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June 14, 2003

MARK STEYN:

The one guy to get the Iraqi Museum story right from the get-go turns out to be not a professional journalist, but our old friend, the philistine warmonger Donald Rumsfeld. Rummy observed at the time that the networks kept showing "the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase". But it was the same vase "over and over and over". The same vase, 170,000 times. Rummy was right.

You want a heritage catastrophe? At the very moment the Baghdad Museum was being non-sacked, workers at the University of Toronto threw out 280 boxes of colonial and Indian artefacts dating back to the 15th century. What's left of them is now deep in a landfill in Michigan. I'm a Torontonian, so that's my heritage in there. Any takers? I thought not. Harder to pin on Bush and Blair.

Interestingly, Toronto is not only more culturally desecrated than Iraq; it's also more diseased. There have been 238 cases of Sars in Toronto, with 32 deaths. There have been 66 cases of cholera in Basra, with three deaths. Basra public health officials, assuming there are any, are doing a much better job of controlling cholera than Toronto public health officials are of controlling Sars.

The Ontario health guys, who sound more like a gung-ho Chamber of Commerce, keep announcing they've got Sars licked and then it goes and infects a big bunch of new hospital patients. And meanwhile the Canadian media keep raving about what a great job the Toronto healthcare folks are doing, and then return to ululating about the massive humanitarian catastrophe about to engulf Iraq.

Heh. You don't see that many ululating Canadians these days.

UPDATE: David Appell says that Steyn understates the problems in Iraq, though Appell's lack of comparative data weakens his case. (So does his claim that the Toronto lost-antiquities matter was different because it was "an accident" -- surely he's not buying the bogus conspiracy theories that the United States deliberately allowed looting for the benefit of shadowy American art dealers?) Meanwhile, however, archaeologists are beginning to face up to the fact that they blew their credibility on the looting episode, as this post notes:

The academic world blew it in response to the looting in Iraq. Too many people cried wolf too soon and they have seriously undermined our credibility with the outside world. A case in point (one that could be multiplied) is the ASOR (American Schools of Oriental Research) Statement on Baghdad Museum, 4/16/03.

The statement in question (linked and quoted in the original) compares the looting in Baghdad to the sack of Constantinople, the burning of the
Alexandrian library, etc., etc. More:

This is a terrible tragedy, but a Mogul invasion it is not, and exaggerating its scale like this can lead to no good. There were hints days before this statement - indeed on the very day the looting was announced - that the scale of the looting might be less than the initial reports, but this information is ignored. The invoking of Alexandria, Constantinople, etc. is not only overblown, it compares like with unlike in that these other lootings were by the invaders whereas it was the people being invaded who carried out the looting in Iraq.

The academic community -- antiwar all along, and a bit too obviously looking for a way to make Bush and the war look bad -- shot itself in the foot, and will command much less respect on such topics in the future.

ANOTHER UPDATE: A reader sends this link to an article in Archaeology magazine written before the war, about archaeological treasures being moved out of the Baghdad museum in preparation for war. He notes: "The academic community knew before the war of these plans. Why did they ignore what they already knew?"

Because the pleasure of bashing the Administration was irresistible. You should also read this column by Charles Krauthammer, who flat-out calls Donny George a liar:

George saw the story of the stolen 170,000 museum pieces go around the world and said nothing -- indeed, two weeks later, he was in London calling the looting "the crime of the century." Why? Because George and the other museum officials who wept on camera were Baath Party appointees, and the media, Western and Arab, desperate to highlight the dark side of the liberation of Iraq, bought their deceptions without an ounce of skepticism.

Of course they did.

MORE: Cronaca comments: "if you recall the original folk tale, crying wolf carries a rather steep price once the wolf finally arrives." Indeed.