One of the ancient sites that Trump threatened to destroy in Iran can teach us all about war crimes

The New Year got off to an alarming start when the U.S. military killed a Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s “most powerful commander,” in Iraq on January 2. The New York Times reported that President Trump chose the “extreme response” of killing Suleimani from a menu of options presented by top military officials.

The officials didn’t think Trump would choose the option as it was meant “to make other possibilities appear more palatable.” They apparently didn’t expect what happened next, and top Pentagon officials were “left stunned” and “flabbergasted” by Trump’s decision.

“The options included strikes on Iranian ships or missile facilities or against Iranian-backed militia groups in Iraq. The Pentagon also tacked on the choice of targeting General Suleimani, mainly to make other options seem reasonable.”

In the aftermath of the attack, the ayatollah vowed “forceful revenge” for Suleimani’s death. In response, Trump took to Twitter and stunned the world.

From the Times:

“In Palm Beach, Fla., Mr. Trump lashed back, promising to strike 52 sites across Iran — representing the number of American hostages taken by Iran in 1979 — if Iran attacked Americans or American interests. On Saturday night, Mr. Trump warned on Twitter that some sites were ‘at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.'”

Immediately, Twitter users pointed out that Trump was calling for war crimes by attacking cultural sites, something the United States has condemned in attacks on cultural sites by the terrorist group, ISIS.

The Trump administration and military officials attempted to address the backlash, affirming their commitment to the rules governing war set down through generations, but doing so meant contradicting or significantly downplaying Trump’s statements.

The 1954 Hague Convention

“The United States is a signatory to a 1954 international agreement to protect cultural property in armed conflict and has been a leader in condemning rogue nations and groups that destroy antiquities, including the Islamic State’s destruction of sites in Mosul, Iraq, and Palmyra, Syria, and the Taliban’s demolition of the famed Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan in 2001,” reported the Times.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has assured the press that Trump would not commit war crimes and attack cultural sites, but as Trump flew back to Washington from his winter holiday in Florida, he told reporters on Air Force One:

“They’re allowed to kill our people,” he told the reporters. “They’re allowed to torture and maim our people. They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural site? It doesn’t work that way.”

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Persepolis via YouTube

The ancient city of Persepolis

Some people certainly don’t realize the significance of attacking cultural sites in Iran.

The UNESCO World Heritage List designates 22 such sites in Iran dating back to the oldest civilizations on the planet. Destroying such ancient irreplaceable monuments would be an attack on the world’s collective heritage, knowledge, and appreciation of the earliest origins of the human race.

As one of the most prominent examples, consider the exquisite ancient ruins of Persepolis, constructed between 518-515 BCE. It was one of the wealthiest and largest cities of its day until it was sacked by Alexander the Great.

The Macedonian may have destroyed the city in revenge against a king who failed to recognize the importance of cultural sites in Greece.

Persepolis was known as Parsa, the City of the Persians. With great halls that could host 10,000 people carved with intricate reliefs, it was an astounding accomplishment in ancient times and possibly the greatest city on Earth.

According to the Ancient History Encylopedia, Persepolis was once a treasure trove of ancient artifacts.

“The city’s remote location kept it a secret from the outside world, and it became the safest city in the Persian Empire for storing art, artifacts, archives, and keeping the royal treasury. The Greeks had no idea the city existed until it was sacked and plundered by Alexander the Great (l. 356-323 BCE) in 330 BCE, who burned it and carried off its vast treasures. The ruins lay buried until the 17th century CE when they were identified as the once-great royal city of Persepolis, but professional excavation did not begin until 1931 CE, with work continuing since.”

The remote location of the city made it accessible only in the winter months, reports Ancient Origins. Call it the Mar-a-Lago of the Persian empire.

“Persepolis was almost inaccessible during the winter, as the rains would turn the paths leading to the city into mud. Therefore, Persepolis was only used during the warmer months, whilst the empire was administered from other cities during the winter.”

All Nations Gate

A great palace complex built by Xerxes, son of Darius the Great, was entered through enormous gates called the Gate of All Nations. Enormous statues of half-bull, half-man winged creatures called lamassu flank the gates and led to a grand hall with 60-foot tall columns. Cuneiform writing is inscribed on the gate by Xerxes.

All Nations Gate at Persepolis by dynamosquito (CC BY-SA)

Nearby, a garrison housed the famous Ten Thousand Immortals, troops in the Achaemenian army who formed the king’s personal bodyguards. A total of 10,000 troops were maintained, with new recruits immediately replacing those fallen in battle.

The earliest palace built by Darius in 515 BC featured the Stairs of All Nations, a Grand Stairway that survived the looting and survived until today.

Stairs of All Nations via YouTube
Stairs of All Nations via YouTube

The cycle of war crimes

When Alexander the Great destroyed much of Persepolis, special attention seems to have been given to the structures built by Xerxes I, including the Palace of Xerxes. It is thought that this was because Xerxes was the king who once ordered the sacking of Athens, Greece in 480 BC.

Thus, burning the city in “Alexander’s fire” may have been revenge for Xerxes’ lack of respect for Athen’s cultural sites – a cycle of war crimes.

“It has been observed that, compared to Darius’ palace, the palace of Xerxes has been more severely damaged. One plausible explanation for this is that the Macedonians who razed Persepolis paid special attention to this building. Xerxes, it might be reminded, was the king who ordered the sacking of Athens in 480 BC,” wrote Ancient Origins.

Persepolis via YouTube
Persepolis via YouTube

Alexander destroyed the unprotected city needlessly. The Greeks considered the Persians barbaric, but by destroying Persepolis, they became barbaric themselves. Can we learn something from the ancient history of a site that President Trump has threatened on Twitter?

Today, Yahoo! Finance reports that Trump’s properties may be subject to Iranian revenge for his attack on their military leader and threatening their cultural heritage. Thus, the cycle of violence and revenge continues from the earliest ancient times at the All Nations Gate right up until the year 2020.

See more in the documentary below:

Featured image: Screenshots via YouTube

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