Monuments in Peril: The Rape of Europa
On Friday, the movie Monuments Men based on the book by the same name comes out in theaters. The Monuments Men tells the story of the real life team of curators, artists, writers, historians and cultural preservationists who went behind enemy lines with allied forces toward the end of World War 2 to save Europe's cultural heritage. The team who were not soldiers nor military men were racing against time and fleeing Nazi army to save irreplaceable artwork, books, manuscripts, historical buildings, original works of art that the Nazi troops attempted to destroy and steal. Some of the stolen art and cultural collections were to go towards creating a super museum under the orders of Adolf Hitler. Part of the cultural destruction by Hitler and Nazis as well as other war perpetrators (before and since than) is physiological: it is meant to physically erase connection to previous identities in order to create new ones. Sort of a tabla rasa approach to building and shaping a new society in the eyes of a hegemon.
Saving Haiti's cultural heritage
Wars not only destroy human lives and infrastructure but also cultural heritage left behind by our ancestors and preserved throughout the centuries through painstaking care by teams of countless preservationists, historians, and countless curators or museum directors. To lose cultural artwork and monuments no matter if it is historical building or a small statue comes with great loss to a country and peoples. Culture and art is tied to identity. All three connect modern society to ancestral knowledge, creativity, language and the foundations that society and civilization has built itself on. Even with globalization, each region or country of the world has a unique heritage that has been preserved by the thousands of nameless monuments men and women who sometimes risked their lives so future generations can learn from their ancestors, appreciate their heritage and grow with it.
Iraq's cultural heritage under fire
Syria and Iraq have lost and are loosing some of the oldest cultural artwork and monuments in the world. Afghanistan's two famous Buddhist statutes that have stood for over five hundred years were destroyed by the Taliban. Liberia's national museum which is housed in the country's first parliament building in Central or Downtown Monrovia, lost 5,800 handcrafted art ranging from brightly colored paintings, detailed curved masks and statutes to furniture depicting everyday life. Some of the artifacts were looted and stolen by rebel forces throughout the decade long war. Liberia's handcrafted masks are recognized as symbols of Liberian culture in the US and around the world. Israel's collective punishment and bombardment of occupied Palestine since 1948 has destroyed centuries old buildings and monuments representing Cannites, Byzantines, Ottomans and Arabic heritage of Palestine prior to Israel's creation. During the 1948 war, 400+ Palestinian villages home to mixed Christian, Muslim and Jewish Palestinians were destroyed by Haganah and Arab forces fighting to preserve Palestine as a state. The separation and apartheid wall that zigzags in and out of the occupied West Bank has destroyed hundreds of ancient olive trees and home demolitions have damaged homes dating back to Ottoman Empire and before. Palestinians have made cultural preservation of art and monuments a top priority for the past decades. Natural disasters too aid in the destruction of national treasures. Haiti's priceless monuments, arts and galleries and historical buildings among them the national assembly, presidential palace and thousands of schools were leveled in 2009 Earthquake that leveled most of the capital Port au Prince while flattening other cities. Since the aftermath of the earthquake, Haiti has reconstructed and revived its art and heritage with renovated or recreated artwork.
Collateral Damage: Destruction and looting of cultural property in armed conflict
Cultural property at war: Protecting heritage during armed conflicts
Impact of War on Iraq's Cultural Heritage: Operation Iraq Freedom
Destruction of art in Afghanistan
Cultural heritage activists warn against the destruction of Russian monuments