Sunday, December 16, 2007

The World We Live In

Last night, I finished reading USMC Col. Matthew Bogdanos' memoir, "Thieves of Baghdad," about the efforts of his military team to recover artifacts stolen from the Iraq Museum in Baghdad in 2003. Superb book, a good read with a great message about the importance of preserving our shared cultural heritage. Sadly, much work remains to be done in bringing the Iraq Museum back to a semblance of normal, and bringing lost artifacts back to Iraq, but Col. Bogdanos and his men helped pave the way for future successes.

The book brought back a memory of Amsterdam in May. My first morning there, I strolled past the Van Gogh Museum and noticed a guard with a bomb-sniffing dog patrolling the perimeter. Not some show-pony guard, a big fellow with the international look of 'cop' and boots designed to kick bad guys up the arse. (We'll call him Dirty Hans. How do you say "Make my day" in Dutch?) I assumed Dirty Hans patrolled only when the museum was closed, but not the case: in three real visits to the VGM (thanks to my handy Museumkaart) and many strolls past (my hotel, the splendidly spotless Hotel Fita, was two minutes away), I always saw Dirty Hans. I'd never seen a bomb-sniffing dog at a museum before. No such dogs at the Rijksmuseum up the Museumplein from the VGM.

Then it came to me. Theo van Gogh. Not Vincent's brother Theo, his grand-nephew Theo, assassinated by a Muslim extremist on an Amsterdam street for making a documentary about the treatment of women in the Muslim world. His killer is in prison, but his killer's got buddies. Wouldn't they love to get their hands on the Van Gogh Museum, wipe out a chunk of the van Gogh ancestral legacy and several hundred tourists to boot? The thought made me sick -- then it made me mad. Still does.

It's a nasty world we live in, when artifacts become looted contraband and museums become potential terrorist targets. Here's hoping that one day, we'll be safe enough that the Van Gogh Museum won't need Dirty Hans.

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