The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Monday, March 24, 2003  

A Clueless Pentagon; An Irresponsible eBay

In today's Philadelphia Inquirer there is a fascinating article about the risks the U.S. war on Iraq holds for that country's treasure trove of antiquities. In "Treasures in Peril," reporter Faye Flam outlines the country's long and rich history, and provides the reader with a clear and alarming delineation of just what is at risk, going deep underground beyond the obvious at-risk sites such as museums and mosques.

She writes:

Archaeologists fear that war and its aftermath could obliterate much of humanity's earliest heritage…."What's really at stake here is our past," said John Russell [of the Massachusetts College of Art]. "What happened here was the establishment of civilization as we know it -- codified religion, bureaucracy, cities, writing," he said.

"What developed there was modern life -- urban existence," said Richard Zettler, an archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology….

But here's the real kicker: Until they agreed to meet with concerned archaeologists, the Pentagon was clueless about the historical and cultural implications of its impending war. Flam writes:

McGuire Gibson [of the University of Chicago] and other archaeologists petitioned the Pentagon earlier this year to try to spare the country's temples, mosques, and archaeological sites. "They were very receptive," said Gibson. He said he pointed out that the hills in southern Iraq are actually rich archaeological mounds, where people may have built houses for 7,000 years.

The military was watching 150 sites, said Gibson, so he pointed out 4,000 more. "And that's a tiny percentage," he said. [Ed.: Emphasis added.]

(To this I would just quickly note that the entirety of southern Iraq has been classified as a "no fly zone" that the U.S. and British air forces have been pounding for a decade.)

And to this day, Flam reports, the Pentagon is unable or unwilling to say how many of those 4,000 sites -- the tiny percentage sites rich in human history cited by Gibson -- have been added to the Defense Department's maps:

Pentagon spokeswoman Diane Perry said it was "imperative" for U.S. forces to try to protect Iraq's cultural sites. Many such sites are on a "no-strike" list, she said, though she wasn't sure if all 4,000 recommended by the archaeologists were included.

Meanwhile, Flam reports there apparently is a bustling trade in looted Iraqi artifacts on eBay, still more evidence Meg Whitman's eBay is among the world's most carelessly and recklessly operated businesses.

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