By Paul A. Anthony, Editor in Chief
The history of mankind was looted in the chaos that swept post-Saddam Iraq last week. Lost in the wreckage was something far more valuable than the cash and goods stolen elsewhere in the country.
It was the heritage of the Muslim world, indeed the heritage of the world itself.
Although interim authority figure James Garner told the Pentagon that Baghdad’s priceless museums and libraries should be guarded, the memo was left unread or unheeded.
The result: the burning into ashes of millennia-old Korans, the destruction of artifacts from the very birth of civilization and a wide open opportunity for the Arab media to fuel anti-Americanism they were forced to admit didn’t exist in Iraq.
The financial value alone of the artifacts looted from Iraq’s national museum should have made it a place worth guarding. But the Pentagon opted for guarding the oil ministry instead.
Sure, a rational people would not have destroyed its own possessions, but two decades of repression coming to a sudden, violent end does not foster a rational atmosphere.
Looters may have caused the looting, but inaction allowed the looters to do it.
And the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Meyer, who had the opportunity to avoid a cultural and historical tragedy.
Although its inaction caused irreparable destruction to the artifacts of the cradle of civilization, the Bush administration does not seem to be in a hurry to apologize, restore or reclaim any of the possessions.
The FBI has joined the hunt, and border guards have been given a list of items for which to check.
However, more can and needs to be done if America is to emerge from this growing scandal with anything less than a black eye.
The Arab media are stirring up their audiences, ready and willing to paint the United States as the crusaders, eager to make the Muslim world forget the damaging statue-topple images of April 9.
Already, reports are being bandied about of American troops helping and purposely ignoring looters as they burned the library and absconded with treasures. Only quick and decisive action can solve this problem.
America must make it known that those in possession of stolen artifacts will be rewarded, no questions asked, for having “found” and returned the treasures.
The danger of fostering more thievery is negated by the newfound sense of order already being established and the unique nature of the stolen goods.
The possession and sale of stolen Iraqi artifacts outside the country must be punished severely to discourage the inevitable black market that will arise. Keeping the goods inside Iraq and offering incentives to those who wish to make a profit off them is sound policy that will both lessen anti-American backlash and preserve priceless history.