It may seem callous at a time when so much human life is being wasted to spare any concern for the destruction and dissipation of the archaeological collection in the National Museum at Kabul. Yet the loss in both cases is irreplaceable, and it may even be that the loss of the artefacts is, in the long run, qualitatively more important than the loss of individual human lives.
This is a claim that can be made only with the greatest caution. The most monstrous evils of this century have been due to the actions of people who have been prepared to sacrifice the rights and lives of individuals to the interests of vast abstractions and future hopes. It is this kind of moral dereliction which provides the truth behind Forster’s famous remark that he hoped that, if ever faced by the choice between betraying his country and betraying his friend, he would choose the former. No abstraction can override the claim the individual makes on each of us.