Plundering

"Plunder" redirects here. For other uses, see Plunder (disambiguation).
"Ransack" redirects here. For the Transformers character, see Ransack (Transformers).

Looting, also referred to as sacking, plundering, despoiling, despoliation, and pillaging, is the indiscriminate taking of goods by force as part of a military or political victory, or during a catastrophe, such as war,[1] natural disaster,[2] or rioting.[3] The term is also used in a broader sense to describe egregious instances of theft and embezzlement, such as the "plundering" of private or public assets by corrupt or greedy authorities.[4] Looting is loosely distinguished from scavenging in terms of objects taken: scavenging implies taking of essential items such as food, water, shelter, or other material needed for survival while looting implies items of luxury or not necessary for survival such as art work, precious metals or other valuables. The proceeds of all these activities can be described as loot, plunder, or pillage.

Looting by type

War looting


Looting by a victorious army during war has been common practice throughout recorded history. For foot soldiers, it was viewed as a way to supplement their often meagre income[5] and was part of the celebration of victory. On higher levels, the proud exhibition of loot was an integral part of the typical Roman triumph, and Genghis Khan was not unusual in proclaiming that the greatest happiness was "to vanquish your enemies... to rob them of their wealth..."[6]

In warfare in ancient times, the spoils of war included the defeated populations, which were often enslaved, and the women and children, who were often absorbed into the victorious country's population.[7][8] In other pre-modern societies, objects made of precious metals were the preferred target of war looting, largely because of their easy portability. In many cases looting was an opportunity to obtain treasures that otherwise would not have been obtainable. Since the 18th century, works of art have increasingly become a popular target. In the 1930s and even more so during World War II, Nazi Germany engaged in large scale and organized looting of art and property.[9][10]

Looting, combined with poor military discipline, has occasionally been an army's downfall. In other cases, for example the Wahhabi sack of Karbala, loot has financed further victories.[11] Not all looters in wartime are conquerors; the looting of Vistula Land by its retreating defenders in 1915[12] was among the factors sapping the loyalty of Poland in World War I. Local civilians can also take advantage of a breakdown of authority to loot public and private property, such as took place at the National Museum of Iraq in the course of the Iraq War in 2003.[13] The novel War and Peace describes widespread looting by Moscow's citizens before Napoleon's troops enter the town, and looting by French troops elsewhere.

Archaeological removals

Looting can also refer to antiquities formerly removed from countries by outsiders, such as some of the contents of Egyptian tombs which were transported to museums in Europe.[14] Other examples include the obelisks of Pharaoh Amenhotep II, in the (Oriental Museum, University of Durham, United Kingdom), Pharaoh Ptolemy IX, (Philae Obelisk, in Wimborne, Dorset, United Kingdom). Recent controversies include the major part of the architectural sculptures adorning the Parthenon, often called the "Elgin Marbles", removed by Lord Elgin, later sold to the British Museum, and claimed by Greece that they should be returned.[15]

Looting of industry

In the aftermath of the Second World War Soviet forces systematically plundered the Soviet occupation zone of Germany, including the Recovered Territories which were to be transferred to Poland. They sent valuable industrial equipment, infrastructure and whole factories to the Soviet Union.[16][17]

Measures against looting


During a disaster, police and military authorities are sometimes unable to prevent looting when they are overwhelmed by humanitarian or combat concerns, or cannot be summoned due to damaged communications infrastructure. Especially during natural disasters, some people find themselves forced to take what is not theirs in order to survive. How to respond to this is often a dilemma for the authorities.[18] In other cases, looting may be tolerated or even encouraged by authorities for political or other reasons.

The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 explicitly prohibits the looting of civilian property during wartime.[19] The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 (modified in 1954) obliges military forces not only to avoid destruction of enemy property, but to provide protection to it.[20] Theoretically, to prevent such looting, unclaimed property is moved to the custody of the Custodian of Enemy Property, to be handled until the return to its owner.

Examples of looting

By conquerors

  • Following the death of Valentinian III in 455, the Vandals invaded and extensively looted the city of Rome.
  • Mahmud of Ghazni repeatedly plundered the temple cities of Somnath, Mathura, Kannauj etc. of India between 1000 A.D and 1027 A.D.
  • After the siege of Constantinople in 1204, the crusaders looted the city and transferred its riches to Italy.
  • Roman Catholic troops of Imperial Field Marschal Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly committed the Sack of Magdeburg in 1631. Magdeburg's civilian population was quickly reduced from 30,000 to 5,000, giving rise to a new term in German for annihilation by atrocities.
  • In 1664 the Maratha leader Shivaji sacked and looted Surat.
  • Between 1804 and 1814 Napoleon Bonaparte engaged in massive looting throughout Europe and Africa.
  • During World War II, both Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan engaged in massive and systematic looting of valuables worth tens of billions of dollars. The Soviet Army also operated official trophy brigades to loot valuable artworks from Germany in retaliation. The United States Army engaged in ad-hoc looting at an individual level in Germany as they advanced into the country as well as Japan after the surrender, leading to the disappearance of many historically significant Katanas as well as artwork that had been stolen by Germany. See:

By others

  • In 1977 the New York Blackout resulted in massive rioting and looting throughout the city of New York.
  • In 1989 during the US invasion of Panama, there was massive systematic looting in Panama City.
  • In 1992, during the Rodney King riots, widespread looting occurred in Los Angeles, California.
  • After the United States occupied Iraq, the absence of Iraqi police and the reluctance of the U.S. to act as a police force enabled looters to raid homes and businesses, especially in Baghdad, most notably the Iraqi National Museum. During the looting, many hospitals were stripped of nearly all supplies. However, upon investigation many of the looting claims were in fact exaggerated. Most notably the Iraqi National Museum in which many curators had stored important artifacts in the vaults of Iraq's central bank.[23]
  • In 2005 in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina there was extensive looting by some people desperate for food, with police being accused of joining in some cases. Many were in search of food and water that were not available to them through any other means, as well as non-essential items such as beer and televisions.[24]
  • In 2010 after the Haiti earthquake, slow distribution of the relief aid and the large number of affected people created concerns of civil unrest, marked by looting and mob justice against suspected looters.[25][26]
  • During the 2011 London riots, gangs of youths undertook looting in a number of areas across the capital.[27] It has been suggested that rioting may have been organised [28] but it is unclear by whom, and to what end. London was last subjected to looting by gangs of youths who took advantage of war damage during the Second World War.[29] The 2011 London looting was copied on subsequent nights in other cities around England, including Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham.[30]

See also

References

Sources

  • Stewart, James, "Corporate War Crimes: Prosecuting Pillage of Natural Resources", 2010 http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1875053
  • Abudu, Margaret, et al., "Black Ghetto Violence: A Case Study Inquiry into the Spatial Pattern of Four Los Angeles Riot Event-Types," 44 Social Problems 483 (1997)
  • Curvin, Robert and Bruce Porter, Blackout Looting (1979)
  • Dynes, Russell & Enrico L. Quarantelli, "What Looting in Civil Disturbances Really Means," in Modern Criminals 177 (James F. Short, Jr. ed. 1970)
  • Green, Stuart P., 1129 (2007)
  • Mac Ginty, "Looting in the Context of Violent Conflict: A Conceptualisation and Typology," 25 Third World Quarterly 857 (2004)
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