Beyond The Monuments Men

Huffington Post
February 18, 2014
By Christopher Holshek

The Monuments Men, based on the Robert M. Edsel book, is about a time when specialized military units had a direct role in filling the gaps of governance in war-torn countries and making peace out of war. If there’s anything that moment in history teaches us, it’s that we had the foresight to have a national strategic capability for this less than obvious function.

As a result, the United States was able to save around five million works of art and cultural objects stolen from museums, churches, universities, and homes hoarded by the Nazis — the greatest art theft in history. By rescuing a huge part of humanity’s heritage, the Monuments Men helped generate some what would later be called “soft power,” strategic capital that would contribute decisively to the demise of the next foe — the Soviets.

World War II is the reference point in American martial memory for a lot of reasons. For one, we tend to think it is what all wars are supposed to look like. It explains, in part, our lack of enthusiasm for more of the kind of adventures seen over what the Pentagon called a “Decade of War” and David Rothkopf dubbed a “Decade of Fear.” Still, our newfound aversion to intervention such as last fall’s near-miss regarding Syria should not be immediately construed as neo-isolationism.

Big wars are fortunately not coming soon to a theater near you. “Absent an immediate threat to the United States,” forwarded former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, “the use of military force should be a last resort, not a first option.” Besides, “for the next decade and beyond,” said Joseph J. Collins in the Armed Forces Journal, “the strategic environment will be a favorable one. Major war with a peer competitor is nowhere on the horizon, and deterring or fighting regional aggressors is well within our capabilities.” Realist thinker John Mearsheimer added that the U.S. is “the most secure great power in world history [and] has been safer over the past twenty-five years than at any other time…”

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