National Catholic Reporter
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Issue Date:  May 9, 2003

From the Editor’s Desk

Sometime in the late 1980s, if memory serves, I was in an office in midtown Manhattan at the news service where I worked when a courier delivered a few sheets of paper to my door and asked for some sum under $5 for the service. Under $5 for just about anything in Manhattan is a bargain. This was no exception. The papers contained a story from our correspondent in Israel. The story, I later learned, had somehow hopped about in the ether from a computer in Jerusalem to computers somewhere in Europe and finally to New York. It was an early form of e-mail. The Internet was about to burst on the scene.

Before long, of course, the old Teletype was out the door and modems and fax machines were in. Over the next decade I would join others in the sometimes halting, sometimes fast-paced march into the Internet era.

I wish somewhere along the way I had kept notes so that I could now calibrate the points at which this technology became a regular part of life. It was less than a half decade ago at NCR that everyone in the newsroom was sharing one station that had access to the Internet. By 1999, everyone was wired with high-speed access. I now can’t imagine a newsroom without such facilities. I can’t imagine any more a home study without it.

I take for granted the Saturday jaunt upstairs where, in a matter of an hour or two, I will have “talked” with writers and sources in Rome and Los Angeles, Bangkok and Washington, someone in the far reaches of Minnesota and someone else in Manhattan.

For the investment of a few search words and a few more seconds I have more sources at my command than I could read in a few days.

All of that between morning yard work and an afternoon round of golf.

The Internet presents itself as an awesome communications tool, shrinking the globe and bearing a universe of instantly available information.

The trick, of course, is to put all that at the service of good journalism. We hope we do that as we undertake this experiment with a new means of bringing you information. (See insert in this issue.)

~ ~ ~

In some respects it might seem almost obscene, in light of the human loss not yet accounted for in the war in Iraq, to begin mourning the loss of art and antiquity.

It all totes up as the cost of war, however, and the looting and burning that went on in Iraq is truly lamentable, a ravaging of the earliest elements of the human record. War diminishes everyone, but the museum destruction in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq resounds across the ages and across cultures.

Michael Patrick O’Connor and Sidney H. Griffith of the Department of Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literatures at The Catholic University of America, authors of this week’s cover story, understand that loss at a deeper and more profound level than most.

They convey, in a piece that at times seems to ache with the realization of what has been sundered, what lies deep beneath recent headlines.

“History begins at Sumer, in the south of Iraq, in the area bordering the Persian Gulf,” they write. “The earliest written records are Sumerian: The earliest receipts, the earliest law collections, the earliest diplomatic letters, the earliest notes home to Mother, and the earliest poetry. The loss of some of the surviving products of this civilization is a loss to the history of the region, to Western civilization in the broadest sense and to its religious traditions in particular, and to civilization as a whole.”

From another perspective on the same issue, Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister writes about Martin Sullivan in her NCROnline column this week. A relative unknown among Washington’s powerful, Martin directed the President’s Commission for Cultural Property. He resigned because of the failure of the United States to protect the National Museum of Iraq.

“This means nothing to Americans,” Sullivan said of the looting of the museum in Baghdad, “but it is the record of the human race. ... These things did not belong to Iraq; they belonged to the world.”

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, May 9, 2003

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