Sunday, November 29, 2009

guest post from Maj. Corine Wegener on Kaylan's downplaying of damage to Iraq's cultural heritage during the U.S. occupation

Corine Wegener, a now-retired major in Civil Affairs who deployed to Iraq after the looting of the museum to assist in mitigating the damage there, is now President of the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, has written a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal responding to Melik Kaylan's article there. She has kindly agreed to allow me to post it here as well:

To the Editor:

Melik Kaylan’s efforts (Nov. 13, 2009, Myths of Babylon) to downplay damage to Iraq’s cultural heritage during the U.S. occupation actually do a disservice to our military and carry political overtones which serve neither our troops nor our reputation on the international stage. In 2003-2004, I served in Baghdad as the Arts, Monuments, and Archives Officer for the 352d Civil Affairs Command. Inadequate planning for the protection of Iraqi cultural property prior to the invasion of Iraq resulted in harm to an ancient cultural heritage shared by us all, and it could have been prevented.

As much as I respect Chaplain Marrero and the Marines’ efforts to secure Babylon in 2003, the subsequent damage done by contractor KBR’s continuously improving and expanding the site as an operating base was significant and avoidable. That Babylon had suffered damage under Saddam’s regime does not make additional damage while under the control of Coalition Forces any more acceptable to the Iraqi people or the international community. Damage did occur at many sites, and certainly did not help us to win hearts and minds.

The U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, a nongovernmental organization founded in 2006, has provided cultural property training to dozens of deploying U.S. Army Civil Affairs units. Informed with this training, military personnel demonstrate an understanding and respect for local cultural heritage that helps build relationships and, ultimately, saves lives. We do not believe diminishing or denying the mistakes of the past will move us forward. The U.S. military has a proud tradition for respecting cultural heritage that goes back to WWII - we must rebuild that reputation and provide military personnel with the tools and training they need to accomplish their mission while preserving cultural heritage for future generations.

Major (Retired) Corine Wegener
President, U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield
Minneapolis, MN

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Before the Iraq War started, Science magazine (AAAS)had a long news article about all that scientists were doing to protect the world cultural heritage in Iraq. The focus of the article was about avoiding damage, especially from bombing, to significant sites. Nobody thought about looting. Maybe the military should have thought about looting, but the scientific establishment did not help by overlooking that method of destroying cultural sites and artifacts. Frank Freemon