Archive for December 12, 2013

SPECIAL OPERATIONS: Cultural Awareness Then and Now

Of Monuments and Partners

TAMPA – “The Monuments Men,” the 2009 book on which the upcoming George Clooney-Matt Damon motion picture is based, highlights a little-known aspect of World War II.

Rouen Cathedral damaged by bombing in 1944 (Photo Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration -- via Robert Edsel's Blog)

Rouen Cathedral damaged by bombing in 1944 (National Archives and Records Administration photo — via Robert Edsel’s Blog)

The U.S. and British armies sent a small band of art hisorians, museum directors, conservationists and other art experts to Continental Europe in 1944 to prevent the destruction of monuments and other artifacts representing thousands of years of Western culture.

We don’t know if the movie will be entertaining, but the book is fascinating. Your 4GWAR editor is reading it during off-hours while attending the Special Operations Summit in Florida sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA).

It occurs to us that the reasoning behind the original Monument Men’s mission parallels much of what we’re hearing here in Tampa from officials representing Special Operations Command, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the National Defense University and the Naval Post Graduate School.

In short, war – whether conventional or irregular – is more than just neutralizing the enemy to achieve political and military objectives. Culture and place and community have to be kept in mind.

Special Operations Forces leadership has been saying for a while now that they have to adopt a policy of partnering with friendly nations and letting them do more of the heavy lifting – after training and equipping – in their own internal defense.

Speaker after speaker here discussed the need for intelligence about a place and its people as much as the best way to deter guerrillas, short-circuit insurgencies or eliminate terrorists by kinetic means. In the future, U.S. Government officials in the field – civilian as well as military – will have to strike partnerships with local militaries, leaders and communities to have any hope of success. U.S. Special Operations missions in Colombia and the Philippines were cited as true success stories.

Colombian marines board a U.S. Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicle in Peru during Partnership of the America's Southern Exchange 2010 exercise. (USMC Photo by Lance Cpl. Ammon W. Carter)

Colombian marines board a U.S. Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicle in Peru during Partnership of the Americas’ Southern Exchange 2010 exercise. (USMC Photo by Lance Cpl. Ammon W. Carter)

In “The Monument Men,” there’s a stark contrast between the Germans and the Allies. While Hitler’s retreating armies were looting France, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands of their art treasures, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, issued an order a week before D-Day that said in part:

Shortly we will be fighting our way across the continent of Europe, in battles designed to preserve our civilization. Inevitably, in the path of our advance will be found historical monuments and cultural centers which symbolize to the world all that we are fighting to preserve.

It is the responsibility of every commander to protect and respect these symbols wherever possible.”

Ike went on to say that in some cases – like the destruction of the monastery of Monte Cassino in Italy – necessity dictates that the lives of Allied troops come before “some honored site.” But in other circumstances damage and destruction “are not necessary and cannot be justified,” the order noted.

It’s remarkable to think that in the midst of the biggest war in human history, the good guys – at least some of them – were thinking about the big picture … Asking what good would it do to liberate Europe if you wrecked it and destroyed the national identity of the people living there.

It just goes to show that good ideas often have a history.

4GWAR will have more on the conference – which had a surprisingly large turn-out for these budget-constrained times – in the coming days.

December 12, 2013 at 7:27 pm 4 comments


December 2013


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