Looting

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Prussians looting the Lourve after the downfall of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Looting is a term used for stealing and vandalizing property through force. Most of the time, looters are not caught for their actions. There have been many notable cases of looting throughout history.

It can also be known as pillaging or plundering.

In armed conflict, looting is prohibited by international law, and constitutes a war crime.

Types of looting

Looting following disasters

During a disaster, police and military forces 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, many civilians may find themselves forced to take what does not belong to them in order to survive. How to respond to this, and where the line between unnecessary "looting" and necessary "scavenging" lies, is often a dilemma for governments. In other cases, looting may be tolerated or even encouraged by governments for political or other reasons, including religious, social or economic ones.

During armed conflict

Looting by a victorious army during war has been common practice throughout recorded history. Foot soldiers viewed plunder as a way to supplement an often meagre income and transferred wealth became part of the celebration of victory. In the upper ranks, the proud exhibition of the loot plundered formed 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".

In warfare in ancient times, the spoils of war included the defeated populations, which were often enslaved. Women and children might become absorbed into the victorious country's population, as concubines, eunuchs and slaves. In other pre-modern societies, objects made of precious metals were the preferred target of war looting, largely due to their ease of portability. In many cases looting offered 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, particularly in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Looting, combined with poor military discipline, has occasionally been an army's downfall - troops who have dispersed to ransack an area may become vulnerable to counter-attack. In other cases, for example the Wahhabi sack of Karbala in 1801 or 1802, loot has contributed to further victories for an army.

Not all looters in wartime are conquerors; the looting of Vistula Land by the retreating Imperial Russian Army in 1915 was among the factors sapping the loyalty of Poles to the Russian Emperor. Local civilians can also take advantage of a breakdown of order to loot public and private property, as in events which took place at the National Museum of Iraq in the course of the Iraq War in 2003.Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy's novel War and Peace describes widespread looting by Moscow's citizens before Napoleon's troops entered the city in 1812, along with looting by French troops elsewhere.

In 1990 and 1991, during the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein's soldiers caused significant damage to Kuwaiti and Saudi infrastructure. They also stole from private companies and homes. In April 2003, looters broke into the National Museum of Iraq and thousands of artefacts remain missing.

Syrian conservation sites and museums are looted during the Syrian civil war, with items being sold on the international black market. Reports from 2012, suggested that these antiquities were being traded for weapons by the various combatants.