Once in a while we opinion hacks write a piece that causes widespread outrage. When this happens to me, I hardly ever — honestly — understand why people are outraged, though sometimes after discussion and some to-ing and fro-ing of emails I see the outragees’ point. (Seeing it is not, of course, the same thing as agreeing with it.)
Thus it was when I wrote this piece for NRO back in April 2003. In the disorders following the fall of Saddam there was some looting of Iraqi museums. The argument of my column was that the looting was on balance a good thing.
At any point in history, some parts of the world are civilized, and some are sunk in barbarism. The civilized part of the world at present is what we call the West — a term not to be taken with strict geographical seriousness, as it includes places like Japan and Australia. The Arab countries, including Iraq, belong to the sphere of barbarism, subject to unpredictable spasms of war, revolution, and chaos. In the present age, priceless artefacts from mankind’s history should be kept in the West as far as possible. This gives them their best chance of surviving for another century or two. (Note: “the best chance.” Nothing is certain, and the World Trade Center looked pretty safe until 19 months ago. All I am asking is that we do the best we can.)
The column came to mind as I was seeing reports this week about attempts to loot antiquities from Egyptian museums. Reading it over after eight years, I wouldn’t change a word.