Bulletin N° 364
During the years after my release from Spandau I have been repeatedly asked what
thoughts I had on this subject during my two decades alone in the cell with myself;
what I actually knew of the persecution , the deportation, and the annihilation of the Jews;
what I should have known and what conclusions I ought to have drawn.
I no longer give the answer with which I tried for so long to soothe the questioners,
but chiefly myself: that in Hitler's system, as in every totalitarian regime, when a man's
position rises, his insolation increases and he is therefore more sheltered from harsh
reality; that with the application of technology to the process of murder the number of
murderers is reduced and therefore the possibility of ignorance grows; that the craze
for secrecy built into the system creates degrees of awareness, so it is easy to escape
observing inhuman cruelties.
I no longer give any of these answers. For they are efforts at legalistic exculpation.
It is true as a favorite and later as one of Hitler's most influential ministers I was isolated.
It is also true that the habit of thinking within the limits of my own field provided me,
both as architect and as Armaments Minister, with many opportunities for evasion. It is
true that I did not know what was really beginning on November 9, 1938 (Kristallnacht),
and what ended in Auschwitz and Maidanek. But in the final analysis I myself determined
the degree of my isolation, the extremity of my evasions, and the extent of my ignorance.
I therefore know today that my agonized self-examinations posed the question as wrongly
as did the questioners whom I have met since my release. Whether I know or did not know,
or how much or how little I knew, is totally unimportant when I consider what horrors I ought
to have know about and what conclusions would have been the natural ones to draw from the
little I did know. Those who ask me are fundamentally expecting me to offer justifications.
But I have none. No apologies are possible.(pp.134-135)
This reflection by an important 20th-century imperialist administrator should be enough to give pause to any contemporary critic of imperialist violence who seeks reform by "speaking truth to power." It would seem that structural change comes from an entirely different activity.
The 5 items below are communications addressed to those of us who have a vested interest in structural changes. This information is offered as elements to construct an improved understanding of why things are the way they are today. Anyone not absorbed in cosmetology might find the essays below not only interesting but also useful in creating a better life for themselves and for the people they love.
Item A. is a recent interview with Howard Zinn by Gabriel Schivone, in which Professor Zinn is reflecting on the famous March 4 Manifesto, that was signed by dozens of scholars and students at MIT in 1969 and places high value on organizing social movements to curb the political abuse of applied sciences.
Item B., is a message from Ralph Nader on the limitations placed on presidential elections in the USA.
Item C., is an article by Paul Craig Roberts on American jingoism, including the important 79-minute documentary film, Peace, Propaganda & the Promised Land: U.S. Media & the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (How Israel manipulates and distorts American public perceptions), which reports on the U.S. media's collaboration with Israel's occupation of Palestine.
Item D. is a link to Charles Ferguson's Oscar-nominated film for best feature-length documentary and winner of a special jury prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, No End. It casts a critical eye on U.S. decisions made during the early months of the war in Iraq, with government and military insiders relating their experiences.
Item E. is an article by Chalmers Johnson on U.S. war crimes and the historic importance of individual accountability for imperialist pillage.
And finally, we offer CEIMSA readers a brief report from the pacifist ships, the SS Free Gaza and the SS Liberty, which successfully broke the Israeli blockage on Gaza last week, making contact with the 1.5 million Palestinian prisoners and bringing much-needed supplies. The brave humanitarians onboard these two ships came from all over the world and included Lauren Bouth, the sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. We can only regret that no one from the family of French President Nicolas Sarkozy joined this noble project to risk their lives in order to make direct contact with Palestinians demanding their human rights in Gaza.
Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies
Director of Research
Université Stendhal Grenoble 3
from Howard Zinn :
Date: 30 August 2008
Subject: Science for the People (and by the people).
Author and activist Howard Zinn was one of the speakers at a critical social forum held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, on March 3, 4, and 8, 1969, in which MIT students and scientists had joined together and organized a research stoppage to protest the unexampled levels of U.S. government violence in Southeast Asia. The event known as "March 4" included some of the world's most eminent and influential scientists coming together to make what they called a "practical and symbolic" gesture of halting their research activities to discuss the misuse of science in world affairs, particularly the relationship of American scienceand the shared responsibility of American scientistswith the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in Vietnam.
Together with a powerful invocation (known as the March 4 Manifesto, signed by 48 MIT faculty) having been written for the event, addressed to the academic community and the public at large, the activities of March 4 (including several panels on engrossing subjects as intellectual responsibility and the impending perils of weapons of mass destruction) were organized into recognizing the "dangers already unleashed"those which presented "a major threat to the existence" of humanitywhile providing possible solutions and raising serious alternatives to overcome them.
To the small group of determined organizers and concerned scientists, reason for their actions was self-evident: As a heavily bloody and calamitous war was being waged by the most powerful country on earthwhile the majority of its academic community observed with relative silencethe very gesture of leading world intellectuals halting their professional, daily activities before the public and the world in order to consider the human consequences of their scientific work was to say, quite simply, that their role as human beings precedes their professional title of "scientists."
I sat down with Professor Zinn (who had participated in one of the March 4 panels entitled "The Academic Community and Governmental Power") in his office at Boston University on Wednesday, July 23, 2008, to discuss some of the issues. (This dialogue is part of an ongoing collection of interviews and essays on the subject of March 4 being organized for publication. Note: Parts of the text have been expanded after follow-up correspondence between the authors.)
Science and War: A Macabre Dance
GMS: Let's start with the second resolution of the March 4 Manifesto: "To devise means for turning research applications away from their present emphasis on military technology toward the solution of pressing social and environmental problems." Would you explain the importance of this idea of scientific reconversion?
ZINN: It's been a long-standing problem of science being used for destruction or for construction. It goes back to Hiroshima and Nagasakiit goes back to the atomic bomb. In fact, that probably was the first really dramatic instance of the use of the latest scientific knowledge to kill human beings. And the development of modern weapons technologythe atomic bomb and other weaponryall that has become much, much more important in recent years as war has become more technological, and as the scientists have become more important in the making of war. So I would say that issue, which was put forward in the March 4 Manifesto, is even more important today. At that time, it was important because the war in Vietnam was going on, and there was a direct connection between science used for military purposes and the deaths of people in Vietnam.
What has been, and is, the relationship of American science and scientists with the State throughout history until today?
Well, until World War II, I don't think the relationship between science and government was a particularly critical one. Now, sure, we had Alfred Nobel creating dynamite and therefore creating the possibility of weapons, bombs that used dynamite. In other words, there was always a scientific component to modern war. I mean, you can argue that as soon as guns became used, science became involved in their manufacturerifles, machine guns, artillery. So, yes, there's always been this connection. But it wasn't until World War II, in as I said before, with Hiroshima and Nagasaki that this relationship between science and government took an enormous leap forward. Or, you might say, backward . And then science became inextricably intertwined with governmental policyand that's the way it's been ever since.
What are some examples of scientists and intellectuals engaging their support of various war efforts?
In the First World War, intellectuals (who had first declared themselves against war) rushed to support the war, carried away by government propaganda against the Germans. John Dewey, Clarence Darrow, Upton Sinclair, Jack London, lent their names and their prestige to the war effort. Historians organized a committee to put out pamphlets in support of the war.
In the Second World War, virtually all intellectuals supported the war. (Dwight MacDonald and a small group of Trotskyists were exceptions, of course.)
The most dramatic example of scientists involved in WWII was the Manhattan Project in which the greatest scientists in the nation and scientist-refugees from other countries joined to produce the atomic bombs which obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There was only one of these mobilized scientistsJoseph Rotblatwho quit the project rather than work on the bomb. Other scientists developed radar and the Norden bombsight.
Prior to the Korean War, scientists worked on the creation of napalm which was used in that war and again in Vietnam. In fact, the Dow Chemical Company became the target of anti-War protesters because of its role in producing napalm used in Vietnam.
A number of leading intellectuals rushed to support the invasion of Iraq in 2003, reflected in the pro-War editorials of the major newspapersthe New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal.
Objectivity and American Science: Image and Reality
Do you see any differences in the social sciences and the hard sciences concerning what some people call ideological control? Do you find one to be more or less prone to such constraints on themselves or their work than the other?
Let's put it this way: I think the difference between the hard sciences and the soft sciences is very much exaggerated. And there's a kind of traditional notion that scientists are less prone to subjectivity and ideology than social scientiststhe historians and economists, and so on. But I think that's a delusion, and I think that, actually, the same problems apply to both of them.
In the case of scientists, there's more likely to be self-deception about objectivity. I think that social scientists are probably more ready to accept the fact that they're not objective, but with scientistsjust the very nature of science with quantitative data and experiment sort of creates the illusion of being objective and being free from political and ideological influences. But I would argue that it is an illusion and that, therefore, both hard and soft sciences are much closer together in that respect than most people think.
What do you think about using scientific method regarding human affairs? In other words, if one has such scientific training as we find in university, does it make it easier to analyze certain catastrophic situations like the Iraq War? For example, do you find it helpful as a historian using such quantitative and qualitative methods?
I'm very suspicious of the use of so-called "scientific data" to come to moral conclusions. For instance, in the arena of political science: Political scientists in the last few decades prided themselves in becoming more scientific. In fact, what used to be called "departments of government" soon changed their names to "departments of political science." And the word "science" brought the so-called "political scientists" closer to the illusion that hard scientists have. And the fact that they were using quantitative data and statistical measurement made them think that they therefore were coming to more accurate conclusions about the world than they had before. I don't think that's true because I think the most important decisions are moral decisions. And no amount of quantitative data can really lead you to a correct decision on moral issues. And, in fact, they can deflect you from making moral decisions by sort of deceiving you about the scientific nature of what you are studying. So, I'm very dubious that using so-called scientific and quantitative methods brings you any closer to solving crucial moral issues.
The first point of the Manifesto, "to initiate a critical and continuing examination of governmental policy in areas where science and technology are of actual or potential significance", stuck out to me differently than the others. It seems very basic to simply encourage critical thinking, especially among "educated" people who, it's generally assumed, have been taught critical inquiry from an early age. Is this always the case? It seems always assumed that scientists are always objective, critical thinkers.
Yeah, well, of course, that's one of the myths of science: that science is above and beyond ideology and politics. And, of course, science has always been tied into ideology and politicscertainly more and more in these sixty years or so since World War II. And I think it's very important for scientists to recognize that there's no such thing as neutrality in science; that your science has an effect on society in one direction or another. And if you hide that fact from yourself, well, you're deceiving yourself and deceiving others about the role of science in society.
Here's an interesting example from the University of Arizona, in my home town of Tucson: There's a yearly memo proclaimed and circulated by the president of the university (the one most recently appointed being Robert N. Shelton) addressed to the campus community, very strictly barring all "political activity" for university employees. It encourages UA faculty and staff not to engage at all in political activity while on "university time" or with "university resources," but rather to do be political if they so wish"on their own time." Now, although it is explicitly stated the memorandum is enforced to protect state funding and the outcome of elections, one of the implications is that, in order to be effectively objective in their scientific professions, and to be good scholars, there must be a calling for disinterested scholarship in the face or shadow of political matters.
This is the president of the University of Arizona?
Yeah, well, this just shows how little wisdom you need to become the president of a university. Obviously this president has no understanding of the fact that neutrality is impossible, that objectivity is a myth. All intellectual work has a moral component and works either on behalf of the human race or against it. And, in fact, to claim neutrality and to dissociate yourself from participation in the world of ideas and the ideological and real conflicts in the world is really to permit the world to go on as it was. In other words, to refuse to interveneto refuse to use your energy, your talent, your knowledge for the betterment of the human racemeans that you are allowing those people who have been in charge of policy to continue in their ways. It means that they can go in their ways unimpeded. They can do whatever they want because, essentially, you have withdrawn an enormous number of people who have potential powerbrain power, political poweryou've withdrawn them from the political arena. And you've left the field to the so-called "experts"who are not experts at alland whose continued dominance is actually a danger to the human race.
It is ironic that the university, which provides itself on its intellectual superiority, should discourage faculty and students from using their knowledge and their analytical abilities, their moral judgment to participate in the social struggles outside the university. In other words, the university then becomes the servant of the dominant powers in society, who prefer that knowledge be used only to maintain the status quo, to train young people to take their obedient places in the existing society rather than challenging the people in power.
The Citizens Among Us
Now, is it possible to drop out of this university system, as some have suggested, wanting nothing to do with it or its money because of the sheer amount of war collaboration? If so, is this necessarily the way to go, in your opinion?
Well, of course it's possible to drop out of the system. It's possible to say goodbye. But it's very, very difficult because peoples' livelihoods, peoples' economic security is very tied up with their jobs. And so giving up your job becomes a very serious personal hindrance to the security of yourself and your family. That makes it very difficult to drop out.
Now, there are scientists who have refused to work on projects. There were a few scientists who refused to work on the atomic bomb. Joseph Rotblat, as I said before, left the Manhattan Projecthe didn't want to work on the bomb. And there've been other scientists who have refused to work on military-related technology but they do it at risk. They risk their jobs, their livelihoods. In other words, it's possible to do it, but it's difficult.
Point Five of the Manifesto reads: "To explore the feasibility of organizing scientists and engineers so that their desire for a more humane and civilized world can be translated into effective political action." How might an organized scholarshipscientists organizing themselves around such issues as dissent and non-participationbenefit society?
Well, a very important factor in making it possible for scientists to move from military projects to civilian projects is having the support of your colleagues. That's why the growth of organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists or the organization of the atomic scientists who put out the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is important as a support for individuals who want to follow their consciences rather than their financial success and careers. So, it's still difficult, but it seems to me that when you get together with other people and you decide collectively that you are going to oppose the use of science for military purposes it becomes easier. And we have examples like that.
We have the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. There are thousands of physicians of the IPPNW, and they certainly have sort of made it a principle for them to speak out publicly. And they've been successfulnot successful enough, obviously, but successfulin educating the public of the dangers of nuclear warfare.
I remember when the IPPNW came out with its studythis was in the 1980sof what the effects would be on the Boston area from a nuclear blast. Well, it went into great and horrifying detail and, you know, I think that was instructive and educational for a lot of people. So, there's great work that can be done by people in the sciences who are organized in that way.
Why do you think that the possibility of abolishing war is so difficult for people to understand?
Well, one reason it is so difficult is that there's a tendency to believe that what has happened in the past must inevitably continue to happen in the present and future. In other words, since the history of humankind, there's been a history of repeated wars, almost continuous warfare. It's very hard for people to accept the fact that this might come to an end. Indeed, Tuberculosis was a scourge all through the history of humankind and it was hard for people to accept the fact that it actually might be done away with. The history of warfare likewise has made it difficult for people to accept the fact that there could be a break with history and war could be abolished. That's one reason.
Another reason is that there are certain wars that have been imbued with a grandeur and nobility, that makes people think that war can be useful, important, even necessary for valid human purposes. I'm speaking particularly about World War II.
After all the disillusionment that followed World War I, World War II made war acceptable again because it was a war against this great evilfascism. And it is still today considered "the good war." It is still today presented as the example of "the just war." And while I seriously question this characterization of World War II, there is no doubt that its reputation has imbedded in people's minds the idea that it is possible to have a "good war", a "just war." I think that is a great obstacle to people accepting the idea of the abolition of war.
Going off your earlier comment on "experts", a word that's thrown around a lot in our societyI hear it a lot especially in universityis the word "professionalism." It's like a rule of propriety to people in various professions such as cooks, cleaners, retail and food service, artists, teachers, lawyers, doctors, etc, to "be professional", and to know their place and not involve themselves in matters that are deemed "political."
Yeah, well, this is a recipe for disaster. That is, to have everyone in society work only within their profession, within their job. Not to look outside the boundaries of their job means to withdraw as a citizen. It's actually the opposite of democracy. Democracy requires the full participation of all citizens, whatever their occupation, whatever they do, whether they're dishwashers, or college professors, or scientists. For them to not devote some part of their lives to examining the larger society in which they work is to really drop out of the social structure and allow a small number of powerful, political leaders to do what they want, uninhibiteduninhibited because there's no opposition, because everybody in society is paying attention only to their profession, essentially neutered, essentially helpless. So, as I said, this is the opposite of democracy which requires the full participation of everybody in the political process of decision-making.
You've often mentioned an interesting quote from philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau about professionalism.
Rousseau wrote: "We have physicists, geometricians, chemists, astronomers, poets, musicians and painters in plenty, but we have no longer a citizen among us." He was pointing to the specialization in modern times, in which people were divided into professional groups who concentrated their attention on their narrow specialties, leaving the important decisions in societywar and peace, wealth and povertyto be made by professional politicians. This was a surrender of moral responsibility by people who concentrated on becoming "successful" in their own field, and not risking their safety and economic security by entering the arena of social struggle and moral decisions.
Tying into our discussion: what do you think of the notion sometimes referred to as the "responsibility of the intellectual", that is, the more privilege you have in society, the more opportunity and choices you have and, therefore, the more responsible you are for the atrocities of your own government, since you are more able to speak out against them?
That is an interesting point. Intellectuals have a respected place in society, and have the ability to communicate, through writing and speaking, to the larger public. Therefore, they have a moral responsibility to use this special power on behalf of humane values, on behalf of peace and justice. Their failure to do so is therefore especially to be condemned.
Scientists pride themselves on the ability to make pure science and come to exact scientific conclusions, but it's also often assumed therefore that these sort of peoplepeople with $100,000 educations, degrees and technical specialtiesare better equipped than others to act as experts or to reveal gospel and come to moral conclusions regarding human affairs. Do you agree? I mean, what do you think people need, then, to be able to make moral decisions, if not some kind of "special" credentials?
Sheer knowledge, whether of science, history, or any of the disciplines, does not make anyone more capable of making moral decisions, which only require common sense, common decency, compassionall of which are traits possessed by all human beings, regardless of how much "education" they have had.
During the Vietnam War, for instance, all surveys showed that the people with the most education were most likely to support the government in that immoral war, and people with only a high school education were more likely to oppose the war.
Students and Social Struggle
During the Vietnam War it was students who originally envisioned and organized the March 4 event. What importance do the issues we've been discussing today have on young people and students?
I would argue that there is nothing more important that an education can do than to turn the student away from the narrow confines of material success in the present society. That is, to turn the student away from merely becoming a cog in the machinery of current society and have the student think in broader terms of social justice and about creating a better world.
Unfortunately, our education system is geared to prepare young people to become successful within the confines of the present society. It doesn't prepare them to question this present society, to ask if fundamental change is needed. And so I believe the most important thing education can do is to take the students out of this narrow concern with learning what they need to be successful in their profession and make them aware that the most important thing they can do in their lives is to play a role in creating a better society, whether it's stopping war, or ending racial inequality, or ending economic inequality. This is the most important thing that education can do. And I think our most wise of educatorsour philosophers of education, like John Deweyhave recognized this as the critical problem of education.
In your speech at March 4 you spoke of the young Harvard and MIT students, who, along with other classes of people, became enthralled by the fervor of the war effort during the First World War and eagerly joined the army under slogans like the one in the ironic mural in the Widener Library at Harvard that reads, "Happy is he who in one embrace clasps death and victory." However, you noted that things had changed for the young students of MIT and Harvard during the Vietnam War who were obstreperous and angry at the government. It's interesting to me that young people like Harvard & MIT kids possess often times debilitating privileges of race and affluence yet there are examples of these kind of students placing themselves at the barricades, as it were, sacrificing as much as others who are more recognizably oppressed. What do you think accounts for this?
I think it's because young people have an inherent desire to do something important in society. And, therefore, if that desire becomes strong enough it overcomes whatever in their background might induce them to play a passive role. And so I'm not surprised that students at Harvard and MIT would become active.
But, of course, during the Vietnam War it's very hard to make a distinction between elite institutions and ordinary colleges in terms of student activism. Because, in the case of the Vietnam War, student activism took place all through the spectrum of universities from the most prestigious to the least prestigious. Sure, students at Harvard and MIT were active, but students at Kent State, just an ordinary state university, were very, very active. It's just that students at Harvard and MIT, when they became active, their activity was especially noticeable because of the prestige of their universities. But, in fact, there was no particular superiority of Harvard and MIT in terms of activism when you looked at activism around the country.
A Power Governments Cannot Suppress
Also in your speech at March 4 you suggested developing independent sources of power to counter the use of force and deception by governments. You stated that, "in a society held together by falsehood, knowledge is an especially important form of power." But how can knowledge overwhelm brute force when it comes down to it?
Well, knowledge can't, by itself, overwhelm brute force. It's only when that knowledge is translated into organization and mobilization, and that knowledge is reaching large numbers of people who then can resist the power of government, or corporations, or the military. I mean, if you are an ordinary worker, and you have the knowledge that you are being exploited as a worker, that obviously isn't enough. But if there are enough people in the workplace who have this knowledge and then transform what they know into organizing themselves, then they can act in unison and they can create a power which the most powerful corporation cannot overcome. Essentially, corporations and governments depend on an obedient population to maintain their power. If that populationthat is, the people who work for the corporation, the citizens of the government, the soldiers in the militarywithholds its support, stops cooperating, then the supposed all-powerful corporation, government, military become helpless. So it's a matter of transforming that knowledge into organized power.
The main portion of this interview was conducted in Professor Zinn's office at Boston University on July 23, 2008.
*A most especial thanks is extended to Mary E. Barnes for her invaluable aid as an editor.
Howard Zinn is an artist, playwright, historian, social activist, and Professor Emeritus of Boston University. He is author of three plays, as well as many numerous books and articles on history and social justice including the landmark A People's History of the United States and his most recent book, A Power Governments Cannot Suppress (City Lights, 2006).
Gabriel Matthew Schivone is an editor of Days Beyond Recall Alternative Media and Literary Journal. His articles, having been translated into multiple languages, have appeared in numerous journals such as Z Magazine, Counterpunch and the Monthly Review, as well as Contre Info (France), and Caminos (Cuba). He is most recently the recipient of the 2007 Frederica Hearst Prize for Lyrical Poetry. He is also an active member of the University of Arizona chapter of Amnesty International, Voices of Opposition (to War, Racism and Oppression), Students Organized for Animal Rights, Sweatshop-Free Coalition, and Dry River Radical Resource Center. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
from Ralph Nader :
Date: 25 August 2008
Subject: Voting in America.
from Information Clearing House :
Date: 27 August 2008
Subject: America's Present and Future Wars.
Thinking about the massive failure of the US media to report truthfully is sobering. The United States, bristling with nuclear weapons and pursuing a policy of world hegemony, has a population that is kept in the dark--indeed brainwashed--about the most important and most dangerous events of our time.
from Information Clearing House :
Date: 29 August 2008
Subject: Video: "No End in Sight".
An Oscar nominee for best feature-length documentary and winner of a special jury prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, "No End" casts a critical eye on U.S. decisions made during the early months of the war in Iraq, with government and military insiders relating their experiences. A. O. Scott of The New York Times called it "exacting, enraging" and said "[Charles Ferguson] presents familiar material with impressive concision and impact, offering a clear, temperate and devastating account of high-level arrogance and incompetence."
from Chalmers Johnson :
Date: 27 August 2008
Introduction: On April 11, 12, 13, and 14, 2003, the United States Army and United States Marine Corps disgraced themselves and the country they represent in Baghdad, Iraq's capital city. Having invaded Iraq and accepted the status of a military occupying power, they sat in their tanks and Humvees, watching as unarmed civilians looted the Iraqi National Museum and burned down the Iraqi National Library and Archives as well as the Library of Korans of the Ministry of Religious Endowments. Their behavior was in violation of their orders, international law, and the civilized values of the United States. Far from apologizing for these atrocities or attempting to make amends, the United States government has in the past five years added insult to injury.
Donald Rumsfeld, then secretary of defense and the official responsible for the actions of the troops, repeatedly attempted to trivialize what had occurred with inane public statements like "democracy is messy" and "stuff happens."
On December 2, 2004, President Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, to General Tommy Franks, the overall military commander in Iraq at that time, for his meritorious service to the country. (He gave the same award to L. Paul Bremer III, the highest ranking civilian official in Iraq, and to George Tenet, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, which had provided false information about Saddam Hussein and Iraq to Congress and the people.)
In the five years since the initial looting and pillaging of the Iraqi capital, thieves have stolen at least 32,000 items from some 12,000 archaeological sites across Iraq with no interference whatsoever from the occupying power. No funds have been appropriated by the American or Iraqi governments to protect the most valuable and vulnerable historical sites on Earth, even though experience has shown that just a daily helicopter overflight usually scares off looters. In 2006, the World Monuments Fund took the unprecedented step of putting the entire country of Iraq on its list of the most endangered sites. All of this occurred on George W. Bush's watch and impugned any moral authority he might have claimed.
The United States government seems never to have understood that, when it began the occupation of Iraq on March 19, 2003, it became legally responsible for what happened to the country's cultural inheritance. After all, the only legal justification for its presence in Iraq is U.N. Security Council Resolution 1483 of May 22, 2003. Both the United States and the United Kingdom voted for this resolution in which they formally acknowledged their status and obligations as occupying powers in Iraq. Among those obligations, specified in the Preamble to the resolution, was: "The need for respect for the archaeological, historical, cultural, and religious heritage of Iraq, and for the continued protection of archaeological, historical, cultural, and religious sites, museums, libraries, and monuments." Every politically sentient observer on Earth is aware of the Bush administration's contempt for international law and its routine scofflaw behavior since it came to power, but this clause remains an ironclad obligation that will stand up in an international or a domestic U.S. court. On this issue, the United States is an outlaw, waiting to be brought to justice.
In 1258 AD the Mongols descended on Baghdad and pillaged its magnificent libraries. A well-known adage states that the Tigris River ran black from the ink of the countless texts the Mongols trashed, while the streets ran red with the blood of the city's slaughtered inhabitants. The world has never forgotten that medieval act of barbarism, just as it will never forget what the U.S. military unleashed on the defenseless city in 2003 and in subsequent years. There is simply no excuse for what has happened in Baghdad at the hands of the Americans. -- Chalmers Johnson, August, 2008]
The Smash of Civilizations
In the months before he ordered the invasion of Iraq, George Bush and his senior officials spoke of preserving Iraq's "patrimony" for the Iraqi people. At a time when talking about Iraqi oil was taboo, what he meant by patrimony was exactly that -- Iraqi oil. In their "joint statement on Iraq's future" of April 8, 2003, George Bush and Tony Blair declared, "We reaffirm our commitment to protect Iraq's natural resources, as the patrimony of the people of Iraq, which should be used only for their benefit." In this they were true to their word. Among the few places American soldiers actually did guard during and in the wake of their invasion were oil fields and the Oil Ministry in Baghdad. But the real Iraqi patrimony, that invaluable human inheritance of thousands of years, was another matter. At a time when American pundits were warning of a future "clash of civilizations," our occupation forces were letting perhaps the greatest of all human patrimonies be looted and smashed.
There have been many dispiriting sights on TV since George Bush launched his ill-starred war on Iraq -- the pictures from Abu Ghraib, Fallujah laid waste, American soldiers kicking down the doors of private homes and pointing assault rifles at women and children. But few have reverberated historically like the looting of Baghdad's museum -- or been forgotten more quickly in this country.
Teaching the Iraqis about the Untidiness of History
In archaeological circles, Iraq is known as "the cradle of civilization," with a record of culture going back more than 7,000 years. William R. Polk, the founder of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago, says, "It was there, in what the Greeks called Mesopotamia, that life as we know it today began: there people first began to speculate on philosophy and religion, developed concepts of international trade, made ideas of beauty into tangible forms, and, above all developed the skill of writing." No other places in the Bible except for Israel have more history and prophecy associated with them than Babylonia, Shinar (Sumer), and Mesopotamia -- different names for the territory that the British around the time of World War I began to call "Iraq," using the old Arab term for the lands of the former Turkish enclave of Mesopotamia (in Greek: "between the [Tigris and Euphrates] rivers"). Most of the early books of Genesis are set in Iraq (see, for instance, Genesis 10:10, 11:31; also Daniel 1-4; II Kings 24).
The best-known of the civilizations that make up Iraq's cultural heritage are the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Parthians, Sassanids, and Muslims. On April 10, 2003, in a television address, President Bush acknowledged that the Iraqi people are "the heirs of a great civilization that contributes to all humanity." Only two days later, under the complacent eyes of the U.S. Army, the Iraqis would begin to lose that heritage in a swirl of looting and burning.
In September 2004, in one of the few self-critical reports to come out of Donald Rumsfeld's Department of Defense, the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication wrote: "The larger goals of U.S. strategy depend on separating the vast majority of non-violent Muslims from the radical-militant Islamist-Jihadists. But American efforts have not only failed in this respect: they may also have achieved the opposite of what they intended." Nowhere was this failure more apparent than in the indifference -- even the glee -- shown by Rumsfeld and his generals toward the looting on April 11 and 12, 2003, of the National Museum in Baghdad and the burning on April 14, 2003, of the National Library and Archives as well as the Library of Korans at the Ministry of Religious Endowments. These events were, according to Paul Zimansky, a Boston University archaeologist, "the greatest cultural disaster of the last 500 years." Eleanor Robson of All Souls College, Oxford, said, "You'd have to go back centuries, to the Mongol invasion of Baghdad in 1258, to find looting on this scale." Yet Secretary Rumsfeld compared the looting to the aftermath of a soccer game and shrugged it off with the comment that "Freedom's untidy. . . . Free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes."
The Baghdad archaeological museum has long been regarded as perhaps the richest of all such institutions in the Middle East. It is difficult to say with precision what was lost there in those catastrophic April days in 2003 because up-to-date inventories of its holdings, many never even described in archaeological journals, were also destroyed by the looters or were incomplete thanks to conditions in Baghdad after the Gulf War of 1991. One of the best records, however partial, of its holdings is the catalog of items the museum lent in 1988 to an exhibition held in Japan's ancient capital of Nara entitled Silk Road Civilizations. But, as one museum official said to John Burns of the New York Times after the looting, "All gone, all gone. All gone in two days."
A single, beautifully illustrated, indispensable book edited by Milbry Polk and Angela M.H. Schuster, The Looting of the Iraq Museum, Baghdad: The Lost Legacy of Ancient Mesopotamia (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2005), represents the heartbreaking attempt of over a dozen archaeological specialists on ancient Iraq to specify what was in the museum before the catastrophe, where those objects had been excavated, and the condition of those few thousand items that have been recovered. The editors and authors have dedicated a portion of the royalties from this book to the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage.
At a conference on art crimes held in London a year after the disaster, the British Museum's John Curtis reported that at least half of the forty most important stolen objects had not been retrieved and that of some 15,000 items looted from the museum's showcases and storerooms about 8,000 had yet to be traced. Its entire collection of 5,800 cylinder seals and clay tablets, many containing cuneiform writing and other inscriptions some of which go back to the earliest discoveries of writing itself, was stolen. Since then, as a result of an amnesty for looters, about 4,000 of the artifacts have been recovered in Iraq, and over 1,000 have been confiscated in the United States. Curtis noted that random checks of Western soldiers leaving Iraq had led to the discovery of several in illegal possession of ancient objects. Customs agents in the U.S. then found more. Officials in Jordan have impounded about 2,000 pieces smuggled in from Iraq; in France, 500 pieces; in Italy, 300; in Syria, 300; and in Switzerland, 250. Lesser numbers have been seized in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey. None of these objects has as yet been sent back to Baghdad.
The 616 pieces that form the famous collection of "Nimrud gold," excavated by the Iraqis in the late 1980s from the tombs of the Assyrian queens at Nimrud, a few miles southeast of Mosul, were saved, but only because the museum had secretly moved them to the subterranean vaults of the Central Bank of Iraq at the time of the first Gulf War. By the time the Americans got around to protecting the bank in 2003, its building was a burnt-out shell filled with twisted metal beams from the collapse of the roof and all nine floors under it. Nonetheless, the underground compartments and their contents survived undamaged. On July 3, 2003, a small portion of the Nimrud holdings was put on display for a few hours, allowing a handful of Iraqi officials to see them for the first time since 1990.
The torching of books and manuscripts in the Library of Korans and the National Library was in itself a historical disaster of the first order. Most of the Ottoman imperial documents and the old royal archives concerning the creation of Iraq were reduced to ashes. According to Humberto Márquez, the Venezuelan writer and author of Historia Universal de La Destrucción de Los Libros (2004), about a million books and ten million documents were destroyed by the fires of April 14, 2003. Robert Fisk, the veteran Middle East correspondent of the Independent of London, was in Baghdad the day of the fires. He rushed to the offices of the U.S. Marines' Civil Affairs Bureau and gave the officer on duty precise map locations for the two archives and their names in Arabic and English, and pointed out that the smoke could be seen from three miles away. The officer shouted to a colleague, "This guy says some biblical library is on fire," but the Americans did nothing to try to put out the flames.
The Burger King of Ur
Given the black market value of ancient art objects, U.S. military leaders had been warned that the looting of all thirteen national museums throughout the country would be a particularly grave danger in the days after they captured Baghdad and took control of Iraq. In the chaos that followed the Gulf War of 1991, vandals had stolen about 4,000 objects from nine different regional museums. In monetary terms, the illegal trade in antiquities is the third most lucrative form of international trade globally, exceeded only by drug smuggling and arms sales. Given the richness of Iraq's past, there are also over 10,000 significant archaeological sites scattered across the country, only some 1,500 of which have been studied. Following the Gulf War, a number of them were illegally excavated and their artifacts sold to unscrupulous international collectors in Western countries and Japan. All this was known to American commanders.
In January 2003, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, an American delegation of scholars, museum directors, art collectors, and antiquities dealers met with officials at the Pentagon to discuss the forthcoming invasion. They specifically warned that Baghdad's National Museum was the single most important site in the country. McGuire Gibson of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute said, "I thought I was given assurances that sites and museums would be protected." Gibson went back to the Pentagon twice to discuss the dangers, and he and his colleagues sent several e-mail reminders to military officers in the weeks before the war began. However, a more ominous indicator of things to come was reported in the April 14, 2003, London Guardian: Rich American collectors with connections to the White House were busy "persuading the Pentagon to relax legislation that protects Iraq's heritage by prevention of sales abroad." On January 24, 2003, some sixty New York-based collectors and dealers organized themselves into a new group called the American Council for Cultural Policy and met with Bush administration and Pentagon officials to argue that a post-Saddam Iraq should have relaxed antiquities laws. Opening up private trade in Iraqi artifacts, they suggested, would offer such items better security than they could receive in Iraq.
The main international legal safeguard for historically and humanistically important institutions and sites is the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, signed on May 14, 1954. The U.S. is not a party to that convention, primarily because, during the Cold War, it feared that the treaty might restrict its freedom to engage in nuclear war; but during the 1991 Gulf War the elder Bush's administration accepted the convention's rules and abided by a "no-fire target list" of places where valuable cultural items were known to exist. UNESCO and other guardians of cultural artifacts expected the younger Bush's administration to follow the same procedures in the 2003 war.
Moreover, on March 26, 2003, the Pentagon's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), headed by Lt. Gen. (ret.) Jay Garner -- the civil authority the U.S. had set up for the moment hostilities ceased -- sent to all senior U.S. commanders a list of sixteen institutions that "merit securing as soon as possible to prevent further damage, destruction, and/or pilferage of records and assets." The five-page memo dispatched two weeks before the fall of Baghdad also said, "Coalition forces must secure these facilities in order to prevent looting and the resulting irreparable loss of cultural treasures" and that "looters should be arrested/detained." First on Gen. Garner's list of places to protect was the Iraqi Central Bank, which is now a ruin; second was the Museum of Antiquities. Sixteenth was the Oil Ministry, the only place that U.S. forces occupying Baghdad actually defended. Martin Sullivan, chair of the President's Advisory Committee on Cultural Property for the previous eight years, and Gary Vikan, director of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore and a member of the committee, both resigned to protest the failure of CENTCOM to obey orders. Sullivan said it was "inexcusable" that the museum should not have had the same priority as the Oil Ministry.
As we now know, the American forces made no effort to prevent the looting of the great cultural institutions of Iraq, its soldiers simply watching vandals enter and torch the buildings. Said Arjomand, an editor of the journal Studies on Persianate Societies and a professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, wrote, "Our troops, who have been proudly guarding the Oil Ministry, where no window is broken, deliberately condoned these horrendous events." American commanders claim that, to the contrary, they were too busy fighting and had too few troops to protect the museum and libraries. However, this seems to be an unlikely explanation. During the battle for Baghdad, the U.S. military was perfectly willing to dispatch some 2,000 troops to secure northern Iraq's oilfields, and their record on antiquities did not improve when the fighting subsided. At the 6,000-year-old Sumerian city of Ur with its massive ziggurat, or stepped temple-tower (built in the period 2112 -- 2095 B.C. and restored by Nebuchadnezzar II in the sixth century B.C.), the Marines spray-painted their motto, "Semper Fi" (semper fidelis, always faithful) onto its walls. The military then made the monument "off limits" to everyone in order to disguise the desecration that had occurred there, including the looting by U.S. soldiers of clay bricks used in the construction of the ancient buildings.
Until April 2003, the area around Ur, in the environs of Nasiriyah, was remote and sacrosanct. However, the U.S. military chose the land immediately adjacent to the ziggurat to build its huge Tallil Air Base with two runways measuring 12,000 and 9,700 feet respectively and four satellite camps. In the process, military engineers moved more than 9,500 truckloads of dirt in order to build 350,000 square feet of hangars and other facilities for aircraft and Predator unmanned drones. They completely ruined the area, the literal heartland of human civilization, for any further archaeological research or future tourism. On October 24, 2003, according to the Global Security Organization, the Army and Air Force built its own modern ziggurat. It "opened its second Burger King at Tallil. The new facility, co-located with [a].... Pizza Hut, provides another Burger King restaurant so that more service men and women serving in Iraq can, if only for a moment, forget about the task at hand in the desert and get a whiff of that familiar scent that takes them back home."
The great British archaeologist, Sir Max Mallowan (husband of Agatha Christie), who pioneered the excavations at Ur, Nineveh, and Nimrud, quotes some classical advice that the Americans might have been wise to heed: "There was danger in disturbing ancient monuments.... It was both wise and historically important to reverence the legacies of ancient times. Ur was a city infested with ghosts of the past and it was prudent to appease them."
The American record elsewhere in Iraq is no better. At Babylon, American and Polish forces built a military depot, despite objections from archaeologists. John Curtis, the British Museum's authority on Iraq's many archaeological sites, reported on a visit in December 2004 that he saw "cracks and gaps where somebody had tried to gouge out the decorated bricks forming the famous dragons of the Ishtar Gate" and a "2,600-year-old brick pavement crushed by military vehicles." Other observers say that the dust stirred up by U.S. helicopters has sandblasted the fragile brick façade of the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon from 605 to 562 B.C. The archaeologist Zainab Bahrani reports, "Between May and August 2004, the wall of the Temple of Nabu and the roof of the Temple of Ninmah, both of the sixth century B.C., collapsed as a result of the movement of helicopters. Nearby, heavy machines and vehicles stand parked on the remains of a Greek theater from the era of Alexander of Macedon [Alexander the Great]."
And none of this even begins to deal with the massive, ongoing looting of historical sites across Iraq by freelance grave and antiquities robbers, preparing to stock the living rooms of western collectors. The unceasing chaos and lack of security brought to Iraq in the wake of our invasion have meant that a future peaceful Iraq may hardly have a patrimony to display. It is no small accomplishment of the Bush administration to have plunged the cradle of the human past into the same sort of chaos and lack of security as the Iraqi present. If amnesia is bliss, then the fate of Iraq's antiquities represents a kind of modern paradise.
President Bush's supporters have talked endlessly about his global war on terrorism as a "clash of civilizations." But the civilization we are in the process of destroying in Iraq is part of our own heritage. It is also part of the world's patrimony. Before our invasion of Afghanistan, we condemned the Taliban for their dynamiting of the monumental third century A.D. Buddhist statues at Bamiyan in March, 2001. Those were two gigantic statues of remarkable historical value and the barbarism involved in their destruction blazed in headlines and horrified commentaries in our country. Today, our own government is guilty of far greater crimes when it comes to the destruction of a whole universe of antiquity, and few here, when they consider Iraqi attitudes toward the American occupation, even take that into consideration. But what we do not care to remember, others may recall all too well.
 American Embassy, London, "Visit of President Bush to Northern Ireland, April 7-8, 2003."
 William R. Polk, "Introduction," in Milbry Polk and Angela M. H. Schuster, eds., The Looting of the Iraq Museum: The Lost Legacy of Ancient Mesopotamia (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2005), p. 5. Also see Suzanne Muchnic, "Spotlight on Iraq's Plundered Past," Los Angeles Times, June 20, 2005.
 David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East (New York: Owl Books, 1989, 2001), p. 450.
 George Bush's address to the Iraqi people, broadcast on "Towards Freedom TV," April 10, 2003.
 Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication (Washington, D.C.: September 2004), pp. 39-40.
 See Frank Rich, "And Now: 'Operation Iraqi Looting,'" New York Times, April 27, 2003.
 Robert Scheer, "It's U.S. Policy that's 'Untidy,'" Los Angeles Times, April 15, 2003; reprinted in Books in Flames, Tomdispatch, April 15, 2003.
 John F. Burns, "Pillagers Strip Iraqi Museum of Its Treasures," New York Times, April 13, 2003; Piotr Michalowski (University of Michigan), The Ransacking of the Baghdad Museum is a Disgrace, History News Network, April 14, 2003.
 Polk and Schuster, op. cit, pp. 209-210.
 Mark Wilkinson, Looting of Ancient Sites Threatens Iraqi Heritage, Reuters, June 29, 2005.
 Polk and Schuster, op. cit., pp. 23, 212-13; Louise Jury, "At Least 8,000 Treasures Looted from Iraq Museum Still Untraced," Independent, May 24, 2005; Stephen Fidler, "'The Looters Knew What They Wanted. It Looks Like Vandalism, but Organized Crime May be Behind It,'" Financial Times, May 23, 2003; Rod Liddle, The Day of the Jackals, Spectator, April 19, 2003.
 Humberto Márquez, Iraq Invasion the 'Biggest Cultural Disaster Since 1258,' Antiwar.com, February 16, 2005.
 Robert Fisk, "Library Books, Letters, and Priceless Documents are Set Ablaze in Final Chapter of the Sacking of Baghdad," Independent, April 15, 2003.
 Polk and Schuster, op. cit., p. 10.
 Guy Gugliotta, "Pentagon Was Told of Risk to Museums; U.S. Urged to Save Iraq's Historic Artifacts," Washington Post, April 14, 2003; McGuire Gibson, "Cultural Tragedy In Iraq: A Report On the Looting of Museums, Archives, and Sites," International Foundation for Art Research.
 Rod Liddle, op. cit.; Oliver Burkeman, Ancient Archive Lost in Baghdad Blaze, Guardian, April 15, 2003.
 See James A. R. Nafziger, Art Loss in Iraq: Protection of Cultural Heritage in Time of War and Its Aftermath, International Foundation for Art Research.
 Paul Martin, Ed Vulliamy, and Gaby Hinsliff, U.S. Army was Told to Protect Looted Museum, Observer, April 20, 2003; Frank Rich, op. cit.; Paul Martin, "Troops Were Told to Guard Treasures," Washington Times, April 20, 2003.
 Said Arjomand, Under the Eyes of U.S. Forces and This Happened?, History News Network, April 14, 2003.
 Ed Vulliamy, Troops 'Vandalize' Ancient City of Ur, Observer, May 18, 2003; Paul Johnson, Art: A New History (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), pp. 18, 35; Polk and Schuster, op. cit., p. 99, fig. 25.
 Tallil Air Base, GlobalSecurity.org.
 Max Mallowan, Mallowan's Memoirs (London: Collins, 1977), p. 61.
 Rory McCarthy and Maev Kennedy, Babylon Wrecked by War, Guardian, January 15, 2005.
 Owen Bowcott, Archaeologists Fight to Save Iraqi Sites, Guardian, June 20, 2005.
 Zainab Bahrani, "The Fall of Babylon," in Polk and Schuster, op. cit., p. 214.
Chalmers Johnson's latest book is Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, now available in a Holt Paperback. It is the third volume of his Blowback Trilogy. This piece, originally posted on July 7, 2005, at TomDispatch.com, has also been collected in The World According to TomDispatch, America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008).