FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

It’s Not the Oil, It’s the Art!

by DAVID VEST

“What the hell! As long as U.S. laws aren’t broken, it’s all right. After all, these things are not appreciated in those countries. They’re brought here and given a home. Now cultured people can see them.”

— Lowell Collins, Houston antiquities dealer, on the plundering of Pre-Colombian sculptures from Mayan sites, quoted in The Art Stealers, Milton Esterow, Macmillan, 1972.

Here’s a suggestion: arrest whoever gave the order to leave Iraq’s national museum unguarded, together with anyone who knew about it and failed to override it, and take them to those outdoor holding cells built for terrorists in Guantanamo Bay. We can make room by releasing all the children we’ve finally admitted we’ve been holding among the prisoners (“the radio said they were just detainees”). If we’re feeling patriotic, we might want to rip the uniform of the United States of America off their backs and let them ride naked. Sound a little extreme? Read on.

The sacking of Iraq’s national museum was “completely predictable,” says Jane Walbaum, the president of the Archaeological Institute of America. As far back as February, the AIA had been warning anyone who would listen that “following the 1991 Gulf War, archaeological sites and museums in Iraq were looted on a large scale, with stolen antiquities appearing on the art markets in Western Europe and the United States.” That the same looting was not just likely but certain to happen again, this time on a gigantic scale, unless the U.S. took serious preventive measures, was a no-brainer.

Weeks before thieves and vandals were left free to haul away irreplaceable artefacts, destroying much of what they didn’t take, the museum had also been identified as “a prime target for looters” in a memo from retired Lt. General Jay Garner’s office. Garner’s people felt the museum should rate second behind the banks in order of security priority. Garner, the new “governor” of Iraq, was reportedly livid when he learned he had been victimized by a bureaucratic dodge older than Ancient Mesopotamia: one cannot be held accountable for failing to act on a memo one has not yet “gotten around” to reading.

“Inexcusable,” said Martin Sullivan, the chair of the White House Advisory Committee on Cultural Property, when U.S. forces ignored the memo, stood idly by and declined to intervene as the museum was sacked. Sullivan and two other members of his committee resigned in protest. Bear in mind, these were not left-wing members of what Foxadelphia likes to call the “anti-Bush, anti-America” crowd. These were people who reported to the president.

Sullivan and his colleagues did the right thing, but should they have been shocked? The scandalous looting of Mesopotamia’s cultural heritage, consistently described on cable TV as something unprecedented, was in fact a re-run of looting that went largely unreported after Gulf War One.

Immediately following the 1991 war against Iraq, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem began getting requests to evaluate “pieces.” The requests came from Americans. The “pieces” came from Iraq and were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Because the objects presented for “evaluation” represented only a minute part of what had been stolen in the first Gulf war, the scene was merely a microcosm of what was happening around the world at other cultural institutions (and for the benefit of private collectors) as thieves shopped their bling-bling from the cradle of civilization.

John Malcolm Russell, writing in Archaeology in 1996, called this tragedy “The Modern Sack of Nineveh” and sounded a warning: “Today Assyria is in fashion again, and its sculptures are bringing unprecedented prices.” He cited a Nineveh porch sculpture sold at auction for $12 million, “by far the highest price ever paid for an antiquity.”

What sounded like a warning to some ears may have rung like a dinner bell in others. As a result, many of the newly privatized artefacts are already passing through the global underground art market directly into the hands of collectors and dealers who know how to “appreciate” them, in exchange for cash and who knows what else.

That is why the working assumption must not be that “mistakes were made” as commanders faced “tough calls” in the chaos.

Rather we should act on the basis that crimes against all humanity have been committed and demand a public accounting from the people who were in charge when it happened, to determine how much they knew about what they were doing.

What a choice: either our field commanders are so ignorant and lacking in judgment they make George W. Bush look like Marcus Aurelius, or they are implicated in some very sinister business indeed.

If they didn’t know what they were doing, their ignorance was as inexcusable as it was disgraceful. They have done more damage to this country’s standing abroad than they could ever be expected to imagine. They may have helped to finance decades of terrorism. If they did know what was going on, they’re key players in the biggest corruption scandal in U.S. military history.

The only other possible explanation is that they were acting on orders from much higher up the chain.

In any case, they should have already been put where cultured people can see them and interrogated. This is no time for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. His scorching new CD, Way Down Here, is now available from CounterPunch.

He can be reached at: davidvest@springmail.com

Visit his website at http://www.rebelangel.com

 

DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, have just released a scorching new CD, Serve Me Right to Shuffle. His essay on Tammy Wynette is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on art, music and sex, Serpents in the Garden.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Obama Said Hillary will Continue His Legacy and Indeed She Will!
Jeffrey St. Clair
She Stoops to Conquer: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Rob Urie
Long Live the Queen of Chaos
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism
Margot Kidder
My Fellow Americans: We Are Fools
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Convention Con
Lewis Evans
Executing Children Won’t Save the Tiger or the Rhino
Vijay Prashad
The Iraq War: a Story of Deceit
Chris Odinet
It Wasn’t Just the Baton Rouge Police Who Killed Alton Sterling
Brian Cloughley
Could Trump be Good for Peace?
Patrick Timmons
Racism, Freedom of Expression and the Prohibition of Guns at Universities in Texas
Gary Leupp
The Coming Crisis in U.S.-Turkey Relations
Pepe Escobar
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
Norman Pollack
Clinton Incorruptible: An Ideological Contrivance
Robert Fantina
The Time for Third Parties is Now!
Andre Vltchek
Like Trump, Hitler Also Liked His “Small People”
Serge Halimi
Provoking Russia
David Rovics
The Republicans and Democrats Have Now Switched Places
Andrew Stewart
Countering The Nader Baiter Mythology
Rev. William Alberts
“Law and Order:” Code words for White Lives Matter Most
Ron Jacobs
Something Besides Politics for Summer’s End
David Swanson
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid
Erwan Castel
A Faith that Lifts Barricades: The Ukraine Government Bows and the Ultra-Nationalists are Furious
Steve Horn
Did Industry Ties Lead Democratic Party Platform Committee to Nix Fracking Ban?
Robert Fisk
How to Understand the Beheading of a French Priest
Colin Todhunter
Sugar-Coated Lies: How The Food Lobby Destroys Health In The EU
Franklin Lamb
“Don’t Cry For Us Syria … The Truth is We Shall Never Leave You!”
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Artistic Representation of War and Peace, Politics and the Global Crisis
Frederick B. Hudson
Well Fed, Bill?
Harvey Wasserman
NY Times Pushes Nukes While Claiming Renewables Fail to Fight Climate Change
Elliot Sperber
Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
Uri Avnery
The Orange Man: Trump and the Middle East
Marjorie Cohn
The Content of Trump’s Character
Missy Comley Beattie
Pick Your Poison
Kathleen Wallace
Feel the About Turn
Joseph Grosso
Serving The Grid: Urban Planning in New York
John Repp
Real Cooperation with Nations Is the Best Survival Tactic
Binoy Kampmark
The Scourge of Youth Detention: The Northern Territory, Torture, and Australia’s Detention Disease
Kim Nicolini
Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It
Phillip Kim et al.
Open Letter to Bernie Sanders from Former Campaign Staffers
Cesar Chelala
Gang Violence Rages Across Central America
Tom H. Hastings
Africa/America
Robert Koehler
Slavery, War and Presidential Politics
Charles R. Larson
Review: B. George’s “The Death of Rex Ndongo”
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail