Opinion and Editorial

A monumental task

Filed on April 22, 2006

ALL wars exact a price. In ancient times, when the weapons of mass destruction were not involved, the losses on the part of conquerors and the conquered were only men and material, and, of course, kingdoms.

Modern warfare is different though. It can cause immense losses in terms of human lives. History is full of examples of how invading armies destroyed palaces, places of worship, cities, etc. and while retreating looted them and carted away the booty. Unfortunately, a victim of this rapacious human behaviour is history itself. By erasing the traces of our earlier civilisations, sometimes pre-historic, we are obliterating our collective past.

A case in point is Babylon, the fabled city of yore. One of the seven wonders of the ancient world, Babylon was home to the Hanging Gardens and the Tower of Babel. It cradled of one of the greatest civilisations. A treasure trove for historians, archaeologists and researchers, the centuries-old mud and brick wonder had fallen prey to successive colonial powers, looters, local and international antique thieves and collectors, and petty archaeological plunderers. Besides, natural elements have taken their toll on the crumbling monuments.

During the early days of American-led allied campaign against Saddam Hussein to liberate Iraq from the dictator’s iron clutches, hundreds of US archaeologists had drawn up a list of thousands of ‘No Bombing’ sites, including Babylon, for the Pentagon to protect them. But sadly, war books seldom mention selective bombing in indiscriminate strafing. According to a report, the damage done to the city in these three years has been much more than that it suffered in the last three millennia. Foreign troops based in Babylon had dug up trenches in and built a helipad on the ruins of a city that gave the world Hammurabi’s code of law. Archaeologists allege that alien guardians of law and order have used precious artefacts to stuff sandbags.

However, the UN and Iraqi officials are making spirited efforts to salvage the remains of whatever is left in the dust. No doubt, it’s a Herculean task to recreate something that existed thousands of years ago. What matters is not the money, enormous effort and time needed to cobble together the leftovers of a destroyed era but the wounded feelings of people. If war is inevitable, wanton destruction is avoidable. These ancient treasure troves are our common legacy, and as such they should be respected and protected. Iraq’s heritage transcends race, religion and national boundaries and it needs to be preserved at any cost.

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