I haven’t been eminently vociferous with regard to the situation in Iraq as of late. My comments might even seem conspicuous by their absense, considering my previous writings on the matter.
I could lie, use the old chestnut that anything I could have said would have been put better by others elsewhere.
Yet the truth is that the dissipation of the conflict (or war, or whatever you want to call it) came as a big surprise to me last week. Not that I didn’t think the Iraqi people would welcome the coalition forces with seemingly wide open arms once the Ba’ath party was out of the picture, but I honestly believed that Saddam Hussein would have put up more of a fight, or done something spectacularly catastrophic and despicable, as the allied troops rolled into Baghdad.
Personally, I did not support the action that was taken because — whatever the consequences — there _were_ ultertior motives at stake, not to mention my belief that one should not be eternally grateful to a superpower that sees fit to pick and choose its enemies and yet defend its actions on moral or humanitarian grounds. Despite this, no one can say that they weren’t happy for the people of Iraq when they took to the streets en masse to celebrate the demise of his crumbling regime and let the world know what they really think of him. (Of course, this _may_ all have been an act: the Iraqi people have been conditioned to give devout allegiance to their rulers for a long time now; this is something to keep in mind.)
My fears may have been allayed somewhat. Even when it seems that 1,000+ alleged Iraqi casualties don’t even trump a single American one, I could shrug it off as ‘something to be expected’. Others, however, are only now coming to light.
The ransacking of Iraq’s historial treasures, for one. Both the National Muesum and the Koranic library are reported to have been destroyed irreparably. And the fact that this ruination could have been prevented by coalition intervention leaves a very bitter taste in the mouth. (Other weblogs such as Antipixel have been tracking these events throughout the week; read Jeremy’s posts here, here and here.)
The freedom of the people depends at least in part on their identity, and their collective assertion of it. Collective identity is often both defined and derived through historial artifacts: cultural, _textual_ testimonies; works of art in the broadest sense. Without a preserved, tangible connection to their history, the collective identity of the Iraqi people might lack a solid foundation.
Sure, on an incidental basis the loss of the material might not compare to the loss of the corporeal. But the impact of the former is often far, far greater in significance.
Think of the people of Afghanistan under the regime of the Taliban. Think of the citizens of North Korea under the iron fist of Kim Jong-Il. This is what happens to people when their history — their ability to _shape_ or affect their own history — is taken away from them.
In the western world our material connection to history (to our successes and achievements, our mistakes and regrets) is taken for granted. Without it, we would be very little if not nothing. We — and the United States in particular — should be setting a better example, not standing idly by while priceless knowledge and heritage is lost in flames and ruin.