Monday, April 25, 2005

Jim West on Iraqi Museums....

I don't plan to post much on non-NT issues here, but the problem of antiquities theft and fraud does at least have a ghost of a relationship. I saw that Jim West writes on his Blog:
The BBC carries the story, which begins Saddam Hussein's power had collapsed and the newly arrived US-led coalition forces were unable to prevent a crime against history. Professional smugglers connected to the international antiquities mafia managed to break some of the sealed doors of the Baghdad Museum storage rooms. They looted priceless artefacts such as the museum's entire collection of cylindrical seals and large numbers of Assyrian ivory carvings. More than 15,000 objects were taken. Many were smuggled out of Iraq and offered for sale. US Forces had other things to do besides protect antiquities, and US planners probably didn't even think about Museums being looted until it was pointed out to them by news organizations. War has more than just human casualties. No doubt we have for the most part forgotten the horrible destruction in Germany during the Allied bombings of WW II- as well as the havoc wreaked in France and Britain. High time, isn't it, that "they beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks".
Jim does not appear to permit comments on his blog, so I'll just take a moment here to point out that West is wrong on several points. Archaeologists and museum specialists warned the US long in advance that the museums would be looted. Counterpunch has a good article on the topic. The American Society for Oriental Research has a warning from 2002 on the issue. Googling will turn up others. The US had the troops to secure each one of Iraq's oil wells, but apparently not its archaeological sites and museusms. Further, the permanent shortage of US troops in Iraq was a deliberate policy decision by the Bush Administration and not a result of the exigencies of warfare; the Administration removed Gen. Shinseki from his post as General of the Army after he informed the Administration that they didn't have enough troops, a fact one that anyone could discover by reading this 1995 article in Parameters, the Army War College journal. The failure to protect Iraq's heritage was also a gross violation of the laws of war. In short, the museum was looted because of the incompetence and venality of the Bush Administration, and for no other reason.


Dr. Joseph Ray Cathey said...


Patton once said the first casualty of war is the battle plan. I am not sure that were I running a military campaign that I would be worried about a museum. Now don't get me wrong, I have a Ph.D. in classical Hebrew and Syro-Palestinian archeaology. Yet, in times of war I am not sure that I would send men to protect a museum.

Michael Turton said...

Hi! My attitude is...if you are going to flout world opinion and illegally invade a prostrate nation, it's probably a good idea not to permit the destruction of its cultural artifacts, so as to prevent further negative publicity. We might have been able to make up much lost ground on the negative publicity front had we behaved with more forbearance. War is first and foremost politics.

In my opinion "in time of war" cannot apply here. We're the perps, not the victims. The US has spared cultural sites, or factored them into military decisions, on occasion in the past (sparing Kyoto from bombing during WWII, for example). One should also point out that on many occasions occupying armies have taken steps to remove cultural artifacts during ongoing battles -- the way the Germans removed the library from the monastary of Monte Cassino during the epic battles there in 1944, to prevent its destruction. What was lacking was not resources, but will.


PS: The Patton cite is usually attributed to Helmuth Von Moltke, the 19th century Prussian general: "No plan survives contact with the enemy."