The Monuments Men
History. Art. A Top-Secret Mission. Great Actors.
That’s enough. I’m sold.
It’s not very often that I bother with going to the movies to catch a new film on opening night. However, I had a hunch that The Monuments Men would be worth it. By now you probably know well enough that I’m a history geek and a news junkie, so it shouldn’t surprise you that this movie was a hit with me.
This movie is more than just another addition to the media collection about the story of Hitler’s covetous art collection. Far from copying other stories, this movie illustrates the grandiose scale of artwork that was stolen throughout Nazi occupied territories. The Train, released in 1964, was a movie that was very well done, showing the sacrifice that some made to protect the stolen art. While The Train focuses primarily on the movement of a few pieces of art, The Monuments Men follows the seven art experts who dedicated themselves to the pursuit of saving and returning the art to its rightful owners.
Even though this story is almost 70 years old, the ramifications of Hitler’s art thievery are still in our current events. In November of 2013 some pieces previously believed to be lost were found in the Munich apartment of Hildebrand Gurlitt. The art discovered included works from Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Nolde and Klee. The story was broken by FOCUS, a German publication and was then echoed throughout international media outlets. The stolen art is a loss to the international community– who knows what kind of brilliant masterpieces were destroyed by the Nazis and are now lost to future generations?
The Monuments Men illustrates a need for an international awareness in regards to the destruction of historical works, and presents the question of whether works belong to a certain person, community, or culture. Perhaps, they belong to the international community.
If monuments and historical works do belong to the international community, then the present situation in Syria is even more of a travesty. As Clooney’s character says in The Monuments Men, “if you destroy a generation of people, they will come back again. If you destroy their works, it’s like they never existed.” Please keep in mind that it’s a paraphrase, as I’m not posting from the movie theatre. The point rings true though, if the international community allows the devastation in Syria to continue, there may be nothing left in the region to illustrate the extraordinary and magnificent achievements of the Muslim world. PolicyMic.com has a list of 5 historical monuments that have been permanently destroyed during the Syrian Civil War. This problem is not unique to Syria. In last year’s conflict in Mali many Timbuktu documents were thought to be damaged as jihadists retreated from the city, though luckily, the documents had been preserved. As an international body, we must do something to work towards protecting historical works for future generations. Although humans have been bent on destruction of works by others for a long time (see the Temples in the City of Rome, the Library of Alexandria, and Egypt’s Mallawi Museum as examples) it is time that this nature was shifted to the protection of the international body of historical artifacts.
If I can add just one more thing about The Monuments Men, the film did a good job– perhaps the best of all the WWII movies I’ve seen– of capturing the suffering from the everyday people in war-torn areas. Perhaps it was more apparent to me because I’ve been reading Savage Continent by Keith Lowe, which highlights the damage to everyday folks throughout the war. To me, this is an incredibly important aspect of WWII’s history that hasn’t been brought to the dominant narrative enough, and it was refreshing to see the realities of the war opened for discussion in The Monuments Men.
The Monuments Men is out in theaters now, and I’m sure that you won’t be disappointed by going to see it.
Until Next Time,