- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 18, 2003

Shaping history

The White House Historical Association is among the sponsors of a three-day educational conference to be held next month in Old Town Alexandria on how higher-education institutions can collaborate with schools, kindergarten through college, in improving history education.

Wouldn’t you know, the opening plenary speaker is Columbia University historian Eric Foner, who after the September 11 attacks spouted, “I’m not sure which is more frightening: the horror that engulfed New York City or the apocalyptic rhetoric emanating daily from the White House.”

Mr. Foner’s topic: “Teaching History After September 11.”

Looting expeditions

The U.S. military has taken to shooting looters in Iraq. The strict new orders didn’t go out, however, until thousands of Iraqis — and even U.S. servicemen and women, and a journalist or two — pocketed some of Saddam Hussein’s more precious loot.

In past wars waged by U.S. troops, looting was the rule — nowhere better described than in “A Marine Tells It to You,” written by Col. Frederic May Wise upon his retirement in 1926.

The Marine’s 27-year military career resulted in two Distinguished Service Medals, as well as numerous honors and campaign badges for his service in the Philippines, France, Haiti, Cuba, Mexico and finally China, where we pick up his story:

“For the first time since I entered the Marine Corps, I found a situation where rank did not take precedence. Here it was a case of ‘first come, first grab.’ I gathered up one large bolt of beautiful brocade; an armful of furs, sable, ermine, white fox; eight or nine large cloisonne bowls. I hurried with them to my own quarters where there was a big Chinese box with lock and key. Into this I put them. I put the key in my pocket.”

He didn’t stop there, recalling looting expeditions by Americans and allies alike “three times a day.”

“I could go where I liked. Do what I liked. All Pekin was ahead of me. That first afternoon, accompanied by another officer, I went out on a scouting mission … to look for jewels.”

Almost every palace they entered in the Imperial City offered silks and vases and porcelain.

“I started out with a Chinese cart and a Marine driver [and] also a Chinese manservant who spoke English, and who had been supplied me by the Reverend Gilbert Reed, a missionary,” he wrote, pushing through room after room of the palaces mostly.

“The jewels would be there,” the colonel explained, snatching string after string of perfectly matched pearls, carved jade and rings set with stones — his servant tagging along with a big box.

“When it was full we made our way outside,” he said. “There I intended to get those two Pekinese dogs. My father [the allied commandant at Tong-ku] had asked me to get him a pair and said the Palace of the Emperor’s Harem was the only place I would find them.”

Meanwhile, Chinese trunks and chests were added to every officer’s room as piles of loot grew “bigger and bigger.”

When shipping crates runneth over, a large boat the U.S. military chartered from the British arrived to pick up the men and their valuables, including more than Pekinese puppies.

“In my charge were 51 beautiful Chinese ponies, the personal loot of officers,” Col. Wise wrote. “I got them all aboard.”

Consumed by terror

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, announcing the indictments late last week of two Yemeni men in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, paid tribute to retired FBI Agent John O’Neill, who took the early lead in the Cole investigation.

Mr. O’Neill retired amid accusations that the U.S. ambassador to Yemen, Barbara K. Bodine, had interfered in the investigation and successfully blocked the agent’s return to Yemen after his Thanksgiving visit home.

Upon his retirement, Mr. O’Neill took over as head of security at the World Trade Center. He died during his first week on the job, a victim of the September 11 attacks.

“John O’Neill worked tirelessly on the Cole investigation,” Mr. Mueller said. “And the relationship we enjoy with Yemeni law enforcement today and its importance in the war on terror, which cannot be understated, is a direct result of John’s efforts.”

Joining Buffalo

Believers in global warming (how can they after this past weekend?) take note: The city of Washington is now officially in the Snow Belt.

“For what I believe is the first time in the 27-year history of these awards, Washington Dulles International Airport won first place in the large commercial airport category of the Bernt Balchen Awards for winter operations,” Adele C. Schwartz, senior editor of Air Transport World’s Airport Equipment and Technology section, tells Inside the Beltway.

“The award usually goes to the likes of Buffalo, Denver and Minneapolis,” she notes, that is until Washington experienced unusually high snowfall during the winter of 2002-2003.

The presentation was made May 7 at the International Aviation Snow Symposium in (where else?) Buffalo.

John McCaslin, a nationally syndicated columnist, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or [email protected]

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