Sunday, November 15, 2009

Babylon stories

I spent ten months of my life living on or adjacent to the ruins of the ancient city of Babylon, so when an editorial on that topic appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday, I took an interest. Entitled Myths of Babylon, by Melik Kaylan, the article made the case that the American and Coalition forces had not damaged the ruins of the ancient city, as had been widely reported in the media.

I remember reading these newspaper accounts when they appeared. I thought that these media reports were inconsistent with my own observations at the time. I went to the area in and around the ruins many times, and I don't recall that they looked any different when I left than when I had arrived. In fact, as the article points out, upon arriving in Babylon in April 2003, the Marines extended their perimeter in order to protect the ruins from looters, who were hauling donkey cart loads of artifacts away daily.

The man most instrumental in encouraging the Marine Commander to preserve the ruins from the looters was Emilio Marrero, a Navy Captain and the Chaplain for the First Marine Expeditionary Force. Chaplain Marero recounts these events in his memoir, A Quiet Reality, which was just published last April. Drawing on the Chaplain's book, and an interview with the author, Mr Kaylan casts doubt on the media accusations that the U.S. and Coalition forces had damaged the site.

I remember the Chaplain very well. He hosted a very moving Memorial Day ceremony in our mess hall on the banks of the Shatt-al-Hillah canal, recounted in my own memoir of the events of that time, Messages from Babylon. A Marine helicopter had crashed into the canal a few days before, killing the crew. Worse, a Marine infantryman on guard duty nearby had jumped into the canal in an effort to save the crew, and drowned himself. It was probably one of the most moving ceremonies I had ever attended, and Chaplain Marrero deserves some of the credit for that.

I intend to put the Chaplain's book on my Xmas list.

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