Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Monuments Men


I am extremely enthusiastic about the release of "The Monuments Men." I think it is telling a powerful story of the Second World War that has been FAR too long ignored.

To truly understand the history of the period, you have to understand that Adolf Hitler's goal was not merely to conquer and subjugate the peoples of Europe, it was to utterly destroy their identity as a people separate from their existence as subjects of the Reich. He did that in the most calculated way possible--by systematically looting or destroying their cultural heritage. As Clooney says in these trailers, you can kill millions of people, burn down their homes, destroy their cities, and they will survive. When you obliterate their greatest achievements of thought and expression in literature and art, it's like they never existed.

To me, the story of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFA&A) unit is an exemplar of the very best
aspect of the American character. The Soviet Union's "trophy brigades" acted as a giant vacuum cleaner, sucking everything in sight back to Moscow never to be seen again (as all conquering empires throughout history have done). Contrast that with the United States not only NOT confiscating everything in sight as the spoils of war, but actually spending extra time and money to repatriate these cultural treasures to their rightful owners (the MFA&A worked until 1950, five years after the war ended, to return artifacts)... I can't possibly think of an example that more clearly illustrates the difference between "us" and "them."

The United States not only liberated half of the world, but rescued and restored the cultural heritage of Europe and the entire world. The US is far from perfect. We have done shameful things, and made many mistakes. We are not perfect. But this accomplishment is something that every American can point to with unequivocal pride and say, "this is what we are about."

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