June 20, 2008


Protecting heritage at times of war

There's a good article out in the latest issue of the Getty Newsletter, co-written by Corinne Wegener for whom I have a lot of respect:
"At the end of 1943, as war raged in Europe, General Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote to his commanders in Italy, clearly expressing his intent to spare cultural property from damage whenever possible:
'Today we are fighting in a country which has contributed a great deal to our cultural inheritance, a country rich in monuments which by their creation helped and now in their old age illustrate the growth of the civilization which is ours. We are bound to respect those monuments so far as war allows.'
This statement and other protective measures for cultural property were a direct result of concerted efforts by governments, the military, and cultural heritage professionals of many of the Allied nations to protect Europe's cultural heritage during World War II."

Further along she writes:
"The Coalition Forces in Iraq did not have the kind of M[onuments, ]F[ine ]A[rts, and ]A[rchives] units that were present during World War II. While most countries still have Civil Affairs units, few cultural heritage personnel serve in today's military, leaving most military commanders without this expert advice. Furthermore, units receive little training on cultural property protection beyond instructions to avoid damage during military operations. Some European nations maintain Civil-Military Cooperation units, including a small force of reservists who are cultural heritage professionals; however, their deployment is often hindered by their nation's rules regarding entry into combat areas."

In response to her experiences in Iraq, she has been instrumental in founding the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield (USCBS) as well as, together with her co-author Marjan Otter, the Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield which will co-ordinate the national organizations' work in times of armed conflict or natural disaster. I will give Mses. Wegener and Otter the last word:
"The choice is ours. If we, as cultural heritage professionals, continue to act as individuals and function within a variety of discrete organizations, we will almost certainly fail the next time colleagues in a war-torn country need us. However, if we unite in support of the Blue Shield organizations created to protect cultural heritage during armed conflict, we can make our voices heard and perhaps even be influential enough to prevent the 'next time.'"