On January 24, 2003, a group of New York-based collectors and dealers; members of an organization called the American Council for Cultural Policy, met with the Bush administration and Pentagon officials.
The purpose of the meeting was to encourage Bush to ignore international laws, by allowing the treasures of ancient Mesopotamia (now Iraq), to fall into the hands of private collectors.
This group of wealthy Americans, had been coveting these prized objects for some time, giving them a commercial value, rather than the historical and religious value bestowed upon them not only by the people of Iraq but indeed anyone seeking to preserve our ancient cultural heritage.
So while George Bush was promising scholars and historians that he would do his utmost to protect the ancient holdings, in the land referred to in archaeological circles as "the cradle of civilization", he had already made a commitment to the American Council for Cultural Policy, that he would make sure they got what they craved.
I mean what good was all that wealth, when they couldn't obtain the unobtainable?
And Bush didn't disappoint. According to Chalmers Johnson (d. 2010):
On April 11, 12, 13, and 14, 2003, the United States Army and United States Marine Corps disgraced themselves and the country they represent in Baghdad, Iraq's capital city. Having invaded Iraq and accepted the status of a military occupying power, they sat in their tanks and Humvees, watching as unarmed civilians looted the Iraqi National Museum and burned down the Iraqi National Library and Archives as well as the Library of Korans of the Ministry of Religious Endowments.During those five years, thieves had stolen at least 32,000 items from some 12,000 archaeological sites across Iraq with no interference from the occupying power.
Their behavior was in violation of their orders, international law, and the civilized values of the United States. Far from apologizing for these atrocities or attempting to make amends, the U.S. government has in the past five years added insult to injury. Donald Rumsfeld, then secretary of defense and the official responsible for the actions of the troops, repeatedly attempted to trivialize what had occurred with inane public statements such as "Democracy is messy" and "Stuff happens." (1)
In 2006, the World Monuments Fund took the unprecedented step of putting the entire country of Iraq on its list of the most endangered sites. The torching of books and manuscripts in the Library of Korans and the National Library was in itself a historical disaster of the first order. Most of the Ottoman imperial documents and the old royal archives concerning the creation of Iraq were reduced to ashes.Notwithstanding the murder of a million people, the destruction and theft of Iraq's archaeological treasures, represents one of the most horrific acts in world history.
... about a million books and ten million documents were destroyed by the fires of April 14, 2003. Robert Fisk, the veteran Middle East correspondent of the Independent of London, was in Baghdad the day of the fires. He rushed to the offices of the U.S. Marines' Civil Affairs Bureau and gave the officer on duty precise map locations for the two archives and their names in Arabic and English, and pointed out that the smoke could be seen from three miles away. The officer shouted to a colleague, "This guy says some biblical library is on fire," but the Americans did nothing to try to put out the flames.
At a conference on art crimes held in London a year after the disaster, the British Museum's John Curtis reported that at least half of the forty most important stolen objects had not been retrieved and that of some 15,000 items looted from the museum's showcases and storerooms about 8,000 had yet to be traced. Its entire collection of 5,800 cylinder seals and clay tablets, many containing cuneiform writing and other inscriptions some of which go back to the earliest discoveries of writing itself, was stolen. (1)
The Smash of Civilizations
In Lawrence Martin's book, Harperland, he reveals that when it comes to foreign policy, our current PM does not see the world as a global community, but as a "clash of civilizations". (2)
Those three words are no lightweights. What they represent is the Neoconservative total war strategy.
However, Chalmers Johnson instead refers to this disgraceful display as a "smash of civilizations", and I think that's a better term. Because "clash" suggests the equality of enemies. And since we are fighting those with fewer and less sophisticated weaponry, it is hardly a fair fight.
And "smash" is a better term to describe the attempted annihilation of not only a religion, but a culture.
Johnson likens the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan to the "total destruction" of ancient Baghdad by the Mongols in AD 1258, under the leadership of Genghis Khan's grandson, Hulagu Khan.
According to historian Steven Dutch:
Iraq in 1258 was very different from present day Iraq. Its agriculture was supported by canal networks thousands of years old. Baghdad was one of the most brilliant intellectual centers in the world. The Mongol destruction of Baghdad was a psychological blow from which Islam never recovered. Already Islam was turning inward, becoming more suspicious of conflicts between faith and reason and more conservative. With the sack of Baghdad, the intellectual flowering of Islam was snuffed out. Imagining the Athens of Pericles and Aristotle obliterated by a nuclear weapon begins to suggest the enormity of the blow. The Mongols filled in the irrigation canals and left Iraq too depopulated to restore them." (3)And it's not too difficult to compare the actions of the allied forces In Iraq to those of the Mongols eight centuries ago.
The Grand Library of Baghdad, containing countless precious historical documents and books on subjects ranging from medicine to astronomy, was destroyed. Survivors said that the waters of the Tigris ran black with ink from the enormous quantities of books flung into the river. Citizens attempted to flee, but were intercepted by Mongol soldiers who killed with abandon .... Ian Frazier of The New Yorker says estimates of the death toll have ranged from 200,000 to a million. The Mongols looted and then destroyed mosques, palaces, libraries, and hospitals. Grand buildings that had been the work of generations were burned to the ground. (3)The Neoconservatives seek to accomplish the same "psychological blow" from which Islam may never recover. This is not simply about oil, but "total destruction", with oil being a benefit, meaning that the West will never be again challenged for the crude in the Middle East.
Iraq, before the Americans put Saddam Hussein in power, was also a thriving country, and Baghdad, one of the most modern cities in the world. But what is it now?
And the "smash' was about more than just the theft and destruction of artifacts. It was something much bigger.
They've ruined the area for future archaeological excavations.
At the six-thousand-year-old Sumerian city of Ur with its massive ziggurat, or stepped temple-tower (built in the period 2112-2095 BC and restored by Nebuchadnezzar 11 in the sixth century BC), the Marines spray-painted their motto, "Semper Fi" (semper fidelis, always faithful) onto its walls. The military then made the monument "off limits" to everyone in order to disguise the desecration that had occurred there, including the looting by U.S. soldiers of clay bricks used in the construction of the ancient buildings.
Until April 2003, the area around Ur, in the environs of Nasiriyah, was remote and sacrosanct. However, the U.S. military chose the land immediately adjacent to the ziggurat to build its huge Tallil Air Base with two runways measuring 12,000 and 9,700 feet and four satellite camps. In the process, military engineers moved more than 9,500 truckloads of dirt in order to build 350,000 square feet of hangars and other facilities for aircraft and Predator unmanned drones.
They completely ruined the area.
On October 24, 2003, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service built its own modern ziggurat. It "opened its second Burger King at Tallil. The new facility, colocated with [a] Pizza Hut, provided another Burger King restaurant so that more servicemen and women serving in Iraq could .. get a whiff of that familiar scent that takes them back home."
... At Babylon, American and Polish forces built a military depot, despite objections from archaeologists. John Curtis, the British Museum's authority on Iraq's many archaeological sites, reported on a visit in December 2004 that he saw "cracks and gaps where somebody had tried to gouge out the decorated bricks forming the famous dragons of the Ishtar Gate" and a "2,600-year-old brick pavement crushed by military vehicles." Other observers say that the dust stirred up by U.S. helicopters has sandblasted the fragile brick facade of the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon from 605 to 562 BC.
... "Between May and August 2004, the wall of the Temple of Nabu and the roof of the Temple of Ninmah, both of the sixth century BC, collapsed as a result of the movement of helicopters. Nearby, heavy machines and vehicles stand parked on the remains of a Greek theater from the era of Alexander of Macedon [Alexander the Great]." (1)
This is not a "clash", but a "smash". A heart wrenching, inhumane attempt to completely destroy an adversary.
I had been going to blog on this after Christmas, thinking that perhaps it wasn't appropriate during this time, but then I realized that there couldn't be a better time. As we share a message of "Peace on Earth and Goodwill Toward Men", we might be reminded for a moment of what those words are supposed to mean.
And this isn't it.
1. Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope, By Chalmers Johnson, Metropolitan Books, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-9303-2, Pg. 40-51
2. Harperland: The Politics of Control, By Lawrence Martin, Viking Press, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-670-06517-2, Pg. 79
3. Battle of Baghdad (1258), Multilingual Archive, Powered by WorldLingo