Last Wednesday The Art Newspaper published an article entitled "Wanted a New Generation of Monuments Men for US Army" (Stoilas 2015), writing about the need for a new generation of Monuments Men to help protect cultural sites in times of conflict. One of the concerns is that in the past, the US Army has reacted to looting of sites like the National Museum in Iraq in 2003.
In my last post regarding the looting of the Museum of the History of Kiev on February 18, 2014, I questioned why the collection was not protected. It should not come as any surprise that cultural heritage is a target during armed conflict either as an attempt to sell objects on the market or to destroy and demoralize a group of people.
According to the article, the army is not surprised by the destruction of heritage, especially given the recent events in Iraq and Syria regarding ISIS (a new post regarding ISIS should be published soon), and are looking to recruit archaeologists, museum directors, preservationists, to help advise soldiers, but how likely is it that people with these skills will voluntarily sign-up?
The article makes a good point in comparing the US armed forces of today to the US armed forces of WWII when the original Monuments Men were active. During WWII the US had a mandatory draft, but now that joining our armed forces is voluntary, less than 1% of the population is enlisted. Based on this difference, there is a small chance that this 1% would have the skills of a museum director who has spent years in school obtaining an advanced degree such as a Ph.D.
Referring to an interview with Brigadier General Hugh Van Roosen, the director of the Institute for Military Support to Governance (IMSG) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Stoilas writes:
IMSG now wants civilian experts in fields ranging from agriculture to telecommunications, and including cultural heritage preservation, to fill a new officer designation in the US Army Reserve, known as a “38G”. More than 500 existing civil affairs positions are due to be reassigned as these specialists from 1 October. The IMSG will first look within the military to fill these posts, but expects “the bulk of these people to come as direct commissions”, Van Roosen says—meaning civilian experts who would join the Army Reserve as officers.
“We are looking at individuals who would advise and assist at the national or multi-national level,” Van Roosen says, adding that this would probably be someone with a doctorate and ten years of experience who is widely respected within their field of expertise, “at least” on the level of a museum director. “We’ll take individuals and add additional training to ensure they can operate effectively in that international environment.” This will include psychological testing, “to ensure people are a good fit for the mission”, Van Roosen says. “We really need to make sure we have the right people who are plugging in at the ministerial level in a country.” (Stoilas 2015)
So I wonder, is it really possible in this day-and-age to find experts willing to enlist to protect cultural heritage? Sure we always discuss the importance of protecting cultural heritage and property, but are we willing to put ourselves in the line of danger to do so? I've always thought it would be a good idea if I could go out and assist (I do not have my Ph.D. though), but I do fear the possible violence I would be subject to. So now I pose this to you, would you be willing to enlist if you had the credentials to protect cultural heritage.
P.S. This new-age of Monument Men wouldn't have been able to prevent the looting in Kiev since it is not an active US military zone.