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Who’s Looting Whom?


As the privatization of Iraq’s treasures, both cultural and hydrocarbon, gathers momentum, you can almost hear the faint sound of a circle being closed. After all, it was predatory looting, following upon slaughter, that filled most of the world’s great museums in the first place. Houston’s museums are filled with “loot” brought back by seismic teams from “remote” places with petrochemical deposits. That museums important to all of humanity should now be emptied by looters is undeniably tragic and disturbing, but there is also something weirdly fitting about it.

Donald Rumsfeld, snorting with contempt, has complained that TV keeps showing us the same vase being stolen over and over again. You could make that same complaint from a far different angle. We’ve heard all about looting by Iraqis, but there is precious little attention being paid in the media to the looting being done or contemplated by the conquerors. We won’t see much coverage of the “souvenirs” our troops will bring home. No, it is looting by the conquered that offends.

It is at least conceivable that some of the Iraqi looters thought of themselves as preserving pieces of their national heritage from an occupying army that had already been observed lighting cigars in presidential palaces and putting its feet on the furniture.

While the vases may all look alike to Rumsfeld and Bush, who wouldn’t know a Grecian urn from a spittoon, the rich in general do like to spend money on building museums and “collections.” Corporations especially like to exhibit this behavior. They think it marks them as “good corporate citizens.” Only when the “collections” are stolen back from their original plunderers do we refer to them as “loot.”

Actually, what we see happening at the Baghdad museum is merely the reflection of what Bush, Cheney and their cronies have been doing to America’s treasures since the day they took (and I do mean took) office. While the law looks the other way, they have been looting the treasury, plundering the environment and destroying our heritage of civil liberties. The drapery John Ashcroft hung over the statue of justice is eerily similar to the shrouded furniture found in Saddam’s abandoned hang-outs.

In many cases, the Democrats stood by and watched them do it, just as the Marines stood by and watched the looting of Iraqi museums. In stark contrast to the prevailing gutlessness, three members of Bush’s own White House Cultural Property Advisory Committee have resigned to protest the looting of Baghdad’s National Museum of Antiquities.

While American forces allowed Mesopotamian civilization’s past to be ransacked, as though to illustrate Henry Ford’s view that “history is bunk,” other eyes (as if in serene agreement) were on the future.

You do remember the future? Of course you do. So does Paul Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft.

The future, if you are Mr. Allen, was when you were about 14 years old and preferred your hormonal rages to come before you in disguised forms. Vibrating rockets. Gibbous planets. Androgenous robots, supposedly incapable of feeling but somehow inspiring dark white fountains of cosmic gizm wherever they roamed.

When you can no longer imagine a future, when even your beloved Star Trek can do nothing but recycle the same dull Klingon grunting and Ferengi dreck, what is there for you to do but wax nostalgic?

Allen’s nostalgia for the future is inspiring him to build a “museum of science fiction” in Seattle, a gigantic monument to his own adolescence, a visible pledge that, come what may, all memory of the precious future shall not perish from the earth, to be utterly lost and forgotten.

Welcome to America the Collectible, where nostalgia is overcoming us. Hell, you’re soaking in it. While Iraq is being looted of its past, our own country is turning into a theme park we have to pay to visit. Vintage this, vintage that. People are encouraged to miss the good old days, etc. etc., when you could get a real hamburger, blah blah, and they didn’t force you to drink Dietetic Pepsi with it.

We have reached the point where people are even starting to miss Richard Nixon. Nostalgia for Nixon, who could have predicted it? But why not? Compared to Bush, he was the fucking Sun King.

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

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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.

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