Scientific? American?


In a favorable review of the book The Looting of the Iraq Museum, Baghdad: The Lost Legacy of Ancient Mesopotamia, the August 2005 issue of Scientific American says that a statue of a woman's head dating from the ninth or eight century B.C. 'suffered severely' from the 'sack of Baghdad in 2003.' According to Scientific American, forces of the United States sacked Baghdad.

Merriam—Webster's Collegiate Dictionary says that to sack is 'to plunder (as a town) esp. after capture.' It 'implies carrying off all valuable possessions from a place,' in contrast to pillage, which 'implies ruthless plundering at will but without the completeness suggested by SACK.'

Apparently, the United States, then, carried off all valuable possessions from Baghdad; we ruthlessly and completely plundered the Iraqi capital. In what way this opinion is scientific or American, the magazine does not say.

To the unsophisticated, it might seem that if the United States carried off all valuable possessions from Baghdad, a book about the looting of a museum there would have to document the American thievery. Instead, it 'evokes a wistful nostalgia for Iraq's bygone days of field research and camaraderie,' abruptly ended by a 'string of disasters' that 'began in 1991,' that is, 'during the first Gulf War,' when American bombers shortsightedly damaged the valuables the United States was later to plunder, or at least the glass cases in which they were kept.

Now 'American troops have set up camp atop the ruins of Babylon, removing layers of archaeological material to create a helipad and laying a parking lot on the remains of a Greek theater dating from Alexander's days,' which must be true because a professor from Columbia University says it is. In Iraq, 'there is plenty to weep about,' though not, apparently, Saddam's mass graves or Zarqawi's car bombs:

A stone excavated at Nippur contains a long invocation to the goddess Inanna to protect a temple and ends with a humble plea to mortals: 'The governor who keeps it permanently in good condition will be my friend.' Whoever wrote those words wouldn't have many friends now.

The pitiful rock is friendless now, with Saddam Hussein eating Doritos and remembering the good old days of mass murder. In the United States, there is also plenty to be wistfully nostalgic about, such as scientists with a sense of proportion and Americans with a loyalty to the truth.

The August issue of Scientific American is not yet available on its free Website at

Jonathan David Carson, Ph.D.   7 21 05