Art and Architecture, History, Literature, Reviews

Looting the birthplace of civilization

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Lawrence Rothfield’s The Rape of Mesopotamia: Behind the Looting of the Iraq Museum offers a revealing look at the plundering of Iraq’s cultural heritage during the Iraq war. Housing relics dating back to the dawn of human civilization some twelve thousand years ago, Iraq’s National Museum as well as many important archeological sites were looted while, according to Rothfield, nearly everyone, including some of the highest ranking U.S. government officials, simply looked the other way. As Benjamin Moser writes his review for the September edition of Harper’s magazine:

The destruction inevitable in wartime might have been mitigated if Iraq had not suffered the bad luck of being invaded by George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld. One of the many low points of their low endeavor came when Rumsfeld (whose boundless self-regard was untethered to any reckonable aptitude) said that “stuff happens” in reply to early reports of widespread looting. “The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over and over and over,” Rumsfeld scoffed, “and its the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it twenty times and you think ‘M y goodness, were there that many vases?'”
This attitude, Rothfield shows, … even placed Rummy and his “war president” in unfavorable contrast with Saddam Hussein, who, during his invasion of Kuwait, took precautions to prevent the looting of the Kuwait Museum.… After Rumsfeld ignored repeated pleas to prevent the entirely foreseeable looting, disaster came: a full-scale destruction of countless monuments in the birthplace of civilization.

A powerful, infuriating chronicle of the disastrous conjunction of military adventure and cultural destruction, The Rape of Mesopotamia is essential reading for all concerned with the future of our past.
Pick up a copy of Harper’s magazine to read the full review and in the meantime, read this excerpt from the book.