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Subject: Cultural heritage in Iraq

Cultural heritage in Iraq

From: Gregor Trinkaus-Randall <gregor.trinkaus-randall>
Date: Tuesday, April 29, 2003
I think that Peter Graham raised some important points.  I would
like to add some insight to governmental disregard for cultural
heritage before even beginning to address the situation in Iraq.

When it was realized in the mid-1990s that cultural resources were
not even on the radar screen in emergency planning on either a state
or federal level, a number of institutions in Massachusetts formed
the Cultural Resources Disaster Planning and Mitigation Task Force.
The object of this body was to impress upon both the state and the
federal emergency management agencies that cultural resources and
our cultural heritage needed to be included in emergency planning
and recovery.  We were able to accomplish a couple of things before
we needed to disband because we could not take more time away from
our paying jobs.

    1.  Every municipal emergency manager in the Commonwealth was
        given an information sheet for cultural resources within his
        or her community to complete with information on resources
        that they would need in the event of a disaster.  These
        sheets were to be included in the municipality's emergency
        plan.

    2.  We have had a representative for cultural resources (me) on
        the Massachusetts Emergency Management Team since 1996.

    3.  At a FEMA debriefing following the 2001 floods of the
        Neponset and Merrimack Rivers, cultural resources ended up
        number seven out of some thirty priorities that the audience
        felt needed to be addressed by FEMA, and

    4.  We held two community-wide forums to address the need for
        cultural resource institutions to develop disaster
        preparedness plans and to coordinate their efforts in a
        larger disaster preparedness effort with that community and
        with adjoining communities.

It was only several years after we began our efforts that we began
to see some activity in FEMA (a couple of FEMA personnel were on
this Task Force) regarding the need to protect cultural resources.
They are not there yet, but they at least are moving in that
direction.

Now let me address Iraq.  It has been generally accepted that the
Iraqi museums, libraries, archives, and archaeological sites have
housed irreplaceable objects and documents, crucial to the study of
early civilizations.  This has been known for a long time, Donald
Rumsfeld not withstanding.  Furthermore, a couple of organizations
apparently briefed the State Department and Defense Department
officials on the need for a non-military police force to be poised
to enter Iraq immediately after the fall of Baghdad to protect
cultural resources and other facilities and to provide a means to
maintain order (NPR). Their recommendations and proposals were
completely ignored.

These organizations were acting on research and experiences based on
the events that occurred in Bosnia and Panama, among other locales.
In each of these instances, local police activity ended, and rioting
and looting occurred that was targeted at cultural resources with
the focus on destroying the cultural heritage of particular
populations and ethnic groups.  Guess what happened in Iraq?
Furthermore, I think that it is inexcusable that this administration
protected the Oil Ministry at the expense of all these other
institutions.  Where are our priorities?  Is it no wonder that the
Iraqis think that the US is there for oil alone?

At the same time it is crucial to keep everything in perspective.
Had the US government planned for the aftermath of the war, there
would not be the chaos that exists regarding human suffering and the
lack of basic services that are needed to allow life to proceed in a
more or less normal manner.  Had this planning gone on as it should
have, there is a much greater possibility that the population would
not be suffering as much as it is and that the museums, libraries,
and archives would not have been looted and torched.  All this does
is focus attention on the ultimate motives of this US government and
their lack of concern for humanity and cultural resources.

While the events in Bosnia, Panama, and now Iraq are horrendous,
they serve to highlight the need to impress upon governments,
especially the American one, that there is a real reason why these
institutions, artifacts, documents, and volumes have existed and
been saved over the decades, centuries, and millennia. There are
also reasons why certain populations would like to see them
destroyed.  Therefore, if and when military activities occur, and I
am not advocating them at all, then as much effort needs to be put
into protecting the populations and cultural heritage of these
countries as into the other military planning.  It is not only the
people of the affected countries who lose.  All humanity loses in
these losses.  As per normal emergency planning, life and safety
must come first, but when neither life and safety nor the protection
of cultural heritage is addressed in a timely manner, then not only
does the population lose in their day-to-day lives, but all
civilization as we know it loses.

Gregor Trinkaus-Randall, M.L.S., C.A.
Preservation Specialist
Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners
648 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02215-2070
617-267-9400 x 236 or in-state 800-952-7403 x 236


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