Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Outrage of War

In conflicts, people die. Sometimes they die in terrible, horrible ways. Young lives are snuffed out forever indiscriminately. But sometimes it's not just people that suffer, it's all of history.

Krak des Chevaliers, before the recent damage
There's a report going around now in the news that the marvelously well-preserved crusader castle and archaeological site, Krak des Chevaliers, has been looted. As if that weren't enough, the Syrian government has occupied it and is using it as a fortress; in order to get their tanks into the courtyards, they have bulldozed part of the walls.

Death is inevitable. Destruction of our past is not. Some may think me cold-hearted to care more for artifacts, rare manuscripts, and archaeological sites than I do about people; but one way or another mortality catches up to every human on earth. The same need not be said for precious historical sites.

This matches in every way Caesar's fire of the Library of Alexandria, which robbed the late classical world of some of its greatest texts. It matches the mob's attack on the Serapium centuries later to finish the job. It is of the same caliber as the archaeological plundering during the fall of Iraq. It is as evil as the bombing of Montecassino and the destruction of her beautiful doors, which we can never study again. It is, in short, a horror. Our history is something that, once destroyed, we can never recover. This, more than any other element in this whole Syrian war (and don't get me wrong, I feel for the people Bashar al-Assad is murdering) rends my heart.

I have no words to express my grief at the ruin of Krak des Chevaliers or the nearby medieval mosques. The loss of our history is the loss of ourselves, of us all. Palmyra is in danger as well, if reports can be trusted, a great and ancient spread of Roman ruins occupied by Assad's forces to be used as a staging ground.

But perhaps Plautus already knew all of this, for after all... homo homini lupus.

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