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June 26, 2008
Pointing and Shooting (III)By Greyhawk
(Previous entry here)
Artifacts and other Facts
Sometimes you find indicators of progress in Iraq in odd places. This story contains a hidden gem - see if you notice it (Hint: I subtly highlighted it in bold) :
Jordan returns stolen antiquities to Iraq(Comprehensive coverage of this and other recoveries - and future hopes - is available via Lebanon's Daily Star)
But did you notice the part where the Jordanian government official declared that stability is restored in Iraq? Crazy, huh? Probably just an artifact of translation, but to be safe someone had better get her a gift subscription to the New York Times - quick.
Of course, that illustrious paper covered the story too - one paragraph, sans the "stability" comment, but with this:
Thousands of pieces were looted after the 2003 invasion, and Iraqi officials have blamed the pilfering on smugglers and occupying troops.In fact, that "blame" was a major feature of their April 2003 front page banner headline story:
The National Museum of Iraq recorded a history of civilizations that began to flourish in the fertile plains of Mesopotamia more than 7,000 years ago. But once American troops entered Baghdad in sufficient force to topple Saddam Hussein's government this week, it took only 48 hours for the museum to be destroyed, with at least 170,000 artifacts carried away by looters.Two days later a Times op/ed would clarify:
The looting of Iraq's national museum in Baghdad could have been prevented. The American and British forces are clearly to blame for the destruction and displacement of its cultural treasures.The story would never have been told if "museum officials" hadn't risked their own lives to bring reporters to the scene:
As fires in a dozen government ministries and agencies began to burn out, and as looters tired of pillaging in the 90-degree heat, museum officials reached the hotels where foreign journalists were staying along the eastern bank of the Tigris River. They brought word of what is likely to be reckoned as one of the greatest cultural disasters in recent Middle Eastern history.It was quite a story - though reality was quite different. You can read early indications of just how wrong it was here and here, and a comprehensive review of subsequent events here:
And on July 3, 2003, the Iraq National Museum was reopened to diplomats and the news media, to show how most of the antiquities, recently feared lost forever, had been recovered or miraculously accounted for.Tragically, Private First Class Edward J. “Jim” Herrgott was killed by a sniper while guarding the museum that night:
"He was outside the national museum in his Bradley tank and he was doing his watch as guard duty. He had slid up into the gunner's seat -- the gunner's hatch -- and a sniper got him in the neck. From reports that we heard, he was rushed to the hospital but they wren unable to keep him alive," Ken Kewatt said.
Marine Colonel Matthew Bogdanos (a Marine Reservist whose civilian job was DA in Manhattan) who had witnessed the 9/11 up close and was recalled to active duty for a tour in Afghanistan would take on the task of investigating the museum looting in April, 2003. He published his account in the book Thieves of Baghdad (Personal aside: I read this while deployed to Iraq on my last tour- excellent book.)
Col Bogdanos originally had a different mission in Iraq, but...
On April 15, I was again in Basra when a journalist approached me with rage in her eyes, screaming, "You macho assholes are down here looking for missiles and money, and the finest museum in the world in Baghdad has just been looted."He checked the headlines, including the one over the New York Times story above, and the AP's "Museum treasures now war booty" ("The Americans knew that the museum was at risk and could have protected it, said Patty Gerstenblith, a professor at DePaul School of Law in Chicago") and the Independent's U.S. blamed for failure to stop sacking of museum ("THE UNITED States was fiercely criticised around the world yesterday for its failure to protect Baghdad's Iraq National Museum where, under the noses of US troops, looters stole or destroyed priceless artefacts up to 7,000 years old.") and realized his efforts would need re-focusing.
Read the book for the full story of Bogdanos' incredible efforts over the subsequent six months, detailing the recovery of all but a few artifacts from the various locations where the museum officials had hidden them for safekeeping.
But consider also that for those crucial first six months in Baghdad Bogdanos and his team were kept from what would have been their primary mission.
"I had been called to the Pentagon on September 10, 2003, to give the Department of Defense's final briefing on the investigation... CENTCOM had given me six months of virtually unlimited authority, resources, and funding. They had allowed me to divert significant assets from our assigned counterterrorism mission to hunt down some pieces of rock with funny writing on them."But that's all ancient history now. And what difference could counterterror operations have made in those months anyhow?
"Now that stability is restored in Iraq..."
Posted by Greyhawk / June 26, 2008 11:38 AM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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