Looting Iraq

     "Culture? What culture? They've never produced a 
single automobile!" This was Rush Limbaugh's reaction to 
the looting of Iraq's museum of antiquities, which until 
the other day contained some of the oldest, most 
priceless and irreplaceable artifacts of human 
civilization, now stolen or smashed. His colleague Sean 
Hannity likewise dismissed those artifacts as mere 

     And for some reason, other countries think Americans 
are crass! Query: In what sense can men who are 
indifferent to the obliteration of the past -- in this 
case, a heritage not just of Iraq, but of all mankind -- 
be called "conservatives"? By Limbaugh's standard, I 
suppose German culture peaked not with Bach, Kant, and 
Goethe, but with the Volkswagen.

     Of course we don't want to divinize human culture -- 
which so many people nowadays adopt as a secular 
substitute for religion -- but it is, after all, a 
precious thing. And as Christopher Dawson taught us, it 
flourishes under the influence of religion and mingles 
with it. Is there even such a thing as a great atheistic 
culture, based in a materialistic denial of the divine? 
Nothing was ever more drab or dismal than the arts under 
Communism. (Even a Soviet performance of Handel's MESSIAH 
had to explain to the audience that that glorious work 
was an allegory of the "proletarian struggle"!)

     My own horror of war began when I read the casual 
remark of a literary critic that for all we know, the 
Mozart of the 20th century died in World War I. That 
brought the meaning of war home to me better than any 
statistics or atrocities could. Of course there are 
better reasons to hate war, but that was the one that 
woke me up.

     Truth may be the first casualty of war, but culture 
is always another. Those who are indifferent to its 
destruction are apt to be indifferent to the destruction 
of life itself. Apparently the Rumsfelds and Wolfowitzes 
who planned this war didn't think the preservation of the 
most ancient tokens of civilization was worth budgeting 

     But others are realizing what has been lost. The 
looting mobs have taken some of the bloom off the claim 
that the Iraqi people are celebrating their liberation by 
U.S. forces. Certainly the vandals have been liberated. 
As a friend put it, "We're hearing from the happy ones 
today. We'll hear from the others in the years to come."

     It could be soon. One rumor has it that if the 
public knew about the terrorist plots the FBI has already 
foiled, millions of New Yorkers would flee the city. The 
FBI is like a goalie in a sudden-death hockey game: It 
has to block every single shot. Imagine, say, one suicide 
bomber in the Lincoln Tunnel. Isn't it just a matter of 
time before something like that happens?

     And, as if to prove its most cynical critics right, 
the administration is already threatening Syria!


     I've recently been writing about the now-famous case 
of Ali, the 12-year-old boy who lost his entire family, 
both parents and six siblings, as well as both his arms, 
in a U.S. rocket attack. Ali's case has harpooned the 
consciences of many defenders of the war, and their 
reaction has been fascinating. One reader of my 
syndicated column suggested that Ali might have grown up 
to be a terrorist! Not much danger of that now; it's hard 
to make bombs when you have no hands. Other readers have 
argued that Ali's tragedy was all Saddam Hussein's fault, 
or that it couldn't be helped, or that these things 
happen in wartime, et cetera. 

     A few have added that I am a dirty so-and-so for 
bringing it up at all!

     But whatever my sins are, however scarlet they may 
be, I didn't make Ali up. He is real.

     And there are countless others like him, according 
to the Red Cross, which describes a literal truckload of 
corpses and body parts in Baghdad. The blast that 
apparently killed Saddam Hussein left a 60-foot crater, 
near which were found a child's body and a young woman's 
torso and severed head. We have no way of knowing how 
many others were killed. Only four of Baghdad's 30 
hospitals are functioning, trying to care for the wounded 
despite a woeful lack of medical supplies (some 
reportedly have only aspirin).

     Well, yes, these things do happen in wartime. That's 
an excellent reason for avoiding war whenever possible, 
and this "war of choice" was certainly avoidable. And 
given the immense U.S. military superiority at every 
level (the Iraqis couldn't even get a single fighter 
plane off the ground), why was it necessary to fire 
rockets into thickly populated areas?

     Our Lord tells us that what we do to the least of 
His brothers, we do to Him. He doesn't add "-- except, of 
course, when the acceptance of collateral damage is 
warranted." A Catholic friend observed the other day that 
though our Lord also tells us to pray for our enemies, 
such prayers are conspicuously absent at Mass, even 
during this war. Of course Americans don't really regard 
Iraqis as their enemies (though I doubt that the reverse 
is now true). But who has been praying for Ali? He was 
certainly not our enemy, but we are, just as certainly, 


     It's remarkable how many people feel that the U.S. 
victory has proved that opponents of the war were wrong. 
Since when does the triumph of overwhelming force prove 
that force is morally right? We all expected that 
superior U.S. machinery would, as usual, prevail. The 
Iraqis couldn't even put a plane in the air, as bombs and 
rockets rained down on them. Many of their soldiers 
fought to the death, defending their country against 
impossible odds. It seems a bit smug to gloat over the 
defeat of such men, especially from the safety of the 
living room.

     There was a time when Americans could honor the 
valor of a fallen foe. That would seem appropriate now. 
But graceless gloating is the style today, a barbaric 
legacy of total war. We actually take pride in the fact 
that our machines are stronger than their brave men. We 
think a mechanical victory proves our cause righteous -- 
even that it proves us courageous! Listen to the 
Limbaughs and Hannitys. 

     This is patriotism? Shouldn't patriotism mean pride 
in your country's honor -- and a corresponding shame at 
its disgrace? A true patriotism is not at all the same 
thing as mere national vanity, of which we are seeing all 
too much these days. The spirit that boasts "We're Number 
One" isn't patriotism. It's group egotism. The severest 
critics of ancient Israel were the holy prophets who 
loved it most. Our Lord wept over Jerusalem.

     "To make us love our country," in Edmund Burke's 
famous words, "our country ought to be lovely." I wish I 
could say that America is lovely today. I wish the world 
would refer to it admiringly as a "constitutional 
republic" rather than as a dreadful "superpower." I wish 
we were envied and imitated for our laws instead of our 

     And I wish Ali could grow up loving America.


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