Thursday, April 17, 2003

Gathering the Scraps, Part Two

"If we understood the value of Sumerian cuneiform tablets to our past, as we do with oil getting us somewhere in our cars, I don't think this would have happened," Gary Vikan, who just resigned as one of Bush's cultural advisors. (He's also director of the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore.)

Yes, two of Bush's top cultural advisors have resigned over the looting of the museums. We promised to protect the cultural heritage of the place where civilization began, but we didn't. Instead, it seems professional art thieves were standing in line in Baghdad to get their hands on the solid-gold harp, the Code of Hammurabi, and the ivory figurines that are among the missing treasures.

Here are some photos of the murdered museum. The BBC has covered the issue in detail, including the Pentagon's admission that they hadn't even bothered to prepare to protect the antiquities. The commentary discusses why these artifacts (spelled "artefacts" by our British friends) are important.

Yesterday I quoted from a takeoff of Beowulf. Do you know why we even have Beowulf? The only known manuscript survived a disastrous fire at the aptly named Ashburnham House. Much else was lost.

Our cultural treasures embody powerful ideas, but all too often they are fragile to the touch. We need to protect them at every level: guarding the grand museum collections from armed mobs, defending the writers and sellers of dangerous works from censorship, arrest, and death.

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