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Center on Public Diplomacy

A Modest Proposal: Let's Just Have The New American Embassy in Baghdad in Second Life!

John Brown

The $592 million new American Embassy in Baghdad has been in the news recently. And not only because of mortar shells hitting the Green Zone where it will be located -- or because, The Wall Street Journal recently reported, it was built thanks to what amounts to coerced labor. LINK (see also LINK).

Thanks to Tom Engelhardt's "The Colossus Of Baghdad," LINK we learned about the link to the site that provided images of the new embassy as envisaged by its designers, the architectural firm Berger Devine Yaeger (BDY), whose other projects include, Wired points out:

ambitious mini-communities like Schlitterbahn Vacation Village and the First Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas (the "master plan includes a sports pavilion, multi-purpose building, an auditorium, an education building, a Christian Arts & Media Center, a prayer garden with a small chapel, campgrounds, playgrounds and numerous recreational facilities.") LINK

Allow me to steal Tom E's words regarding the plans for the new Embassy:

Take a look, for instance, at the embassy's "pool house," as imagined by BDY. (There's a lovely sketch of it at their site.) Note the palm trees dotted around it, the expansive lawns, and those tennis courts discretely in the background. For an American official not likely to leave the constricted, heavily fortified, four-mile square Green Zone during a year's tour of duty, practicing his or her serve (on the taxpayer's dollar) is undoubtedly no small thing.

Soon after the appearance of Tom's article, "[t]he images [of the planned embassy] were removed by Berger Devine Yaeger (BDY) Inc. shortly after the company was contacted by the State Department. 'We work very hard to ensure the safety and security of our employees overseas,' said Gonzalo Gallegos, a [State] department spokesman. 'This kind of information out in the public domain detracts from that effort.'" LINK

When I first looked at the now censored BDY site about the new Embassy I wondered of what it reminded me. And then I got it! It reminded me of the virtual world of Second Life LINK , so full of promising illusions and not infrequent rewards:

Second Life is a 3-D virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents. Since opening to the public in 2003, it has grown explosively and today is inhabited by a total of 6,976,683 people from around the globe.
From the moment you enter the World you'll discover a vast digital continent, teeming with people, entertainment, experiences and opportunity. Once you've explored a bit, perhaps you'll find a perfect parcel of land to build your house or business.

Could it be that, given the Bush "we-create-our-own-reality" mentality LINK , where the US Embassy in Baghdad really belongs -- as its BDY designers, perhaps inadvertently, seem to have planned all along -- is in virtual space far, far away from that mess in Mesopotamia?

I say, go for it! Make the US Embassy in Baghdad truly "virtual." Meanwhile the "real" Embassy compound, assuming it will indeed be finished, sans coerced labor, could be turned into a university or hospital for the benefit of Iraqis whom we "liberated."

How about that as a real (is there such a word anymore?) way of using taxpayers' money?

John Brown, a former Foreign Service Officer, compiles the "Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review" available free by requesting it at His article, "They're Supersizing the Baghdad Embassy. Big Mistake" appeared in The Washington Post (July 11, 2004) LINK

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