During the early phase of the Persian Gulf War (2003), a coalition force led by the United States invaded Iraq. As part of the operation known as Desert Storm, American soldiers occupied Baghdad.
I remember an E-mail I received at that time that had been written by a commentator. Under the guise of expressing the importance of culture, he laments the ‘periodic attacks on citadels of culture.’ He writes:
Destroy the documents, and you will damage the collective memory; Vandals hack away at cultures all the time; [American soldiers] erected a protective cordon around the ministries of oil and on the interior while permitting looters to demolish the National Library and ransack the National Museum.
It is not a matter of chance that those statements were followed by:
As many have remarked, the Mongol invasion of 1258 resulted in less damage to Iraqi civilization than the American invasion of 2003.
The author implies more than he informs. He implicitly equates American soldiers with Mongols and (elsewhere) Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. He admonishes American soldiers for permitting looters to demolish the national library and museum. He makes no significant statement that it was Iraqi lowlife that did the looting and ransacking, not American soldiers. He ignores the fact that when a soldier is concerned about being maimed or killed, he can hardly protect ‘the sense of self that derives from the ties that bind a people to their ancestors.’
‘Periodic attacks on citadels of culture’ is not mere rhetoric—it is a thinly disguised implication that the destruction of Iraqi cultural institutions is just one more incident in the long history of marauding armies.
I can hear the howl of those who would claim that the destruction of cultural institutions in Iraq was a direct result of the plunder for oil. My intent is not to discuss the essential causes and effects of the Gulf war. That is a whole other matter. Whatever the ‘truth’ is about that war, disingenuous implications are collateral damage we can all do without.