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State of American History, Civics, and Politics

Destroying Cultural Sites: Babylonia, Persia, and America


When you come to the fork in the road, take it.

These words of wisdom from the Great Yogi apply to the decision raised by the President of the United States in the conduct of war. What sites are legitimate targets and what sites are not? A commanding officer has options as to what will be destroyed and what will be spared. Such choices have been part of the human experience as long as there have been material objects which could be destroyed. In the actions of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia in modern Iraq and Cyrus the Great of Persia in modern Iran, we have two contrasting examples.

Nebuchadnezzar II

Nebuchadnezzar II was the king of Babylon in the seventh to sixth centuries BCE. During his life he created a Babylonian Empire from the ashes of the Assyrian Empire. He is a figure of study in the secular academic world for his exploits. But his chief claim to fame lies in the biblical world for his actions in Jerusalem.

2 Kings 25:8 In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month — which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon — Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. 9 And he burned the house of the LORD, and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down.

The destruction of the temple became a day of infamy in Jewish tradition remembered to this very day. Babylon also has been remembered in Christian tradition as a result of this action as well.

Revelation 17:1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who is seated upon many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and with the wine of whose fornication the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” 3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and bedecked with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication; 5 and on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of harlots and of earth’s abominations.”

Lo, the whore of Babylon. So while on one hand, one may view the treasures in museums of this mighty civilization, on the other hand, it has earned a reputation of disrepute for the destruction of cultural sites.

Cyrus the Great

A few decades later, Cyrus the Great brought the Babylonian Empire to an end. For his actions, he earned a biblical reputation diametrically opposed to one attained by Babylon. By contrast, he was remembered as a messiah, an anointed one of the Lord, even though he was not of Davidic descent or even Jewish.

Isaiah 44:28 who says of Cyrus, `He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfil all my purpose’; saying of Jerusalem, `She shall be built,’ and of the temple, `Your foundation shall be laid.'” 45:1 Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him…

What is that Cyrus did that garnered such biblical praise?

Ezra 1:1 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: 2 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. (See also II Chronicles 36:22-23.)

In effect, the biblical account portrays Cyrus the Great as the un-Nebuchadnezzar. He reverses what the Babylonian king has done. He allows the Jews in exile to return home and to rebuild the temple. Whereas Babylon is remembered as the mother of harlots, the Persian King Ahasuerus marries Esther. Even if you reject the story of Esther as being biologically literally true, it certainly is true from a storyteller’s perspective that an intermarriage between a Persian king and Jewess was believable.

So here we have two forks in the road based on mighty kings and cultural sites. The one who destroys and the one who rebuilds, the one remembered in a city that is the mother of harlots, the other as a messiah, anointed of the Lord, one leading to holiday of Tisha B’Av, the other Purim. How mighty kings treat cultural objects becomes part of their legacy.

Now we have an American version to add to the list. Should a President of the United States target cultural sites for destruction? Which path should he take?

The decision by an American President on whether or not to destroy cultural sites was not based on the careful analysis of an adult weighing the pros and cons of each option. Quite the contrary. The decision was made at the gut level based on what was best for him. Consider the claim that the decision to kill Suleimani was due to the threat of imminent attacks on Americans – it was to save lives. Certainly it is true that if Suleimani had lived a normal life span he would have killed additional Americans. That does not mean there was an imminent threat involving a significant number of Americans therefore warranting immediate action…or that killing him would eliminate the threat.

When the President of the United States decided to announce that he would bomb cultural sites, he did so because in his gut it was the right decision for him.

At no point did he consider whether or not such actions were legal under international law. The thought never occurred to him.

At no point did he consider what the consequences might be. The thought never occurred to him.

At no point did he realize that he would be giving our enemies the license to target our cultural sites. If Iran or Isis wants to target the Statue of Liberty it is a legitimate target but we will stop them. If Iran or Isis wants to target the Lincoln Memorial it is a legitimate target but we will stop them. If Iran or Isis wants to target the Alamo it is a legitimate target but we will stop them.


Strangely enough, there other overlooked considerations worth noting.

There actually were no cultural sites on the list of 52 targets that were given to him. So why did he act as if there were? Recall what he wanted the Ukraine to do in his extortion attempt. He wanted the country to announce that it was investigating Biden, not that it really had to do so. Similarly here, the skilled media manipulator simply was announcing that cultural sites were targets even though they were not on the list and he had no specific plans to destroy any. He does not even know what any of them are anyway. He was going strictly for the media impact of frightening Iran into thinking this President would destroy every site that is holy to them. Only afterwards did he learn about the law prohibiting it and that he would be a war criminal just like those dictators from Trump-hole countries in Africa.

But suppose he had given the order to destroy cultural sites in a briefing session and not in public. What would the military do? Would the military be loyal to the Constitution or to the individual? Would the Secretary of Defense degenerate to the level of the Attorney General, Acting Chief of Staff, Vice President, and Secretary of State? Think of all the stories and real-life events involving coups where the military seizes power from a civilian government. Ironically, in America, it is the military so far that is willing to defend the Constitution from the Commander in-chief. What will happen after the 2020 elections if that Commander in chief loses? What will the military do then?