Matthew Bogdanos: The soldier who fought to save Iraq's treasures

Historians in the News

Before 9/11, Matthew Bogdanos worked as a district attorney in New York City, boxed occasionally for sport, and was father to two small children and expecting a third child with his wife, Claudia.

But that day, their apartment near the World Trade Center was destroyed, buried in pulverized glass, asbestos, and masses of paper.

Shortly thereafter, his life took another turn: he was called to active duty from the Marine Corps Reserves. Colonel Bogdanos would spend much of the next four years in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he would discover a fascinating niche in the world of war: stolen cultural artifacts.

Investigator/soldier Bogdanos, 50, will share his zeal Thursday at 7 p.m. when he speaks in the Great Hall of the Stranahan Theater at Authors! Authors!, sponsored by The Blade and the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library. His 2005 book, Thieves of Baghdad, subtitled One Marine’s Passion for Ancient Civilizations and the Journey to Recover the World’s Greatest Stolen Treasures, is 300 pages based on Bogdanos’s 45,000-word report to the military and co-written with William Patrick.

Expect a high-energy talk with moments of intense heat, opinion, and anecdotes full of drama and intrigue. Expect to hear about the countless gallons of tea he drank in Iraq (and ordered his soldiers to drink), a ritualistic requirement for winning the trust of everyone from museum directors and politicians to taxi drivers. The 5-foot, 7-inch Bogdanos speaks without a microphone, walks through the audience, shows about 100 slides, and quotes Homer and Jefferson.

And he’d like nothing better than for a member of the audience to stand up and volunteer to be the savior for the preservation of cultural heritage.

“I would like it to be someone else, who’s more important than I am, has decision-making authority, who has a budget, someone who has international cachet. I want it to be someone else. I will gladly hand over this mantle to anyone who wants it. The problem is I haven’t found anybody to want it in four years.” ...

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