was bugging me. It bugged me all last night, and all this morning, and I'm going to try to explain why.

Seems to me that if you're trying to evaluate the relative worth of a baby (who may grow up to be the next great Middle Eastern Peacemaker, or maybe the next great Very Evil Middle Eastern Dictator, who knows?) and a clay tablet (which may contain a grocery list, or an ancient middle eastern peace treaty, who knows?) then you're comparing something irreplaceable to something equally irreplaceable. See irreplaceable is like pregnant or dead or unique---an absolute. There aren't degrees of irreplaceable. Both things are absolutely beyond price, if we assume (as I have) that price has something to do with the ease with which something may be replaced. You can't replace a baby. You can't replace a decapitated statue.

So arguing about which is more worthy of saving seems...well, just plain impossible to me. You're arguing about the past, as embodied in its remains relative to the future, as embodied in the next generation.

I can't really get my mind around it.

#170 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 04:26 PM:

There's something deeply satisfactory about locking a thrice-confirmed idiot out of the weblog.

Things I'm a sucker for: Wit. Kindness. Good prose. Earnestness. Asking non-confrontational questions. Visibly modifying one's argument in response to new information.

Things that reliably irritate me: Rudeness. Bullying. A jeering tone.

People who make an argument, get a thoughtful reply, say "yes, but", and make the same argument again.

People who fluster and splutter, and get indignant and demanding, by way of explaining that they didn't understand your last remark.

Boring people who believe that because their views differ from mine, they're automatically entitled to my interest, attention, and writing time; and when these are not forthcoming in satisfactory measure, announce in loud self-satisfied tones that I just can't deal with their opinions.

I swear, somewhere out there someone is selling a handbook, Online Tactics for Online Bores, that teaches them all these maneuvers. I imagine its chapter headers: Encroachment, Adhesion, Entanglement, Prolongation, and The Emotionally Satisfactory Disengagement. I think it must contain sample texts to work from, and that too-faithful reproduction of these forms is the explanation for certain recurrent verbal formulae.

As ever, the big question is whether dreary people are naturally immune to the realization that they're being dreary. Perhaps it's not a causal relationship, but rather two effects proceding from the same cause; i.e., whatever makes people dreary is also what keeps they from realizing they're being dreary. Or perhaps it's simply a defense mechanism, to keep them from realizing the full and overwhelming fact of their own dreariness.

The other big question is whether it's ever possible to talk about this without making all the pleasant, interesting people immediately wonder whether they've been dreary all these years without realizing it.

So: If your reaction to the above is to worry, don't worry.

#171 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 04:36 PM:

Jackie D wrote,

"But Oliver, Saddam bears no responsibility whatsoever to the looting! At least according to some here.

""the US hasn't protected the hospitals either"

"That is incorrect. Indeed, as I posted above, all hospitals in Baghdad have been secure for a couple of days now, and are all under the protection of US Marines."

That happened rather -after- reporters called Rumsfeld on the carpet and Rumsfeld threw his spoiled-brat tantrum about being accosted with such questions. Politicians reacting to Bad Publicity and then deciding to try to paint it over and replace the stolen and smashed playground equipment and fill in the tire tracks from the vandalized playground and fields, that they refused to put up a fence around to prevent the vandalizing in the first place....

#172 ::: LC ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 04:42 PM:

As ever, the big question is whether dreary people are naturally immune to the realization that they're being dreary. Perhaps it's not a causal relationship, but rather two effects proceding from the same cause; i.e., whatever makes people dreary is also what keeps they from realizing they're being dreary. Or perhaps it's simply a defense mechanism, to keep them from realizing the full and overwhelming fact of their own dreariness.

The other big question is whether it's ever possible to talk about this without making all the pleasant, interesting people immediately wonder whether they've been dreary all these years without realizing it.

So: If your reaction to the above is to worry, don't worry.


I think this ties into the whole "no one can stop the shameless" idea. (Which, I firmly believe, has a great deal to do with how difficult it has been to deal with Bush and Rummy and Rove. They are shameless.)

We humans are social animals. A great deal of the control we exert on each other is tied up in those social cues. If you have no ability to pick up on those social cues, you're unstoppable by all those subtle means the rest of us tend to use.

#173 ::: Jackie D ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 05:08 PM:

Paula, all I can tell you is what I've seen on the news here in Britain, and that was that before Rumsfeld even made his comments, ITN's reporters were tracking Marines as they secured hospitals, the water supply and those parts of the infrastructure which will be crucial to Iraq's future (hey, the oil is going to be their main source of wealth, so I can't bring myself to feel bitter over its ministry being secured from destruction).

Some information one might find interesting:

An Associated Press story featuring an Iraqi saying that the museum looting may have been an inside job (

A report that seems to support that (

"I spoke by sat-phone with friends in Baghdad. According to them, the breakdown of authority familiar to the world is getting better. Citizens groups are forming to keep order in the streets, and meeting little preliminary resistance. People want to be safe, and now that the ministries have been ransacked, it appears the worst of the looting has passed. In Basra, too, I understand these same groups are forming. One friend told me that the looting of the National Museum--something that cut deeply into me--was the work of newly deposed Baathist officials, who had been selling off our patrimony as they saw their days were numbered. As the regime fell, these (ex-)Baathists went back for one last swindle, and took with them treasures that dated back 9,000 years, to the Sumerians and the Babylonians."

Other commentary on this has opined that the Baathists certainly had the motive, means and opportunity to loot the museum: it had been closed for months, war had been looming for months and the powers-that-be were known to be stashing treasure in foreign countries for the sake of their future livelihood.

Until I see evidence proving otherwise, my money's on this being an inside job perpetrated by fleeing Baathists -- and I can't bring myself to condemn the military for fighting remaining pockets of resistance and securing those buildings which were of the utmost priority for the humanitarian plight instead of rushing to the museum to secure it. Unless you think the military men and women were just standing around picking their noses instead of doing actual work, in which case I don't agree with that either.

As far as the armchair generals questioning whether or not the US should have sent more troops in order to make it easier to secure the museum, I wouldn't feel comfortable with that opinion unless it came from someone with a great deal of knowledge of the ins and outs of military operations and at least some military experience. Personally, I don't think we should put one more person in harm's way than is absolutely necessary -- but I guess I would feel that way, since I have so many friends and family members over in Iraq right now.

#174 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 05:36 PM:

Yes but, Jackie D.

#175 ::: Michael Bernstein ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 05:38 PM:
As far as the armchair generals questioning whether or not the US should have sent more troops in order to make it easier to secure the museum, I wouldn't feel comfortable with that opinion unless it came from someone with a great deal of knowledge of the ins and outs of military operations and at least some military experience.

Jackie D:

Check out John Robb's weblog, Ity, nk he has the requisite experience and knowledge.

#176 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 05:44 PM:

Come to think of it, Jackie D., some of the people posting here have exactly that experience and knowledge. You haven't listened to them. Repeatedly.

#177 ::: Lou ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 05:56 PM:

Something that hasn't been brought up: the lack of protection for these priceless treasures, to say nothing of hospitals, schools and banks, is now fomenting resentment among Baghdad residents. According to stories in the NY Times and Washington Post, solid citizens are saying "Yanqui, go home." Especially since we had enough force to protect the ministries of oil, the interior.

#178 ::: Fred Boness ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 06:42 PM:

Yes, Jennie, I've been following the thread.

The smuggling of antiquities, i.e. non shiny things of value, has been a long standing problem (tradition?) in the region. The black markets for antiquities are well established and I would expect well known to the thugs and looters of the Saddam regime.

So, if the Baath party got to the museum before the street looters then much will disappear into private collections in the Mid East. I believe the world at large has advanced to where outside the region there won't be much tolerance for trading in objects stolen from the museum.

#179 ::: Kip ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 06:45 PM:

And what else did we protect from looters? The ugly palaces with the tasteless titty art. Hooray for us! "We saved the oil, sir. And the black velvet paintings."

I liked someone's suggestion we should have let 'the people' loot the palaces and safeguard the important stuff. (From Usenet, not this blog... unless memory fails me.)

#180 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 06:46 PM:

Dead right, Lou. We've lost an incalculable amount of good will.

Something else that's not being mentioned, particularly by those who puff themselves up about how we must not care about the wellbeing of the Iraqi citizens: You may take it as axiomatic that in a situation where there's serious looting going on, there's also rape.

#181 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 07:11 PM:

To those who say that it's understandable that the troops didn't guard the museum:

1907 Hague Convention, Article 43: The authority of the legitimate power having actually passed into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all steps in his power to re-establish and insure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country. Article 56 The property of the communes, that of religious, charitable, and educational institutions, and those of arts and science, even when State property, shall be treated as private property. All seizure of, and destruction, or intentional damage done to such institutions, to historical monuments, works of art or science, is prohibited, and should be made the subject of proceedings.

Rumsfeld says that we couldn't protect the museum because hostilities were still ongoing. How does that explain the destruction -- equally appalling -- of the National Archives and Library of Qurans after Baghdad was "pacified"?

The United States is guilty of horrible, hideous war crimes that will cause our nation to live in infamy.

I've tried to piece together the various components of the story on my blog (pfaffenblog) at ((link, if enabled). Do please visit if you understand what is at stake here.

#182 ::: Lis ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 07:30 PM:

As far as the armchair generals questioning whether or not the US should have sent more troops in order to make it easier to secure the museum, I wouldn't feel comfortable with that opinion unless it came from someone with a great deal of knowledge of the ins and outs of military operations and at least some military experience.
Most of the generals from the first Gulf War were outspoken that Rumsfeld92s plans were inadequate. Are you comfortable with their opinions? Here92s my journal post about it from last month with links to what actual Gulf War generals were saying.

#183 ::: Lis ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 07:39 PM:

And even when we know what92s going on and the inaction has been condemned worldwide and officials promised to do better, still they do nothing, as this scene outside the Library demonstrates:

Armored vehicles were positioned on the nearby street, manned by U.S. Marines. They did nothing to stop Tuesday's continuing trickle of looters.

Oh, and speaking of our common human heritage:
Among the National Museum's treasures were the tablets with Hammurabi's Code -- one of mankind's earliest codes of law. It could not be immediately determined whether the tablets were at the museum when war broke out.

It seems like every news story, I discover something worse and yet I can92t bear to look away...

#184 ::: --k. ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 07:45 PM:

Just a moment to bring back to collective mind Secretary Rumsfeld's words, which are a large part of why I now spit every time I say his name, and which, I think, might be getting overlooked a little in all the babies-or-museums moral dilemmae and the hairsplitting blamesmanship:

The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over, and it's the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it 20 times, and you think, "My goodness, were there that many vases? Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?"

I know this is quoted way, way upthread; that's from whence I initially pinched it, after all. But it bears repeating: if upon hearing of the looting and the burning of the museums and the libraries, we had heard:

My God, we had no idea.We had to make some hard choices in this war to fight it the way we did. And we anticpated that some of the more readily valuable artifacts--the gold, the jewelry--might be stolen, but the records, the sculpture, the library--a loss of this magnitude--we cannot set this right. We cannot bring this back. But we can do everything in our power to return what little we can.

But that is, perhaps, too much from someone who sneers:

My goodness, were there that many vases? Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?

Every protestation that the Iraqis did it themselves (all of them? every single one?) and that we can't be expected to maintain order in a country we've just conquered (thus violating letter and spirit of the very Geneva Convention we were so het up about a few weeks ago) and that the Rear Echelon Motherfuckers can't be held accountable for inside jobs pulled by Ba'athists on their way to interview with Dyncorp for next month's rentacop jobs must be balanced against the starkly simple fact evidenced every time Rumsfeld opens his mouth:

He doesn't care. None of them do.

This monumental ignorance, this monumental disdain for the fact that he is ignorant, goes far beyond the irreparable loss of 7,000 years of history and culture and the thousands of human lives and even the inventory of a tiny mom'n'pop convenience store looted to the bare walls just off Baghdad's Broadway. It's going to dog the heels of every attempt to make something lasting and good out of this and it's going to raze to the salted earth all the wells of good will it's already poisoned and it's endangering the lives and safety and freedom of all of us and if we aren't careful it's going to do it all over again in Syria.

The loss of the museums and the libraries, the information and history and culture, is horrible. The reaction to it on the part of our feckless leaders is inexcusable. "Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to stupidity," yes, but take your pick: one or the other applies, and either in this case is beyond the pale, even the one this historic administration has set.

My goodness, were there that many vases? Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?

I want that in Barlett's before Rumsfeld's name. I want that to ring down the centuries, so that our kids and our kids' kids can laugh, bleakly, at the yammering barbarians we inflicted on the world for four mercifully short years before we came to our collective senses. I want him to die in his expensive assisted-living bed years from now so that we can go out and put it on his goddamn tombstone.

My goodness, were there that many vases? Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?
#185 ::: piranha ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 08:40 PM:

rumsfeld apparently also said later "oh my goodness. look, i didn't know." because looting is just "stuff that happens". hell, yes, and if he really didn't know, then he should have known. museums were looted after the first gulf war as well.

your goodness, mr. rumsfeld, is at issue here. pick another muse.

this might inform others as well; i didn't know about it prior to reading this article: "Interestingly, international rules to protect cultural property from looting and damage are an American innovation, dating back to the Civil War. Revulsion at widespread destruction during that war led to the drafting of the Lieber Code, which gave protected status to libraries, scientific collections and works of art. The Lieber Code's protections had a significant influence on the development on international law in this area, culminating in the drafting of the 1954 convention and its subsequent protocols."

#186 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 09:15 PM:

Dear I'm bored: Insults are dull, what did you expect?

Kip: I'd like to see Rumsfeld's [ptui!] comment next to the Duke of Gloucester's.

Another damned fat book, eh, Mr. Gibbon? Always scribble, scribble, scribble, eh?

My goodness, were there that many vases? Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?

Except that Gloucester was merely fatuous.

#187 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 09:15 PM:

From a sort of detective story point of view, there may be a mildly silver lining here. According to the Post (via Glenn Reynolds):

Sensing its treasures could be in peril, museum curators secretly removed antiquities from their display cases before the war and placed them into storage vaults - but to no avail. The doors of the vaults were opened or smashed, and everything was taken, museum workers said. That lead one museum employee to suspect that others familiar with the museum may have participated in the theft.

"The fact that the vaults were opened suggests that employees of the museum may have been involved," said the employee, who declined to be identified. "To ordinarily people, these are just stones. Only the educated know the value of these pieces."

If museum people made off with some of the most prized, at least it may be hoped they know how to preserve them—or who to sell them to so that, some day, these artifacts resurface.

For what it's worth....

#188 ::: Zoe Selengut ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 09:17 PM:

The original version of the following letter was written by Bernard Frischer of UCLA and has undergone many minor changes along the way. I received a copy from a professor in my department inviting anyone interested to make what modifications they chose and send it to their senators. I am doing so; I urge any interested persons reading this to do the same.

Dear Senators [Cantwell and Murray]

I write to express my deep concern about the recent sacking of the National Library and National Museum of Iraq while US forces stood by. For details, see:

These barbarous acts are prohibited by Articles 3 and 4 of The Hague Treaty of 1954.

Article 3 puts the some of the responsibility of protecting cultural property on the shoulders of the Iraqi authorities:

"Article 3. Safeguarding of cultural property The High Contracting Parties undertake to prepare in time of peace for the safeguarding of cultural property situated within their own territory against the foreseeable effects of an armed conflict, by taking such measures as they consider appropriate."

But section 5 of Article 4 states that, even if the Iraqi authorities failed in their duty under Article 3, this gives no excuse to the United States:

"Article 4. Respect for cultural property. 1. The High Contracting Parties undertake to respect cultural property situated within their own territory as well as within the territory of other High Contracting Parties by refraining from any use of the property and its immediate surroundings or of the appliances in use for its protection for purposes which are likely to expose it to destruction or damage in the event of armed convict; and by refraining from any act of hostility directed against such property. 2. The obligations mentioned in paragraph 1 of the present Article may be waived only in cases where military necessity imperatively requires such a waiver.

3. The High Contracting Parties further undertake to prohibit, prevent and, if necessary, put a stop to any form of theft, pillage or misappropriation of, and any acts of vandalism directed against, cultural property. They shall refrain from requisitioning movable cultural property situated in the territory of another High Contracting Party. 4. They shall refrain from any act directed by way of reprisals against cultural property. 5. No High Contracting Party may evade the obligations incumbent upon it under the present Article, in respect of another High Contracting Party, by reason of the fact that the latter has not applied the measures of safeguard referred to in Article 3 ".

As you probably know, the United States has never signed The Hague Treaty of 1954:

Nevertheless, as the last citation indicates, in times of war the United States has generally observed the terms of the 1954 Hague Treaty. And,
surely, no enlightened, fair-minded American would possibly attempt to defend the position that the sacking of the Iraq National Library and the Iraq National Museum are tolerable, let alone justifiable, events.

The Pentagon received repeated warnings from Professor McGuire Gibson, Chairman of its own committee of archaeological and cultural advisers on Iraq, that this kind of pillage was likely to occur. It apparently chose to ignore them. Dispatch of even a token guard by the US Marines or Army would have prevented these outrages.

The blistering messages of criticism from around the world attacking the US government for standing idly by while the collections of the Iraq National Library and Museum were stolen promise to put an indelible stain on the otherwise welcome overthrow of the tyrant Saddam Hussein. It may well also endanger American participation in a wide range of international programs in the area of cultural heritage.

As my representatives to the Senate, I therefore call upon you to do two things:

1) urge an immediate, formal Senate investigation of the events surrounding the sacking of the Iraq National Library and the Iraq Archaeological Museum with a view to ascertaining American responsibilities, if any, and what might be done, even now, to recover the cultural treasures of the Iraqi people;

2) urge the Senate to ratify The Hague Treaty for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954).

Sincerely yours,
Zoe Selengut

#189 ::: Comrade Ogilvy ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2003, 10:30 PM:

I've seen claims here and elsewhere that the Geneva Convention makes the coalition forces responsible for the looting of the museum and destruction of the library. Does anyone know what article(s) in the Geneva Convention say this? I've been working through the GC here, and so far I've found:

Article 53: Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.

Article 64: The penal laws of the occupied territory shall remain in force, with the exception that they may be repealed or suspended by the Occupying Power in cases where they constitute a threat to its security or an obstacle to the application of the present Convention. Subject to the latter consideration and to the necessity for ensuring the effective administration of justice, the tribunals of the occupied territory shall continue to function in respect of all offences covered by the said laws.

The Occupying Power may, however, subject the population of the occupied territory to provisions which are essential to enable the Occupying Power to fulfil its obligations under the present Convention, to maintain the orderly government of the territory, and to ensure the security of the Occupying Power, of the members and property of the occupying forces or administration, and likewise of the establishments and lines of communication used by them.

So, the Convention says that the occupying power may not destroy property except when militarily necessary, and that the penal laws of the occupied territory remain in force. As far as I can see, it does not make the occupying power responsible for property destroyed by the people of the occupied territory (or by the defending power, if it turns out to be some kind of Baathist sabotage (which I doubt)). It also does not seem to make the occupying power responsible for enforcing the laws of the occupied territory. As pointed out in the Robert Fisk article above, the Convention prohibits pillage; however, the coalition forces aren't the ones pillaging (so I guess the looters are violating the Geneva Convention?).

Is there another article that covers what has happened to the museum and library in Baghdad?

#190 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 12:07 AM:

Prior to the invasion, I heard bits and pieces from one quarter or another, worried about the probable effects of a foreign incursion into Iraq, and what that would mean, not only to the existing museums, but to archaelogical sites not yet uncovered or properly identified.

As the days went by, and tanks and other armoured vehicles rambled northward from Kuwait, I could not dismiss from my mind visions of ancient dwellings crushed to dust beneath the weight of all that rolling ironmongery.

All those brick bits, all those posts and lintels leading from one unknown room to the next.

And all those vases. Yes, Mr Rumsfeld, there were that many vases, and thousands more besides. Vases, being a basic storage method for centuries, were made day in and day out, and all created by the hands and minds of people who were very probably bored with making yet another vase, and who alleviated their boredom through playing with shapes, and sizes, and the little decorative bits around the rims, people who had at the least the sense god gave a bower bird. People who told stories etched around their vases, using dyes and paints and differenced clays, pressing and embossing shapes with their fingers or twigs or convenient broken bits lying around the room, the room they entered from another room now buried, leading off from a street now twisted beneath sand and heavy armour, in a city whose name I now may never know.

#191 ::: Duckman GR ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 02:31 AM:

k, remember that line from bush when he ascended to the throne, "the adults are in charge?" cheney, bush, rumsfeld et al are the adults, don't you know.

I was sneering at one of my co-workers today when my boss walked in. I leaned forward against my desk and smirked at him, saying "good morning, heh heh" I felt very adult, just like the resident.

Another point. Here in San Diego we just had a man convicted of murder for causing the death of a woman. The woman was broadsided by a police cruiser in pursuit of the convicted man. The man, not the policeman, was held responsible for the death. Insofar as we, the United States, are the aggressor in this war, particularly in light of the spectacular lack of WMD's that formed the underlying rationale for this war (I guess, if you can find an underlying rationale (underlying as in crawled out from under a rock) for this war through the term papers and bouncing ball justifications changing daily) then you have to figure that we bear responsibility for the consequences of the war, forseen or not.

That's what real adults do, they take responsibility for their actions. Has bush done that for anything in his whole life? What did he say about his DUI when it was way belatedly brought up, I wanted to protect my daughters, or some such assinine comment. Yeah, shielding them from reality really helped their development, didn't it!? How much are they spending on the 9/11 investigation, $3 mill, and how much did they spend on an oral sex investigation?

Garn, it's only fools who suffer fools gladly.

Duckman Gregg

#192 ::: RHJnr ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 06:47 AM:

Y, TtsDll, cpl pntrs y lt slp pst y:

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#193 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 06:47 AM:

[repost of a post of mine on the military newsgroup]

Regarding Looter and Such

My views on looters were -very- heavily shaped by Andre Norton's books, with the Zacathans trying to investigate and preserve and search for knowledge among the potshards of civilizations; the "smash and grab" jackers looting and destroying the provenance (not a word used in her books that I was reading as a child, but one I learned much later as an adult) of the artifacts and breaking up artifacts to pry out gemstones and metals, destroying their unique cultural ties of importance and context; the poeple who often didn't know/care, or who looked only for their own interests and comfort; the people who were just trying to get by, selling off heritage for survival; those who -enjoyed- destroying for the sake of destruction.... thinking of books
like _The Zero Stone_, _Ordeal in Otherwhere_, and others which I can't recall the names of, with Salariki in them and the Thieves' Guild collecting rare objects, artifacts where the protagonists had the choice to take the
personally less risky path and let the thieves and looters have their way, break up the objects into components and destroy them as artifacts, let
the cultural heritage be destroyed, loot dead worlds without concern for how the civilizations rose and fell and what their arts were.

One of sequels to the Zero Stone, where Kip stood on a dead world, accompanied by Eet, a Zacathan, and the looter-inclined pilot, by a tray of objects, left unfinished in the collapse of that world and civilization, and tripping the process to start that once upon a time, may have created Zero stones..... and something he didn't expect happened.... the pilot afterward asked about
"treasure" -- the Zacathan replied that there was treasure -- but the treasure the Zacathan meant, wasn't gold or silver or gemstones, but rather, a dead civilization's knowledge, to be mined by seekers of knowledge, and rewarded with the knowledge of that civilization -- that knowledge, not physical riches, was the greatest and most valuable treasure...

And that is part of what is so horrible to me about the pillaging and devastation of the Iraq Museume and the Iraq National Library -- that loss of knowledge -- and the knowledge that the leadership of the country I am a citizen of,
was so completely unconcerned about it, that they didn't -value- it, despite the pleadings of those whose work is history and the study of civilization, enough to bother making and implementing plans for protection the fragile
remnants of thousands of years of human civilization, and the indexing and information providing the context of those remnants, and the work of all those people who spent their lives in study and research and excavation and careful reconstruction and translation.

I do not excuse the looters, the pillagers, the plunderers, the sophisticated smash and grab thieves going for the highest valued pieces with the highest market value or the most atraction as personal trophies to relish, but I also don't excuse those who did nothing to prevent the pillaging and looting and thievery and destruction, and who so peevishly whined about how unimportant the looting ought to be considered....

I don't consider it unimportant and minor and dismissable. And those who peevishly want it overlooked, are those who don't -care-. Did Bush and Rumsfeld express the slightest bit of regret in their communications when confronted by reporters about the looting of the Iraq Museum about the loss of knowledge and heritage? Was there any admission on their part that there
was anything contained within that Museum, or the National Library, that was -worth- protection and had any value as world heritage? They acted
as though it were less an offense than adolescents in the USA out partying too loudly and getting drunk! They didn't act contrite, or be willing to acknowledge any culpability, or anything done wrong on their part, at least not for the first several days of the looting! They didn't regard the devastation by mob looting as tragic or deplorable, or as anything that
they -should- have acted to avert, or stopped... and that angers me as much as the looting, that they facilitated it, the country I am a citizen of, -enabled- the destruction two of the greatest archives in the world -- and the leadershp was PEEVISH about being questioned on it!


#194 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 06:48 AM:

Ralph Jr--

I don't know who "TootsieDoll" is (missed that handle) but I'll field the questions. In order:

1). Yes, the antiquities belong to the Iraqi people. All of them. Not just who grabs them first. You are not allowed to take books from the Public Library in this country and sell them at the fleamarket to buy crack, so why should it be any different in Iraq?
2). If you see the Iraqis on TV, none of them look to be starving. Why do they need to buy food for their children if people are giving it to them? There was an elaborate food program in place under Saddam, and there's food being distributed now.
2). (2B, actually) The currators did lock the items away someplace safe. They put it in the museum vaults. Unfortunately, vault doors are not impervious, and statues too large to go in the vaults had their heads cut off by looters.
3). Well, if you're afraid that the Baathists grabbed a few things before they left, wouldn't it have been much easier to catch them if the rest of the collection and the card catalog were intact? If you wanted to indict the Baathists of antiquities theft, keeping the collection intact would have been the best move.
4). The children released from prison are free--I'm happy about that. No weeping. I didn't weep for the urns either, because I expected something bad to happen to the museum. I was expecting a pitched gunbattle inside, but this was worse, though still the same net result. So yes, I did weep half as hard for the children as I did for the urns. Half of zero is zero.

However, I did weep today about the libraries. Two of them, both torched. I didn't expect that.

The fact that my government is responsible for that, let it happen in my name....

If there is any poetry in justice, Rumsfeld's head will one day encounter a large antique vase knocked from its pedestal....

#195 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 07:38 AM:

I'm still waiting to hear from "librarian" Laura Bush and "culture promoter" Lynne Cheney.

#196 ::: aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 09:06 AM:

It keeps on getting worse; today's news reports that the Iraqi Ministry of Religious Affairs - home to all of those lovingly hand-copied Korans from the 'Abbasid era - burned down, as well.

#197 ::: --k. ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 10:05 AM:

Comrade Ogilvy:

I did not state that the Geneva Convention held the Occupying Power responsible for any looting or damage wrought by the populace. Nor do I think anyone here is holding them directly responsible for that looting; that's a failure of logic that I'm seeing again and again in responding to this tragedy (this tragedy being what we mean when we point to this tragedy; if you think it's only the libraries and museums we're talking about, well, that's a failure of empathy, there): assuming that one must be directly responsible, that one's hands must themselves be dirty, to bear any responsibility at all for the matter.

My point was that the Geneva Convention specifies that the Occupying Power is responsible for maintaining order in the territory they've occupied. I browse it this morning over coffee and discover that isn't true--at least, not in those measures indicated to be in effect up to one year after the end of the conflict. Apologies to all and sundry. The Geneva Convention is full of provisions dictating how an Occupying Power must go about maintaining order, but nowhere is the responsibility to actually do so explicitly laid at their feet.

I shall be snarky and assume this is because none of the drafters of the Convention ever imagined an Occupying Power who would claim to have occupied a territory and yet claim to be unable to maintain order. --This really is a brand new kind of war, isn't it.

The Hague Treaty, though unsigned by us, our own Lieber Code, over a hundred years of attempts to constrain and civilize war, and the weight of international opinion do make that responsibility quite explicit, however. Any one of them will do nicely; any one of them will be as easily ignored.

#198 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 10:51 AM:

Kip, if the law spells out in detail how something is to be done, and likewise specifies who is responsible for doing it, it's not necessary to have a separate bit saying that the responsible party has to do it. Where the actor and the action are specified, the agency is assumed. It takes a deliberate misreading to interpret it otherwise: "Yes, it's specified that this geometrical figure is composed of sides a, b, and c, and angles x, y, and z, but the specs never say that it has to be a triangle."

If the law contemplated the possibility that the required actions would be undertaken through the agency of some mysterious third party, it would of course say so. And what an interesting piece of language that would be.

#199 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 10:52 AM:

But I'll bet you knew all that.

#200 ::: Ken Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 10:54 AM:

Just noting for the record that both Glenn Reynolds ( and today's Wall Street Journal editorial page appear to absolve the US from any responsibility in the lootings, sackings, and burnings.

They seem to be following the line put forward in Slate yesterday ( any looting done is FAR less serious than what Sa-Dam did.

And here I've always been told that only liberals are relativists.

#201 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 10:57 AM:

I hope this subject hasn't been commented (and squabbled over) to the point that fewer people are keeping track. (Seems like the remarks are still going strong!) At any rate, it was only today that a very apposite political cartoon came out in the San Francisco Chronicle: noting that Iraq's museums aren't the only heritage being trashed by our politicos.

#202 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 11:38 AM:

I wrote: I suspect there will soon be a post from "Y r ll mrns" just above mine...

There used to be a post there from a troll ID'd as "You are all morons" - it's been removed, rather than disemvowelled. This is good, but I didn't want anyone to think I was slamming Paul (whose post is NOW just above the one I referred to) in some way.

#203 ::: Madeline ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 01:04 PM:

Re: Kevin's lastest post... ...And may this Rumsfeld-crushing vase prove to be a fake. Amen.

The destruction of the National Museum has left me distraught. I've actively despised the 17th century Turks and Venetians who between them blew up the Parthenon-- and as someone upthread pointed out, this is much worse.

There are a couple of points I don't think have seen enough play yet, though. First, one of the biggest drawbacks of this war on Iraq was that it would piss off the Islamic world, breeding new hatred of America, and thus encouraging terrorism. Do the Iraqis care deeply about the history of the land where they live? I think it's a fair assumption that they do. Are they going to be furious we stood by while it was shattered? Yes. Is the rest of the Islamic world taking note of the Bush administration's frivolous, wretched contempt? Yes.

Flavor quote from a Robert Fisk article:

Only a few weeks ago, Jabir Khalil Ibrahim, the director of Iraq's State Board of Antiquities, referred to the museum's contents as "the heritage of the nation". They were, he said, "not just things to see and enjoy - we get strength from them to look to the future. They represent the glory of Iraq".

Once this war began, the best thing for America would be for it to be painless and swift. But despite crystal-clear communication of archaeologists with the Pentagon, we blew it. Aside from fucking the common heritage of humanity in the long run, we're fucking ourselves in the short run.

Belatedly, the administration notices this, and sends Colin Powell out to say that we will take a leading role in attempting to restore the artifacts. Point this out the next time the Republicans claim to be the party of fiscal responsibility. Which would use fewer taxpayer dollars: stationing 25-some soldiers in the museum for a month or so to make sure the billions of dollars worth of artifacts remain collected and intact; or buying the shards back bit by bit, distributing lists of missing pieces, paying investigators and restorers, prosecuting looters...?

From a London Times article, heartrending because it speaks in greater depth about what has been lost:

Another irreplaceable treasure is a small standing sculpture of a bird92s head, made in around 8000BC.

Professor Russell said: 93It92s remarkably sensitive, somewhat humorous. It92s stunningly beautiful. It was found in the hand of a skeleton in a collapsed burnt building. It was something someone went in to save. They were killed trying to save it.94

SHEENA, we should weep for the loss suffered by the Iraqis, humanity, and our own country.

#204 ::: msg ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 02:22 PM:

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#205 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 02:45 PM:

And there was our surrealism moment, I suppose.

The whole Israel question is a fringe benefit and annoyance (though describing it as a foreskin-collecting cult does sound suspiciously like an anti-Semitic paranoid conspiracy screed) but peripheral to the fact that Saddam was an annoying dictator with the audacity to be sitting on top of ridiculous amounts of money the Bush administration wanted. And we couldn't find Osama, and Saddam looks more like Osama than, say, Ariel Sharon.

Which still has very little to do with the sacking of the Iraqi Museum of Antiquities or the burning of the National Library. On topic, please?

#206 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 02:55 PM:

I think we can agree that neither Israel nor Jehovah had anything to do with it.

#207 ::: jbelkin ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 03:06 PM:

'll bt 99% f th stff ws lrd grbbd by th jsm stff (whthr t f grd r lk vr msm whn thy thnk thy r bt t g t wr - y hd th stff!). S, f w srch th hms & cvs f th stff, 'll bt w rcvr 100% f th rl vlbl stff. Y rll shld xmn yr wn prjdcs gnst rbc ppl - jst bcs TV shws y 9 scnds n frnt f n bldng n ct f 5 mlln ppl, y prsm th wrst. Wht hppnd n th lst 60 dys n frnt f tht bldng r vn n th thr 23 hrs, 59 mnts nd 51 scnds f tht dy?

#208 ::: msg ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 03:14 PM:

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#209 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 04:00 PM:

I think "stationing 25-some soldiers in the museum for a month or so" would only have stopped the looting if they had shot the most aggressive of the looters, and the reports suggest that some of them had guns, too. Even setting aside the joyous spin that would be provided by certain news media, this strikes me as a risky idea (and as for the earlier suggestion to use MPs, I just can't see my brother, armed with dog and pistol, being the right guy for that job; not under those circumstances).

Something I'd like to know is how defensible these buildings were in the first place. How big, how many entrances, how far apart, how easy to seal off? Without that, I really can't guess what would be necessary to truly protect them. Does anyone here know?


#210 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 04:22 PM:

Administration people not only said that looting was inevitable, they suggested it was understandable and that they sympathized.

It's not really hard to extrapolate that they aren't all that concerned, at the very least.

kip - OT, and I'm sorry for the digression, all, but does one set a pale? I like that.

#211 ::: Comrade Ogilvy ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 04:24 PM:
My point was that the Geneva Convention specifies that the Occupying Power is responsible for maintaining order in the territory they've occupied. I browse it this morning over coffee and discover that isn't true--at least, not in those measures indicated to be in effect up to one year after the end of the conflict. Apologies to all and sundry. The Geneva Convention is full of provisions dictating how an Occupying Power must go about maintaining order, but nowhere is the responsibility to actually do so explicitly laid at their feet.

Actually, I had this notion in mind when I was reading the Convention, looking for applicable articles. I agree that if the Convention says that the occupying power must maintain order in various particular ways, then that clearly entails that the occupying power must maintain order. I was surprised to find, that it doesn't seem to say that. I see are articles that forbid many kinds of abuse of and interference with civilians and civilian authorities, but none that require the occupying power to maintain order or enforce the laws. The general idea seems to be, "OK, you've invaded, and you can do what you have to do militarily, but don't commit atrocities and don't harm the civilians, infrastructure, or civil institutions." It doesn't say, for example, that the occupying power must supply and cooperate with local police, only that the laws will remain in force and the courts must be allowed to function.

I certainly agree that it would have been better if coalition forces had been able to secure Baghdad in a more orderly way; however, given the overnight evaporation of the Baathist government officials and the prior attacks by irregular forces (which made it very difficult to tell who was an protected civilian and who was an irregular soldier), I'm not sure how the coalition forces could have both (a) quickly spread out over the whole city and (b) protected themselves. One tank parked in a particular spot to deter looters would also be a ripe target for snipers and irregulars.

#212 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 04:47 PM:

Very well, Comrade Ogilvy. Let us temporarily grant for the sake of this argument that if order is magically established in conquered territory, without the agency of those who have conquered it, the terms of the Geneva Convention shall have been met.

You let me know when that happens, okay?

#213 ::: Cassandra Phillips-Sears ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 05:23 PM:

Article Describing some of the things we've lost

Pictures follow below.

Some of these images are from a very useful (and now sad) Mesopotamian information clearinghouse/gallery.

The standing worshippers from Tell Asmar.

The Queen's bull-headed harp. (Two views).

The"Mona Lisa of Nimrud" is the sixth picture down on the side of this site.

Copper Head of Nineveh Ruler.

One of the small figurines from Tell es-Sawwann.

Things from the royal tomb of Ur. The dagger and several helmets are pictured.

The temple procession vase.

The lion-hunt stele.

The Hatra Hercules.

This is probably the clay chariot model.

The statue of Dudu the Scribe.

Warka Head

I couldn't find the bird-head sculpture anywhere.

I really hope that they haven't stolen the statue of the goat caught in the tree...that is one of my favorite sculptures, period. It's got a wonderful sense of humor to it. I'd be devastated.

Is there anyone anywhere, at any university or anything, catalouging and trying to find images of these for the general public? It would be more effective, I think, could people see what we've lost.

One of my friends here who's majoring in Archaeology told me about one of the earliest extant pieces of writing, a tablet detailing harvesting methods from Mesopotamia, and it never ceases to amaze me how the essential stuff of nature has not changed.
This is how I was told it began before going into a detailed description of correct planting times.

Father: You were supposed to help me with the harvesting today, my son. Where are you going?
Son: Out.

#214 ::: --k. ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 05:23 PM:

Hmm, Julia. As usual, my rhetoric outflew my logic. But: perhaps: when the shock of what has been done in one's name leaves one staggering just a little more than before, and has drained that much more blood from one's face, a new pale has been set. --The metaphor would need to be adjusted somewhat to account for variations in skin color and reactions to shock, though. Might other ideas be suggested? I myself think this particular thread is robust enough now to support a subplot, by way of interjecting some contrasting levity.

Comrade Ogilvy: the shortcomings you note cut to the heart of one of the monstrous stupidities and ignorances I think we're railing it in microcosm, here: all along it has been noted by those who know that the force we've used is not enough to take and hold the country. We wanted to pull this megalomaniacal gesture fast and on the cheap; since you can only ever have any two out of the three, it follows we could never hope to do it well. But doing it well was the only chance we ever had of doing any good.

And so, and so, and so. Interesting times are afoot.

(No disrespect at all intended to Spike Jonez, but I wonder what lighthearted action-comedy-buddy-caper pic Bruckheimer will greenlight in 2010 or so, sloughing all this bitching and moaning off with a keenly timed caper pitting some plucky Gulf War I vets against some Ba'athist villains in a race through just-pre-fall-Baghdad to secure some iconic piece of art as Coalition guns blaze in the background. "It'll all end up on eBay, right?" might be the bleakly funny catchphrase. Nicholas Cage will be suitably craggy by then for the Cranky Voice of Experience role, no?)

#215 ::: Comrade Ogilvy ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 05:52 PM:
Very well, Comrade Ogilvy. Let us temporarily grant for the sake of this argument that if order is magically established in conquered territory, without the agency of those who have conquered it, the terms of the Geneva Convention shall have been met.

You let me know when that happens, okay?

Actually, my point was that, as far as I can tell, the terms of the Convention don't require that "order" be established by anyone, and so the coalition forces haven't violated the Convention. So the looting and destruction is not a war crime, and must be dealt with by local officials under the civilian penal laws. (I'm reacting to claims here and elsewhere that the coalition forces violated the laws of war).

To risk an analogy: Country A occupies Country B. Several days after regular B-ian forces abandon their capital, the A-ese forces still haven't finished rooting out resistance. On this day, Citizen Z steals Citizen Y's car. It appears that the Geneva Convention (assuming I'm not missing something) does not assign the blame for this crime to Country A or B, but leaves it under the rubric (or do I mean aegis?) of civilian penal law.

#216 ::: zpty ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 06:16 PM:

m....nn sn th rprts tht th msm hd bn clsd fr mn yrs? nd tht th mst vlbl pcs wr lkl ltd BFR th wr strtd, tkn by Bthsts? Thn th plc gts "tssd" t mk t lk lk ltng. hrd n NPR pc n th ltng nd th rqs thy tlkd t sd "cn't blv rqs dd ths, t MST HV BN SMN LS". Gd lrd. t mst b nc t lv n wrld whr nthng s VR yr flt. Th rb wrld stll hs n sns f rspnsblty FR NHNG!

#217 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 06:23 PM: wasn't a tragic loss caused by lack of troops or will. We secured the Oil Ministry and oil fields post haste.

It was a DELIBERATE lack of action with the intention of allowing a few criminals (perhaps with a wink and nod or even a shove from the conquering power) to destroy the cultural identity not of a nation, but of a society.

Some may think it will be far easier to control and shape a country stripped of the symbols and artifacts of it's historical pride than one in which any citizen can go visit reminders of their country's or society's importance to the creation and promulgation of civilization.

#218 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 06:32 PM:

According to this article, represented as an eyewitness account by a Swedish "human shield", the US army did not merely ignore the looters, they actually encouraged them for the sake of getting good anti-Saddam images.

- I had visited a few friends that live in a worn-down area just beyond the Haifa Avenue, on the west bank of the Tigris River. It was April 8 and the fighting was so heavy I couldn't make it over to the other side of the river. On the afternoon it became perfectly quite, and four American tanks pulled up in position on the outskirts of the slum area. From these tanks we heard anxious calls in Arabic, which told the population to come closer.

- During the morning everybody that tried to cross the streets had been fired upon. But during this strange silence people eventually became curious. After three-quarters of an hour the first Baghdad citizens dared to come forward. At that moment the US solders shot two Sudanese guards, who were posted in front of a local administrative building, on the other side of the Haifa Avenue.

- I was just 300 meters away when the guards where murdered. Then they shot the building entrance to pieces, and their Arabic translators in the tanks told people to run for grabs inside the building. Rumours spread rapidly and the house was cleaned out. Moments later tanks broke down the doors to the Justice Department, residing in the neighbouring building, and looting was carried on to there.

- I was standing in a big crowd of civilians that saw all this together with me. They did not take any part in the looting, but were to afraid to take any action against it. Many of them had tears of shame in their eyes. The next morning looting spread to the Museum of Modern Art, which lies another 500 meters to the north. There was also two crowds in place, one that was looting and another one that disgracefully saw it happen.

#219 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 06:46 PM:


Don't worry about the goats in the thickets. They're both safe. They were a set from the deathpit of Lady Pu-abi of Ur, and one of them is in the University of Philadelphia museum and the other is in the British Museum. There's an interesting article on the conservation efforts here:

I was reading it a while ago for a poem I wrote on the subject, which has become eerily prophetic, written after the war started, but well before the destruction of the museum:

#220 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 06:49 PM:

Good lord. It must be nice to live in a world where nothing is EVER your fault. The Arab world still has no sense of responsibility FOR ANYTHING!

From zipity (,
posted on April 16, 2003 06:16 PM:

#221 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 07:17 PM:

Julia, what was that supposed to be?

#222 ::: Michael Bernstein ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 07:22 PM:

Doc Searls is proposing a 'barn raising' to help alleviate some of the damage.

#223 ::: Shiloh Bucher ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 09:57 PM:

According to this:
Damage was not as bad as originally reported.
Thefts were likely done before the looting started and done from the inside by employees.

This would really seem to absolve Rummy and Co.

#224 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 09:59 PM:

I was, I guess obliquely, trying to contrast zipity's idea of responsibility with his behavior. It seemed a little unusual for someone who came crashing in 220 or so posts into a conversation anonymously and with a hotmail address to be lecturing the participants on owning one's actions.

There are, I'm sure, better ways of making the point, it's just the one that occurred to me. I'm sorry if I wasn't clear (it's been a long day).

#225 ::: Michael Bernstein ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 10:10 PM:

Shiloh, Please re-post your link.

#226 ::: Shiloh Bucher ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 10:50 PM:

#227 ::: Madeline ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 11:18 PM:

We have eyewitness accounts of smashed artifacts and strewn records. Libraries have burned. Even if the "best" stuff was stolen months ago, the Coalition is still guilty for the horrible further losses that followed their indifference, and for the heightened enmity resulting from that.

J Greely, I don't think anyone would fault our soldiers for shooting back, if a "pocket of resistance" came to them.

Something I forgot last post: hey, the oil is going to be their main source of wealth, so I can't bring myself to feel bitter over its ministry being secured from destruction. I can, because I'm not sure that's true. If we do what we vaguely intimate we will-- if we really fix Iraq right-- then I think tourism may well be the most lucrative source of Iraqi GDP, and certainly the one most likely to help out the Iraqi man-on-the-street. Baghdad certainly tops the list of world capitals I'd like to visit. But how many people will never be lured to Iraq by the thought of seeing artifacts from some of the oldest civilizations on the planet, now that they've been stolen or ground into mud?

#228 ::: Shiloh Bucher ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 11:38 PM:

Apparently only a few artifacts are missing and were probably taken before the Americans entered Baghdad. That would mean that the rest of the 170,000 piece collection is intact. Of the missing pieces, copies remain. The entire Egyptian collection is untouched. Sounds like there's still plenty to lure tourists.

#229 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 12:01 AM:

"I don't think anyone would fault our soldiers for shooting back"

I've seen too much ridiculously slanted news coverage in the past few weeks to have any hope of this. Some pretty trivial events have been spun into tales of American malice and incompetence (setting aside for the moment the upper-level incompetence that's discussed above, which I have no reason to argue with), so I can't believe the same people would pass up such a chance.

Not to mention the ranting you'd see online. :-)


#230 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 12:25 AM:

That would mean that the rest of the 170,000 piece collection is intact.

Intact? When they show broken vases -- huge urns, actually -- and statues with their heads missing on CNN? I think it was also on CNN that someone said that some of the cuneiform tablets that are missing were never translated. How much would we learn about their culture from these tablets that we may now never get to read?

And now the library.

Seshat[1] wept.

[1] Egyptian librarian goddess. (I don't know of any other ancient culture that had one of us as a goddess.)

#231 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 12:55 AM:

International Law issues -- Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Syria... are signed up to this, the USA is semi-signed, never having ratified it
apparently.... lists signatories

Note Article 15 under Chapter 4 below,
Article 15 Serious violations of this Protocol

which includes discussion of:

"Theft, pillage or misappropriation of, or acts of vandalism directed against cultural property protected under the Convention."

Note also Article 18, which includes,

"1. Apart from the provisions which shall take effect in time of peace, the present Convention shall apply in the event of declared war or of any
other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties, even if the state of war is not recognized by one or more of them.

"2. The Convention shall also apply to all cases of partial or total occupation of the territory of a High Contracting Party, even if the said occupation meets with no armed resistance. ...."

Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict
Done at the Hague, 14 May 1954
Entered in force 7 August 1956

Article 2. Organization of control

As soon as any High Contracting Party is engaged in an armed conflict to which Article 18 of the Convention applies:

It shall appoint a representative for cultural property situated in its territory; if it is in occupation of another territory, it shall appoint
a special representative for cultural property situated in that territory;

The Protecting Power acting for each of the Parties in conflict with such High Contracting Party shall appoint delegates accredited to the latter in conformity with Article 3 below;
A Commissioner-General for Cultural Property shall be appointed to such High Contracting Party in accordance with Article 4.

Chapter 2 General provisions regarding protection

Article 5 Safeguarding of cultural property

Preparatory measures taken in time of peace for the safeguarding of cultural property against the foreseeable effects of an armed conflict pursuant to Article 3 of the Convention shall include, as appropriate, the preparation of inventories, the planning of emergency measures for protection against fire or structural collapse, the preparation for the removal of movable
cultural property or the provision for adequate in situ protection of such property, and the designation of competent authorities responsible for the safeguarding of cultural property.

Article 6 Respect for cultural property....

"Article 8 Precautions against the effects of hostilities

The Parties to the conflict shall, to the maximum extent feasible:

remove movable cultural property from the vicinity of military objectives or provide for adequate in situ protection;
avoid locating military objectives near cultural property.

Article 9 Protection of cultural property in occupied territory

Without prejudice to the provisions of Articles 4 and 5 of the Convention, a Party in occupation of the whole or part of the territory of another Party shall prohibit and prevent in relation to the occupied territory:

any illicit export, other removal or transfer of ownership of cultural property;

any archaeological excavation, save where this is strictly required to safeguard, record or preserve cultural property;
any alteration to, or change of use of, cultural property which is intended to conceal or destroy cultural, historical or scientific evidence.
Any archaeological excavation of, alteration to, or change of use of, cultural property in occupied territory shall, unless circumstances do not permit, be carried out in close co-operation with the competent national authorities
of the occupied territory.

Chapter 3 Enhanced Protection

Article 10 Enhanced protection

Cultural property may be placed under enhanced protection provided that it meets the following three conditions:

it is cultural heritage of the greatest importance for humanity;
it is protected by adequate domestic legal and administrative measures recognising its exceptional cultural and historic value and ensuring the highest level of protection;
it is not used for military purposes or to shield military sites and a declaration has been made by the Party which has control over the cultural property, confirming that it will not be so used.


Chapter 4 Criminal responsibility and jurisdiction

Article 15 Serious violations of this Protocol

1. Any person commits an offence within the meaning of this Protocol if that person intentionally and in violation of the Convention or this Protocol commits any of the following acts:

making cultural property under enhanced protection the object of attack;

using cultural property under enhanced protection or its immediate surroundings in support of military action;

extensive destruction or appropriation of cultural property protected under the Convention and this Protocol;

making cultural property protected under the Convention and this Protocol the object of attack;

Theft, pillage or misappropriation of, or acts of vandalism directed against cultural property protected under the Convention.

2. Each Party shall adopt such measures as may be necessary to establish as criminal offences under its domestic law the offences set forth in this
Article and to make such offences punishable by appropriate penalties. When doing so, Parties shall comply with general principles of law and international law, including the rules extending individual criminal responsibility to persons other than those who directly commit the act.


Article 18. Application of the convention

1. Apart from the provisions which shall take effect in time of peace, the present Convention shall apply in the event of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties, even if the state of war is not recognized by one or more of them.

2. The Convention shall also apply to all cases of partial or total occupation of the territory of a High Contracting Party, even if the said occupation meets with no armed resistance.

3. If one of the Powers in conflict is not a Party to the present Convention, the Powers which are Parties thereto shall nevertheless remain bound by it in their mutual relations. They shall furthermore be bound by the Convention, in relation to the said Power, if the latter has declared that it accepts the provisions thereof and so long as it applies them.

#232 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 03:02 AM:

Sorry, Shiloh. Not believable. We have too many first-person accounts of the looting and vandalism, some of them accompanied by photographs or videotape. We have photos, descriptions, and videotapes of the museum galleries and vaults afterward. The reports come from Iraqis and Americans and all manner foreign journalists.

I'm sorry. I'd like to believe the collection escaped damage. But the practical, down-to-earth evidence says otherwise.

#233 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 03:18 AM:

Teresa's right, Shiloh. If you read the article, you'll note that they didn't interview anyone who was there when the looting occurred, just a high level minister who came their after. The curators gave a more accurate scoop.

New article here on Salon:

#234 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 03:21 AM:

Salon's done a double-feature on the sacking of the museum:

#235 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 09:24 AM:

This doesn't excuse what happened or who is to blame, but it cheered me a little bit, perhaps because it reads a little like a Ray Bradbury vignette:

Look at it from the point of view of the average Sumerian golden harp. Some artisan created you around 2,900 B.C. for Queen Shub-Ad of Ur. You adorned the palace for a few years. Then, with the queen92s demise, you were shut up in her tomb, along of course with her harpist. (Not much point sending the queen to the next world with a harp if there was no one to play it for her!) There you languished in silence and darkness for 48 centuries or so, while empires rose and fell on the land that concealed you.

Eventually along came Sir Edward Woolley to dig you up. You were dusted off, admired, sketched, photographed, and finally placed in a glass case at the National Museum of newly independent Iraq. There you sat for 70 years 97 the blink of an eye by your standards 97 until, during the American occupation of 2003, a low-level employee of the Museum, seeing his chance in the chaos of occupation, smashed the case, stuffed you into a sack and took you home.

You were hidden on a high shelf in this man92s wardrobe for some months, till things settled down and contacts with the outside world resumed. Then your custodian92s old boss from the museum came calling, and in a rather roundabout conversation over coffee and hummus hinted that he was in touch with several collectors in foreign countries eager to locate vanished exhibits from the museum, and that if your custodian knew of any such, it would be worth his while to pass on the information, in strict confidentiality of course. Some transactions ensued, as a consequence of which you found yourself on display behind glass again, this time in the Zfcrich town house of a Swiss investment banker.

The banker92s family enjoyed three generations of wealth and security. Then, in the great European disorders of the later 21st century, they had to run for their lives to the U.S.A., taking whatever they could carry. Arriving penniless, they sold the harp at auction, and it was acquired by a museum in Houston, Texas...

I once knew a man in London who collected beautiful things 97 paintings, antiques, fine old furniture. His attitude to those things was, so far as I am concerned, definitive. 93I don92t really own these things,94 he would say. 93I92m just taking care of them. After a while I will pass on. Then someone else will acquire them, and they will take care of them...94 So it will be with the Iraqi collection. Saddam Hussein owned this treasure trove for a while. He was hardly a fit person, though, and the pieces have now been scattered to new owners. I suppose that by the vagaries of fate, some will be lost or destroyed, but I am sure most will surface again in the slow churning of time. Time, after all, is what 5,000-year-old objects have plenty of.

#236 ::: Reg ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 12:02 PM:

I hope the damage is less than has been feared and that as many artifacts as possible are recovered.

I'm sorry if by saying "the Iraqui people" I implied "a faceless mass" or a "hive-mind." But how would one describe the people who are carrying out the destruction? "Thousands of local people?" Perhaps that would have been better. My point was only that it was not coalition troops who were committing the crimes, but people who were from the area.

I was being naive, and imposing my own template of what museums, libraries, and hospitals were like in my own experience on the structures that bore those names in Iraq.

This has been a great thread. I've been challenged, informed, pissed-off, entertained, saddened, and inspired. I'm glad I wandered over here, and now I'm wandering away. Thanks, all.

#237 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 12:57 PM:

Lois!!! Thank you!!! I always wondered who the goddess of libraries was...not to mention of reading and writing. I'm adding Seshat to my worship-list, right now.

Again, thanks.

#238 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 02:56 PM:


Apologies on the earlier good news about the Ram in the Thicket.

Either it's false reportage, or there was a third of the statuettes in the Iraqi Museum, in addition to the British Museum copy and the University of Philadelphia's:

Dr Eleanor Robson, a member of the council of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq, said: "The looting of the Iraq Museum is on a par with blowing up Stonehenge or ransacking the Bodleian Library. For world culture, it is a global catastrophe." Among the many treasures that have vanished, perhaps for ever, are a solid gold harp from the Sumerian era, the sculptured head of a woman from the Sumerian city of Uruk, a Ram in the Thicket statue from Ur, stone carvings, gold jewellery, tapestry fragments, ivory figurines of goddesses, friezes of soldiers, ceramic jars and urns.

That's reported here:

#239 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 03:55 PM:

We've lost one of the Ram in the Thicket statues, as well as the harp? Excuse me, I need to go off and grieve for a while.

I can't bear to ask just yet about the gold-and-lapis bull's head, the one with the plaque decorated with funny animal cartoons. It's such funny, lively, primordially human art.

#240 ::: Cassandra Phillips-Sears ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 05:03 PM:

Thank you, Kevin...

#241 ::: Karin ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 05:24 PM:

From the WashPost: "Citing 'the wanton and preventable destruction' of Iraq's National Museum of Antiquities, the chairman of the President's Advisory Committee on Cultural Property has submitted his resignation to President Bush. Another of the committee's nine members is also resigning over the issue."

Full story here.

#242 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 06:05 PM:

Sorry it was such sad news, Cassandra.

Worse, I think I saw mention in one of the other articles I was reading that the bull-headed lyre, with the funny animal cartoons, was also part of the Iraqi losses. I'll search around to make sure.

About the only thing on a positive note is this:

If I were east-coast based, I'd be going to it. If anyone else is local and wants to report, I'd be grateful.

Looting of the Iraq National Museum: The Museum Community Responds

Special Public Briefing at the
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
3260 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Friday, May 9 at noon and Saturday, May 10 at 2 p.m.
RSVP requested: 215/898-2680

The land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, ancient Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq, is often called "the cradle of civilization." Much of the long and impressive archaeological record of this region's rich cultural and artistic history resided in the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad--until the tragic looting that took place in mid-April.

Dr. Richard Zettler offers a public update on the looting of the National Museum of Iraq, and the ongoing response of the international community of Museum directors, curators, archaeologists, scholars and others committed to minimizing the loss of Iraq's cultural treasures, and assisting with the return of stolen artifacts. Returning from London and an emergency meeting coordinated by the British Museum and UNESCO (the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization), he will share what steps are being taken, planned, and considered by the international museum community.

Associate Curator-in-Charge of the Near East Section, University of Pennsylvania Museum, Dr. Zettler is familiar with the National Museum of Iraq and its treasures, having spent six months researching at the Museum's collections in Baghdad while writing his dissertation in 1978-79. He has excavated at the site of Nippur, in Iraq (where UPM archaeologists conducted their first excavations in the late 1800s), as well as Umm al-Hafriyat and dce7 Tepe, and has been directing excavations at the 3rd millennium B.C. site of Tell es-Sweyhat in Syria since 1989. He is co-curator of UPM's nationally-traveling exhibition, "Treasures of the Royal Tombs of Ur," which features world-famous ancient Sumerian artifacts, circa 2550 B.C., excavated at the Iraqi site of Ur by the University of Pennsylvania Museum and the British Museum in the late 1920s--early 1930s.

#243 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 06:14 PM:


I'm sorrier to hear that than I can say.

#244 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 06:16 PM:

I suppose that means the Standard of Ur is gone too?

#245 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 06:30 PM:

Okay, slight good news. The bull-headed lyre with the funny animal cartoons is known as the "great lyre" and was part of a touring exhibition in 2000, which means it has to be part of the University of Philadelphia collection, since it's highly unlikely that anything would have been allowed out of Iraq at that time, at least not to the US.

Article on the exhibition here:

There were, however, several other bull-headed lyres from Ur (it's a popular motif; even in the cartoons on the great lyre, the ass is playing a lyre that's also a living bull), so it would be one of those lesser lyres from the Iraqi collection that was stolen.

Looking at the illustrations, they make me think that the story of the Bremen Town Musicians must go back an awful long time. I'm guessing they're characters from a popular fairytale along the same lines.

I'm also vaguely disturbed in that I have archaeological proof that cute anthropomorphic furry artwork was not invented in the modern era, and artist friends who argue about digitigrade feet needn't. They're right there on the great lyre.

And I'm scheduled for Confurence in a couple weeks, mixed with a trip to Disneyland.

Lady Pu-abi, fangirl of Ur....

Our tribe's been around for a while.

#246 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 06:41 PM:

Don't know if this will cheer anyone up, but three news items that I've seen this afternoon are related to this thread and may be of interest:
Expert Thieves Pillaged Iraqi Museums
US Culture Advisers Resign Over Iraq Museum Looting
and FBI Helping to Find Stolen Iraq Treasures

This is how the FBI is helping:

" . . . FBI agents in Iraq are assisting in criminal investigations and in finding items stolen when the Baghdad museums were looted. The FBI is also putting alerts on the international police network about the stolen pieces and scanning the Internet to see if any are advertised for sale."

#247 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 07:14 PM:

Good news.

The "funny animal picture" lyre is the Great Lyre. That's in the University of Pennysylvania collection. Safe.

There's a similar lyre with more people and animals, but no anthropomorphics. That's called the Queen's Lyre, and it's at the British Museum.

The British Museum also hasthe Standard of Ur.

The bull-headed harp that was taken must have been one of the other ones from the Ur collection that remained with the Iraqi museum.

#248 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2003, 12:56 AM:

Yes. Thank you. Very good news.

#249 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 05:01 AM:

The FBI -- the same outfit that gave James "Whitey" Bulger and his buddies a license to extort and lie and murder and protected them for years, and when they finally put him on the Ten Most Wanted List, somehow always came up short finding him -- finding out where he'd been just too late every time, and then Congress started asking questions about how/why the FBI dealt with this murdering sociopath and protected him all those years -- and Bush and Ashcroft squelched that with a Presidential Order putting FBI records offlimits for investigation into....

Talk about sordid and corruption, four people were sentenced to death row in Boston, two of them died in prison on the life sentence, and the other two were released after three decades of jail for a murder committed by one of the FBI's protected associates of Bulger, whose testimony, which the FBI KNEW was false!, brought about the verdict of guilty of first degree murder, sentenced to die in the electric chair. The sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment -- the death penalty having been put into suspension in the state.

Anyway, the FBI has somehow avoided finding Mr Bulger ever since he was tipped off about the FBI deciding to go after him and cease protecting him.... talk about chump organizations, Bulger certainly did it to the FBI -- but he had inside help. And Mr Bush and Mr Ashcroft are among them....

#250 ::: Lucy Anne ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2003, 04:37 PM:

Hi Teresa:
I think this link should work: if not, let me know and I'll cut and paste it full text.

And thanks to everyone here for making me feel a little less alone in my opinions (and putting those opinions into words better than I ever could.)


HANNAH HOAG, Historians pool resources to halt trade in Iraq's stolen treasures", Nature, Volume 422 No. 6934, 24 April 2003, p789

#251 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2003, 08:56 PM:

It appears that US soldiers and Fox News employees have now joined the ranks of gleeful Iraqi looters. I'm particularly amused about the Fox New business.

None of the US soldier and Fox News looting so far has been antiquities, but oil paintings from palaces, knives and gold plated guns. Stuff from the home-shopping network for the extremely rich and tasteless. Oh yes, along with $900,000 in US currency.

#252 ::: Karin ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2003, 11:12 AM:

A possible glimmer of hope from the WashPost:

BAGHDAD, April 23 -- The blue Kia minivan rolled through the guarded gates of the National Museum of Antiquities early this afternoon, loaded with a precious cargo of metals and minerals: a bronze relief from the 4th century B.C. swathed in yellow foam padding, antique farm implements, an elaborately engraved marble slab wrapped in plastic, a decapitated statue of an Assyrian king.

Also inside the van was Namir Ibrahim Jamil, a 33-year-old Iraqi pianist who said that 11 days ago he watched in horror as looters ransacked the museum, hauling away as much of Iraq's tangible legacy as they could carry. He said he decided to do the same -- not to seek a fortune on the black market, but to hide the antiquities in his house until it was safe to return them.

#253 ::: kla. ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2003, 07:53 PM:

When I heard the news, I thought, like others did, of the history lost when the library at Alexandria burned.
When I watched a history program some weeks back, I and the person viewing with with me were furious with the people who let the library burn.
That was, golly, an awfully long time ago, wasn't it? But people who care feel the loss of the library still. I have a feeling those currently in office and devising policy for this war and occupation could not have cared less about Alexandria. They probably would have to be reminded of the library, some of them.
Hundreds of years from now, people who care about culture and history will be furious with the Iraqis and those invaders who allowed this rape of history to happen.
I am sickened and furious. I am thankful I believe in hell, as I am now positive the odious Mr. Rumsfeld will be there. Karma. Something. Something will hit him and his fellow policymakers. I have to believe this. I have to believe that they will be punished, somehow, for their crime of standing aside.
I have to believe that someone will help, some Iraqi will feel the shame of this looting of thousands of years of history, and help us to recover some of what was lost.
To think otherwise to consider too harsh a reality for me to withstand. It's a fantasy, perhaps, but it helps me cope. Freud in action, yet again.
I think Jefferson would have pitched a fit if he knew the country he helped to create would let such a thing happen.
Sorry for ranting. As an amateur historian, as a member of the human race, I'm terrifically upset about this.
This, at a time when China is willing to drown its ancient past along the Yangtze for a dam that may not do the job they promised. This, so short a time after the Buddas of Afghanistan were destroyed.

#254 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2003, 09:08 PM:

The Future of Iraq Project did draw up detailed reports, which were eventually released to Congress last month and made available to reporters for The New York Times. The 13 volumes, according to The Times, warned that ''the period immediately after regime change might offer . . . criminals the opportunity to engage in acts of killing, plunder and looting.''

But the Defense Department, which came to oversee postwar planning, would pay little heed to the work of the Future of Iraq Project. Gen. Jay Garner, the retired Army officer who was later given the job of leading the reconstruction of Iraq, says he was instructed by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to ignore the Future of Iraq Project.


Nonetheless, Istrabadi points out that ''we in the Future of Iraq Project predicted widespread looting. You didn't have to have a degree from a Boston university to figure that one out. Look at what happened in L.A. after the police failed to act quickly after the Rodney King verdict. It was entirely predictable that in the absence of any authority in Baghdad that you'd have chaos and lawlessness.''

Read the whole thing here:

#255 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2003, 09:58 AM:

Further from the same article, on the wholly predictable effects of the wholly predictable (and predicted!) looting:

One reason for the looting in Baghdad was that there were so many intact buildings to loot. In contrast to their strategy in the first gulf war, American war planners had been careful not to attack Iraqi infrastructure. This was partly because of their understanding of the laws of war and partly because of their desire to get Iraq back up and running as quickly and smoothly as possible. They seem to have imagined that once Hussein fell, things would go back to normal fairly quickly. But on the ground, the looting and the violence went on and on, and for the most part American forces largely did nothing.

Or rather, they did only one thing -- station troops to protect the Iraqi Oil Ministry. This decision to protect only the Oil Ministry -- not the National Museum, not the National Library, not the Health Ministry -- probably did more than anything else to convince Iraqis uneasy with the occupation that the United States was in Iraq only for the oil. ''It is not that they could not protect everything, as they say,'' a leader in the Hawza, the Shiite religious authority, told me. ''It's that they protected nothing else. The Oil Ministry is not off by itself. It's surrounded by other ministries, all of which the Americans allowed to be looted. So what else do you want us to think except that you want our oil?''

As Istrabadi, the Iraqi-American lawyer from the Future of Iraq Project, says, ''When the Oil Ministry is the only thing you protect, what do you expect people to think?'' And, he adds: ''It can't be that U.S. troops didn't know where the National Museum was. All you have to do is follow the signs -- they're in English! -- to Museum Square.''

For its part, the Hawza could do little to protect the 17 out of 23 Iraqi ministries that were gutted by looters, or the National Library, or the National Museum (though sheiks repeatedly called on looters to return the stolen artifacts). But it was the Hawza, and not American forces, that protected many of Baghdad's hospitals from looters -- which Hawza leaders never fail to point out when asked whether they would concede that the United States is now doing a great deal of good in Iraq. The memory of this looting is like a bone in Iraq's collective throat and has given rise to conspiracy theories about American motives and actions.

''The U.S. thinks of Iraq as a big cake,'' one young Iraqi journalist told me. ''By letting people loot -- and don't tell me they couldn't have stopped the looters if they'd wanted to; look at the war! -- they were arranging to get more profits for Mr. Cheney, for Bechtel, for all American corporations.''

#256 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2003, 03:10 PM:

Modern physics, modern psychology and modern philosophy all disagree with you, Rachael. You might start a lively debate here, but I think I'll just point out that whether perceptions limit reality is an extremely debatable position.


#257 ::: Kris H-J comment spam alert! ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2003, 04:18 PM:

Comment spam alert-- Ms. Pickworth just wants to promote the website in her name.

#258 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2003, 08:33 AM:

Well done, Kris. That was a good trick, making the alert part of your name so it stood out on the "recent comments" list.

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