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In Afghanistan or W. Virginia, Outrageous Is Outrageous

This month, Smithsonian magazine features an article about an Afghan archaeologist searching the Bamiyan ruins for what he calls the third Buddha. Even before the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001, Zemaryalai Tarzi studied the historical artifacts left behind in the region over the last few thousand years. He’s dodged Marxist guerrillas, Taliban insurgents and decades worth of discarded land mines to return to the site where the Bamiyan Buddhas stood for 1,500 years.

The story did little to mitigate any justifiable outrage over the Taliban’s destruction of the two Buddhas that had been carved into the side of the rural mountain, but it does offer a slight glimmer of hope that the Taliban missed the prized 1,000-foot Buddha hidden deep inside the temple.

That Taliban, what a bunch of jerks! It wasn’t bad enough that they denied women an education — ironically, though, the province where the Bamiyan Buddhas were is currently the only Afghan province run by a woman — but they grabbed a bunch of explosives and rocket launchers and blew regional history to smithereens.

And, the world was some ticked off about it. Then Secretary of State Colin Powell called the destruction “a tragedy,” while the head of the United Nations cultural wing, UNESCO, recounted that it was “abominable to witness the cold and calculated destruction of cultural properties which were the heritage of ... the whole of humanity.”

Blowing up mountains and culturally or historically significant places for religion is pretty stupid, although not unprecedented. Remember the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation when the Catholics and Christians busted each other’s stuff all the time. But in our modern sophisticated age we should know better. Why, the only thing more stupid than blowing junk up for religious reasons would be to blow things up for money.

That’s why reading the story about Tarzi’s painstaking search for the third Buddha and his desire to reclaim some of what was senselessly destroyed by the Taliban reminded me of the worthless greedy scoundrels at Massey Energy. Even Wall Street bankers — can’t get much lower than them — are dumping Massey.

This past April, ABC News disclosed that Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Citigroup had all stopped lending Massey money to finance their mining practices and two of these banks said it was because of “concerns over mountaintop removal.” Bank of America went further and is working to sever all ties, claiming they’re “concerned about environmental issues” caused by mountaintop removal.

But now Massey’s planning on destroying more than just the environment on the world’s oldest mountain range using explosives much like the ones used by the Taliban.

As I type, Blair Mountain in West Virginia is crawling with Massey’s people protected by Massey’s armed guards preparing the mountain and everything on it for obliteration. That’s significant not just because they’re going to explode a mountain — the next in line of more than 500 destroyed so far — but because this isn’t the first time Blair Mountain has been crawling with guns for hire.

That’s right, in 1921 more than 10,000 coal miners assembled to protest disastrous working conditions, to free imprisoned miners and to push back against industry executives who they believed had a local miner-sympathizing police chief assassinated. What resulted was the bloodiest battle on American soil since the Civil War. And that makes Blair Mountain hallowed ground.

This battle is significant for other reasons. First, the mining companies fought the workers with hired soldiers — the Baldwin Felts Detective Agency — and they hired private planes to drop bombs on the workers. That’s right, 20th century corporate interests bombed U.S. citizens and that’s reason enough to make Blair Mountain a national shrine and not a strip mine.

Ironic to this month’s tale of the Afghan’s search for any remaining culture, in 2006 the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed America’s 11 most endangered historic places. Blair Mountain is No. 2. The Trust plainly describes Blair Mountain: “The 1,600-acre Spruce Fork Ridge is the site of a 1921 armed insurrection of unionized coal miners fighting for better working conditions and an end to the oppressive control of the coal industry in southern West Virginia.”

If Massey — I call them the Appalachian Taliban — blows up Blair Mountain, that battle will officially be lost.

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