Paying with the Past
Lawyers for victims of two 20th-century terrorist bombings are trying to force the sale of a cache of 2,500-year-old Persian tablets currently on loan to Chicago’s Oriental Institute.
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In 1983, U.S. marines carry a wounded comrade from the rubble of their bombed Beirut barracks.
The Peterson suit stemmed from an event that took place in October 1983 at the U.S. marine compound in Beirut. It was 6:20 a.m. on a Sunday, the only time off-duty marines were allowed to sleep late, and most were still in their beds as a large pickup truck circled in the parking lot. A handful of guards stood at the entrance, but because the marines were on a peacekeeping mission, they were carrying unloaded weapons. According to one survivor, the man at the wheel of the truck was smiling as he smashed into the four-story building and racked up the highest U.S. marine death toll in a single incident since World War II.
Unlike the Rubin plaintiffs, who had either been wounded themselves or taken care of an injured family member, only four of the Peterson plaintiffs had been under direct attack. But for the parents, wives, children, and siblings of the marines who died in the Beirut bombing, the feelings of devastation and trauma remain vivid and painful.
“I felt like I was going to have a nervous breakdown, like I just wasn’t going to make it,” said Luddie Belmer, a resident of Chicago’s West Side whose oldest son, Alvin, had died from his wounds a week after the attack. A gunnery sergeant, he was 29 and left behind an eight-year-old son. “I don’t know what I can say to the idea that an ancient library is at risk here,” his mother said. “But there were a lot of lives lost and a lot of family tragedies, and if that’s the only way there is to compensate us, that’s just the way it is.”
Annette Livingston, who lives outside Champaign, feels even more strongly about forcing Iran to pay for the attack. She had expected her husband, Joseph, 20 years old and a machine gunner on an M60 tank, to be home in two weeks; instead, she and their 18-month-old son spent the next week waiting for his body to be found. “The only way to stop these people is to take their money, so I say take the artifacts and sell them,” she said. “I’d ask any scholars who have a problem with that whether they have any family members that have been victims of terrorism. If not, they don’t have any right to raise an argument.”
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Photography: (Image 1) AP photo/Hussein Ammar; (Image 2) Courtesy of the Belmer family