Destruction of Iraqi Museums

the Arab Krystallnacht

Krystallnacht was a Nazi terror campaign in November 1938 against Jewish culture in Germany. It literally means "Night of Broken Glass," and refers to the countless broken windows of Jewish stores and synagogues all over Germany. Krystallnacht was the transition point between mere harassment and repression of the German Jewish minority by the Nazis, and the shift toward the early stages of the Holocaust.

For the American "Fourth Reich," our Krystallnacht equivalent was the US allowing (helping?) the destruction of priceless museums in Baghdad following the seizure of Iraq. This is not only a loss to the Iraqi people - but an irreplaceable destruction of part of the history of humanity.

'Biggest Cultural Disaster Since 1258', Says Expert
Humberto Márquez

CARACAS, Feb 15 (IPS) - One million books, 10 million documents and 14,000 archaeological artifacts have been lost in the U.S.-led invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq -- the biggest cultural disaster since the descendants of Genghis Khan destroyed Baghdad in 1258, Venezuelan writer Fernando Báez told IPS.
"U.S. and Polish soldiers are still stealing treasures today and selling them across the borders with Jordan and Kuwait, where art merchants pay up to 57,000 dollars for a Sumerian tablet," said Báez, who was interviewed during a brief visit to Caracas.

    Destroying Babylon
    By Dahr Jamail
    Dahr Jamail's Iraqi Dispatches
    Monday 17 January 2005

The Guardian recently reported that "troops from the US-led force in Iraq have caused widespread damage and severe contamination to the remains of the ancient city of Babylon."
The ancient city, south of Baghdad, has been used by U.S. and Polish forces as a military camp during the occupation, despite objections from archaeologists.
A study conducted by archeological experts found cracks and gaps where people had tried to gouge out the decorated bricks forming the famous dragons of the Ishtar Gate, "2,600 year-old brick pavement crushed by military vehicles, archaeological fragments scattered across the site, and trenches driven into ancient deposits."
The story in The Guardian continues:
"Outrage is hardly the word, this is just dreadful," said Lord Redesdale, an archaeologist and head of the all-party parliamentary archaeological group. "These are world sites. Not only is what the American forces are doing damaging the archaeology of Iraq, it's actually damaging the cultural heritage of the whole world."
Tim Schadla Hall, reader in public archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology at University College London, said: "In this case we see an international conflict in which the U.S. has failed to take into account the requirements of the Hague convention ... to protect major archaeological sites - just another convention it seems happy to ignore."
So Babylon is being destroyed. Along with the Iraqi people.
Editorial: Bush's Mark on History
16 January 2005

Babylon was the center of one of the world's great powers. Its famous Hanging Gardens were watered by a hydraulic system which, for its sophistication, could be compared to our advanced space technology today. Four thousand years later, the latest global power, the United States, has come to the land of the Babylonians in modern Iraq, with its own awesome technology and power. Yet it seems to be symptomatic of the profound ignorance which has informed Bush's policy in the Middle East that the US military chose to set up a military depot in the midst of the fragile ruins of ancient Babylon. As a result of this crass decision, immense damage has been caused to the site.
A report yesterday from the British Museum seems at first barely credible. Vast amounts of earth containing tens of thousands of archaeological fragments have been bulldozed into piles to fill up sandbags. Defensive trenches have been dug right through remains. A 2,600-year-old brick pavement has been reduced to dust by tracked military vehicles. Someone has even tried to gouge out the decorated bricks that form part of the dragons on the priceless Ishtar Gate.
Damage to historic monuments in time of war, though deplorable, is sometimes inevitable. But the decision two years ago by the American top brass, during the still relatively peaceful period of the occupation, to establish a base for over 2000 troops in this highly sensitive and historic location is both inexplicable and outrageous. It speaks of the extreme carelessness, bordering upon contempt, with which President Bush embarked upon the United States' mission to change Iraq into a country to its liking. It is quite clear that nobody even thought to consider the ancient history, let alone the modern history, of the country that Washington was invading.
Tragically we now see the consequences at all levels of this total lack of planning for anything other than the overthrow of Iraq and the supply of PX stores and air-conditioned accommodation for the victorious US forces. From the State and Defense departments through to the Pentagon, someone should have been thinking hard about everything that was going to happen when the last of Saddam's army stopped fighting. But nobody was. There was just this vague idea that victorious US forces would enjoy a ticker-tape parade through Baghdad, pack their bags and go home.
This boorish stupidity lies at the heart of Washington's emerging humiliation in Iraq and represents its abject failure to take into account the feeling, fears and interests of the Iraqi people. Yesterday in another example of this woeful neglect, the alleged ringleader of the US guards in Abu Ghraib prison was found guilty of abusing detainees for his amusement. In truth the moral, if not actual, guilt for these crimes goes much higher. It is said again and again that George Bush in his second and final presidential term wants to leave his mark on history. He already has - in the shattered remains of the precious archaeology of Babylon the Great which has fallen to his ignorant and vandal armies.

Copyright:Arab News © 2003 All rights reserved.

Achtung!  Are We the New Nazis?
Soldiers, God and Empire
by Douglas Herman

The barbarism of conquered Baghdad mirrors the Nazi blueprint for dealing with foreign art and culture:  Loot the art and burn the culture.  Yet even The German High command never allowed or conspired in the wholesale eradication of French culture to the degree the American Army appeared to do in Baghdad.  Reporter Robert Fisk stated in an interview, “We claim that we want to preserve the national heritage of the Iraqi people, and yet my own count of government buildings burning in Baghdad before I left was 158, of which the only building protected by the United States Army and the Marines were the Ministry of Interior . . . and the Ministry of Oil.”
  Fisk also noted, “The looting was on a most detailed, precise and coordinated scale . . . and within a few days those priceless heritage items of Iraq’s history (those not destroyed by systematic arson) were on sale in Europe and in America.  I don’t believe that happened by chance.”
  The Nazis, great plunderers of European art, would have been envious of the speed and cohesion of the entire operation.  Understandably, they would have been aghast at the waste, however.


David Vest: It's not the oil, it's the art!


The sacking of Iraq's museums: US wages war against culture and history
The goal of the US military occupation is to impose colonial-style domination over Iraq and seize control of its vast oil resources. It serves the interests of American imperialism to humiliate Iraq and condition its population to submit to the United States and the stooge regime to be established in Baghdad. Attacking the cultural resources that connect the Iraqi people to 7,000 years of history is part of the process of systematically destroying their national identity.
The tragic result is that treasures that survived even the Mongol sack of the city in the 13th century could not withstand the impact of 21st century technology and imperialist barbarism. Bush, Rumsfeld and company personify the new barbarians: a „leader‰ who is himself only semi-literate and wallows in religious backwardness; an administration populated by former corporate CEOs for whom an artifact of ancient Sumer is of more interest as a tax shelter than as a key to the historical and cultural development of mankind.
Published on Monday, April 14, 2003 by the lndependent/UK
US Blamed for Failure to Stop Sacking of Museum
by Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles and David Keys, Archaeology Correspondent

In Iraq itself, art experts and ordinary demonstrators made clear they were far angrier at President George Bush than they were at the looters, noting that the only building US forces seemed genuinely interested in protecting was the Ministry of Oil.

STEPHEN SMITH, ELECTRONIC IRAQ - Heavy suspicion remains that failure of the US to protect heritage sites, more than negligence, was a deliberate oversight designed as a kind of cultural 'shock and awe' that would devastate a sense of shared culture among Iraqis, leaving a blank page for the imprint of the US occupying force and the reconstruction to follow. If proven, this would be cultural genocide not witnessed during this civilization and indeed rarely experienced over the 7,000-year time span of these lost collections.
Among non-embedded journalists, there were doubts raised about the seemingly random nature of the looting. In Baghdad, Robert Fisk observed: "But for Iraq, this is Year Zero; with the destruction of the antiquities in the Museum of Archaeology and the burning of the National Archives and then the Koranic library, the cultural identity of Iraq is being erased. Why? Who set these fires? For what insane purpose is this heritage being destroyed?". . .
Writing in Le Monde diplomatique in November 2002, French writer and critic Jean Baudrillard gives us a theoretical model for understanding the chaos of Baghdad. In this article, "The Despair of Having Everything," his main argument is that: "The West's mission is to make the world's wealth of cultures interchangeable, and to subordinate them within the global order. Our culture, which is bereft of values, revenges itself upon the values of other cultures."
Baudrillard goes on to develop this theme. "The rise of the globalized system has been powered by the furious envy of an indifferent, low-definition culture faced with the reality of high-definition cultures. Envy is what disenchanted systems that have lost their intensity feel in the presence of high-intensity cultures. . . This is a violent expression of repressed feeling about lives in captivity, about sheltered existence, about, in fact, having far too much of existence."

Priceless manuscripts, books go up in smoke
April 16 2003
As the flames engulfed Baghdad's National Library, destroying manuscripts many centuries old, the Pentagon admitted that it had been caught unprepared by the widespread looting of antiquities, despite months of warnings from American archaeologists.
Almost nothing remains of the library's archive of tens of thousands of manuscripts, books, and Iraqi newspapers, according to reports from the scene on Monday.
It joins a list of looting and destruction that already includes the capital's National Museum, one of the world's most important troves of artefacts from the ancient Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian civilisations.
Calling the looting of historical artifacts "a catastrophe for the cultural heritage of Iraq", Mounir Bouchenaki, a deputy director-general of the UN cultural body UNESCO, announced an emergency summit of archaeologists in Paris tomorrow.
The heads of archaeological missions in Iraq from Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United States have been invited to attend the summit, which will provide an initial assessment of the damage.
Mr Bouchenaki said UNESCO planned to send a fact-finding mission to Iraq within two to three weeks, "otherwise everything will be destroyed".
Last weekend, looters ransacked the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad, running off with treasures thousands of years old.
Christopher Walker, the deputy keeper at the British Museum in London, likened the looting to "a bit like what the Taliban did to the Bamiyan statues", which were blown up by Afghanistan's fundamentalist Islamic rulers in 2001.
The Guardian, Agencies