|This article (published on the
internet on April 14, 2003 by an American source) throws light on the respect
the US government has shown for the cultural heritage of Iraq. As the National
Museum in Baghdad was looted, Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld's attitude
remained nonchalant. Looting, he told us, is an expression of the newly
won "freedom." Under the eyes of members of the US occupation forces,
the art works and historical treasures of Iraq are taken away and smuggled
out of the country, for the benefit of international collectors. The contradiction
between globalization and culture could not be better exposed. While the
one amounts to piracy, the other is condemned to suffer unimaginable damage.
- The Editor of ART IN SOCIETY
Suppose rioters were wrecking an American city, looting
its hospitals and destroying one of the greatest museums in the world.
And imagine if, as this happened, one of the nation's most prominent liberal
officials excused the violence by saying, "Stuff happens," and then, when
pressed, put a happy face on the looting by saying, "It's untidy. And freedom's
untidy. And free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes."
Would it take even 10 minutes for conservatives in Congress
and the media to call for the head of the liberal official? How loudly
would Rush Limbaugh condemn her irresponsibility? How many times would
Sean Hannity blame her for the continued violence? Would Bill O'Reilly
demand that the offending official appear to defend herself on Fox TV?
Would House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, propose a congressional
investigation, removal of the liberal leader, perhaps even criminal prosecution?
No one who has witnessed the faux patriotic policing of
the discourse in recent weeks by America's conservative political and media
elites could possibly doubt that such a response to rioting would send
the yammering yahoos of the right into a frenzy of finger-pointing.
Yet when rioters were tearing up the U.S.-controlled city
of Baghdad last week, Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld responded by saying,
"Stuff happens." Then, echoing statements of other Bush administration
apparatchiks, Rumsfeld described the looting of the city as an "untidy"
display of freedom. In response to questions about the first signs of chaos
in the streets of Baghdad, the Secretary of Defense told Americans that
they were seeing "a spontaneous outburst of the oppressed Iraqi people..."
On the day that Rumsfeld was declaring on live television
that "free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes," rioters
looted the Yarmouk Hospital, carting away not just beds, sheets and medicines
but toilets and the ultrasound scanners. They ransacked the ministries
of education, agriculture, planning, trade industry and information; and
stripped the 10-story Foreign Ministry building down to its carpets. Then
they carried the carpets out to waiting trucks. They emptied the shops
on main retail streets. And they took -- or destroyed -- 170,000 items
from Iraq's National Museum, which had housed a priceless collection of
masterpieces and memorabilia dating back across human history from the
time of the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Sumarians, the Medes, the Greeks
and the Persians.
Marble carvings, stone tablets, clay pots and tablets
containing some of the earliest known examples of writing were destroyed
or stolen. The pillaging of the Baghdad museum represented far more than
an Iraqi loss. John Russell, an archeologist at the Massachusetts College
of Art, described the destruction as a blow to "the world's human history."
Noting that the museum's collection included some of the earliest examples
of mathematics and some of the first legal codes ever written, the British
Museum's Dominique Collon described the damage in Baghdad as "truly a world
Items that survived 7,000 years of human history were
lost last week in a city controlled by forces under the direction of Donald
Rumsfeld. Yet Rumsfeld refused to take any responsibility. "We didn't allow
it," he said. "It happened."
But did it have to happen?
Thousands of the finest soldiers in the world were in
and around Baghdad. They could have protected government buildings, hospitals
and the world's great archeological and historical treasures. (U.S. Defense
Department officials had, months ago, promised top archaeologists from
around the world that such protection would be provided at the museum.)
And everyone agrees they would have had little trouble preventing the looting
of key buildings. "The Americans were supposed to protect the museum. If
they had just one tank and two soldiers nothing like this would have happened,"
said Nabhal Amin, the museum's deputy director.
That U.S. troops, many of whom were within blocks of the
museum, were not given orders to protect is stunning to the world's great
archeologists. "The Baghdad museum is the equivalent of the Cairo Museum,"
said University of Chicago professor McGuire Gibson. "It would be like
having American soldiers 200 feet outside the Cairo museum watching people
carry away treasures from King Tut's tomb or carting away mummies."
But the troops were assigned to other tasks: such as pulling
down a statue of Saddam Hussein for the TV cameras and defending the building
that houses the Iraqi Ministry of, you guessed it, Oil. (A March 25 release
from the Marines described securing Iraq's oil producing regions as "one
of the first objectives of Operation Iraqi Freedom," and Rumsfeld has acknowledged
at press conferences that securing oil wells was a top priority for the
military -- inspiring a headline in the satirical newspaper The Onion that
read: "137 More Oil Wells Liberated for Democracy.") While the Ministry
of Oil was protected, the National Museum was left to the looters.
When U.S. and allied troops took charge of the great cities
of Europe during World War II, they proudly defended museums and other
cultural institutions. They could have done the same in Baghdad. And they
would have, had a signal come from the Pentagon. But the boss at the Pentagon,
Donald Rumsfeld, who had promised to teach the Iraqi people how to live
in freedom, was too busy explaining that rioting and looting are what free
people are free to do.