Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Mark Kleiman used to be more forgiving of the US army's failure to prevent the looting of ancient artifacts from museums and libraries in Iraq. But now he's furious at the Bush administration for its "apparent indifference to the disaster". "There are consequences," he writes, "to being ruled by barbarians."

Well, philistine that I am, I'm indifferent to the "disaster" myself--relatively speaking, at least. Sure, it would have been nice to save these relics, since they may have much to tell us about the earliest days of human civilization. But I don't think they were worth sacrificing any lives over, and I find it rather disturbing (as does, of all people, anti-Bush ultra-partisan Atrios) that so many people--including, particularly, a great many who averted their eyes from the slaughter of thousands upon thousands by the former Iraqi regime--can be more powerfully moved by the loss of a bunch of artifacts than by the liberation of millions, at an astoundingly low human cost, from an unimaginably brutal tyranny.

Of course, I don't claim for a moment that the Bush administration's position on this matter is motivated by anything other than political expediency. In a similar case, for example, when the Afghan Taliban declared some sacred Buddhist statues to be objects of idolatry, and destroyed them, the administration largely ignored the event--until after September 11th, when it was used to further justify military action against Afghanistan. In that case, as well, I--along with both Atrios and Slate's Anne Applebaum--found it odd that a few statues were the object of more international concern than the millions of Afghans facing drought, famine and ruthless oppression at the time.

If these be the priorities of the civilized, then count me among the proud barbarians.

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