Let the Looting (of Iraq) Begin

Scott Rosenberg’s Links & Comment

But I can’t help thinking about this: While U.S. forces were unable to protect museums in Baghdad (or Mosul, as Salon’s Phillip Robertson reported) from looting crowds destroying millennia-old artifacts, it seemed to have plenty of troops available to protect the Iraqi oil ministry in Baghdad.

I am quite distressed by the looting all around, and saddened by the fate of the museum of antiquities, but I have to wonder about Rosenberg’s perspective.

I mean, which will mean more to the rebuilding of Iraq, oil revenues, or cultural artifacts?

Now that I have asked it, I realize that the answer is complicated. Oil revenues are going to feed and care for Iraqi’s. The museum might bring in tourist revenue, but I imagine that will be small next to the sheer volume of cash their oil brings in.

But on the other hand, the museum and its contents have strong symbolic value. The cultural artifacts are evidence of Iraq’s place as the home of civilization. This could provide a point of pride for Iraqi’s at a time when pride may be an important yet scarce commodity. Its destruction could undercut that pride, and invite further shame, shame that they were unable to even protect their own heritage.

In the end though, the artifacts are only things, the things they represent, only ideas. I don’t mean to devalue ideas, but ideas like freedom and liberty, and the reality of people having enough food to eat are much more meaningful to me than pride in the accomplishments of ones ancestors.

Of course, none of this changes the fact that if we had more troops on the ground, we could have done more to stop the looting. We could have had more troops on the ground. Our leadership decided not to place them before going to war for reasons that aren’t clear.

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