What will survive for historians to ponder?
April 18, 2003
Beyond the casualties, both military and civilian, the saddest aspect of the war in Iraq is this:
Odai Hussein’s collection of porno downloaded off the Internet survived, but tablets containing the Code of Hammurabi did not.
The ironies here compound themselves.
First, I wasn’t surprised to learn Saddam Hussein and his sons are hedonistic wretches. What good is it to be a brutal dictator if you can’t get all the booze and women you want?
Heroin, Cuban cigars, pictures of prostitutes — a nice collection of debauchery found by soldiers who searched Odai’s bombed-out house.
“It looked like something at the Playboy Mansion,” said an Army captain.
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Except the Playboy Mansion probably doesn’t have any boxes of kids’ school supplies intended by UNICEF to be distributed to the children of Iraq. When he got tired of looking at his porn, I guess Odai planned to do a little homework.
In Saddam’s own “love shack,” discovered a couple of days before his son’s, were found an ample supply of pistols, machine guns, antitank missiles and ammo — sprinkled in with the pastel pink and yellow throw pillows.
Helps take the edge off after a long day of executing, torturing and gassing your people.
Yeah, I could joke about finding stashes of plastic beanbag chairs in Saddam’s harem until I heard they couldn’t find billions of dollars worth of artifacts dating back 5,000 years. Didn’t seem so funny after that.
Maybe the tablets with the Hammurabi’s Code will turn up somewhere in a European art auction one of these days. In perhaps a generation or two.
In case you were making paper airplanes in World History class that day, Hammurabi was the Babylonian king who developed one of the first codes of law about 1760 B.C.
His main accomplishment was taking a hodgepodge of legal provisions and making some sense of them, covering such concepts as false accusation, witchcraft, military service, land and business regulation, family law, loans and taxes.
The main principle of the code, we are told, was that “the strong shall not injure the weak.”
The stone slab which is now missing from Baghdad’s National Museum of Iraq had been discovered in 1901 in Susa, Iran.
It had been carted off some centuries earlier, it is believed, by a king who considered it a war trophy.
This particular king was an Elamite. We don’t hear too much about the Elamites these days, even if they were the major civilization of their day. We don’t hear that much about Persia or Mesopotamia, or Babylon or Macedonia either.
We do hear quite a bit about the media, but not so much about Media. The former you know as television, newspapers and radio who spew forth instant history each day for consumption of the masses.
The latter, the capital form of Media, would be the empire that reigned over parts of what are now Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan for less than 300 years.
I took this little stroll down civilization’s memory lane in order to give myself a little perspective on what’s going on in Iraq.
The United States has been around for 227 years. How will its paragraph in the World Book Encyclopedia read 3,000 years from now?
Will the war in Iraq in 2003 A.D. be mentioned as a turning point in civilization? Will there be a sentence that says the stone tablet containing the Code of Hammurabi was lost and never seen again?
The import of what is happening today in the cradle of civilization, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, I can only make the feeblest attempt to understand.
I know what I hope the history books will someday conclude:
“The United States emerged in the 21st century A.D. as the lone ‘superpower’ on the globe, giving it unprecedented authority to influence the economic, political, social and military structure of every civilization on earth.
“During a brief war in what was then known as Iraq early in the millennium, the original Code of Hammurabi was briefly lost. When it was later recovered, its message — ‘the strong shall not injure the weak’ — was revived and elucidated to mean ‘the strong shall also extend a hand to aid the weak.’
“The philosophy endures even now.”
Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal.