The Monuments Men, ISIS and Empire

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Full disclosure: I am NOT on the cutting edge of cultural evolution. I do my best to keep pace with its rear echelons. Nevertheless, I finally watched The Monuments Men on Blu-Ray. Based on a true story, it’s a buddy movie of sorts, set in WWII Europe. The Nazis are stealing art all over Europe, in all their occupied lands, particularly from the Jews. Every work of art, painting or statuary, gold brick or gold filling that they can lay their hands on is ending up in the homes of SS officers or being shipped by truck or train to large, makeshift warehouses, until it can be gathered at war’s end to fill the planned Fuehrer Museum.

Not all art is equally valued, though. Modernist artists, like Picasso, were not deemed worthy, and many of their works were destroyed. Here we have a small band of Americans, along with one Frenchman and one Brit, tasked with trying to save as many of these irreplaceable works of art as possible.

Along the way, they discover that there exists a directive from Hitler, that if he were to be killed, all of the art was to be destroyed. Apparently, he thought that if he couldn’t have it, no one could! Part of the tension in the movie is the race against the clock to save these art treasures, compounded by an invading army of Russians from the East, looting stolen art from the Germans, to take back to Russia as reparations for the damage Germany had caused to the USSR.

The movie works well for the most part. Good acting, a solid story line and a few scenes to make you laugh and tug at your heart, ending with what I consider to be a minor ripoff of Saving Private Ryan. If you haven’t seen the movie, I would recommend it, not just for an interesting slice of history, but perhaps the chance not to be doomed to repeating it.

Watching the movie, seeing the Nazis destroy works of art that they did not deem worthy, made me think of ISIS
with their total disregard for the historical treasures they destroy, because they find them contrary to their religious beliefs. There are a number of parallels between the Nazis and ISIS in their blatant disregard for human life, killing men, women and children for their ideological ends. This was just one more.

There was a second theme I noticed that ran through the movie (to me anyway), and that was empire. The Third Reich plundered every country they conquered, taking art, natural resources, slaves…whatever they wanted. It is the way of empire. The Soviet Union was a competing empire. As they conquer eastern Germany, they looted it of everything they could get their hands on. The satellite countries of the U.S.S.R. paid tribute of whatever they had to Mother Russia, because, that is the way of empire.

And then, you had a handful of men, commissioned by the US government to lay their hands on every piece of art they could find…and return them to their rightful owners. I believe they said that over five million pieces of art were retrieved, Rembrandts, Monets, a sculpture by Michelangelo, each worth millions by themselves, returned to the private owners whenever possible, the churches, the museums from whence they had been taken. This is NOT the way of empire.

We conquered Kuwait without taking their oil and gave the country back to the Kuwatis. We conquered Iraq, but did not loot it for either its national treasures or its oil. And apparently, conquered Europe without looting their art. As I said above. Just one more thing.

The looney Left likes to hurl the epithet “empire” at us, as did their Neoisolationist fellow traveler Ron Paul, as I detailed in “We Can’t Afford the Empire”.

Even under the sloppiest thinking short of downright dishonesty, it is impossible to define the United States of America as an “empire”. We have many military bases around the world, much as our blue water navy, to project American power and to respond to events anywhere in the world, that might threaten our freedom. At least, that was true up until the last decade. Without the will to use that power, they may as well sit on their hands as our embassies are attacked and American citizens are tortured and killed.

Should we realistically evaluate our military bases, both foreign and domestic, so that we can maintain those and perhaps only those that are vital to our security and defense? Certainly. We have seen the disaster caused by the precipitous withdrawal of troops from Iraq and the far greater threat that was allowed to blossom in the absence of our military strength or a correspondingly strong Iraqi national defense.

Are we the “cops of the world”? Under Barack Obama we are scarcely the “Neighborhood Watch” of the world. China is building a blue water navy, Putin is running roughshod over the Ukraine, in spite of our written agreement with Britain, Russia and the Ukraine to defend their sovereignty. Our word was apparently no good under the current president. The same man who told us Iraq was stable enough for us to depart completely, who lied to us and told us “if you like your doctor, you can keep him”, told the Ukraine that if you like your borders, you can keep them”. Why should our allies believe anything he says? After drawing red lines and accusing the Syrian president of war crimes, Obama did nothing and the tyrant still sits in the seat of power. He brings toothless sanctions against Russia, all the while reducing sanctions against Iran because “they’re not working”.

Why should our enemies believe anything he says? Our military is steadily shrinking, our space program has been all but gutted. The preeminence of American power has been diluted, diminished or destroyed by this president.

To paraphrase Bill Buckley, I will not insult your intelligence by saying that you actually believe the argument you make when you say that the US is an “empire”


  1. I saw Monuments Men on the plane returning from France, where we returned to Trevieres the first Nazi flag that had been taken down during the invasion of Normandy 70 years earlier. My father was in intelligence, and so had access to the mail, having been given the flag by his CO for a museum one day. This was one of the most moving experiences of my life, turning that monstrous old flag back to the Normans who love our country more than many Americans do, still remembering what people like my dad did. There were tears all around when I turned that thing over to the teenager who keeps the flame of freedom alive in the French countryside. Watching ISIS destroy the tomb of Jonah and attempting to destroy the Gates of Nineveh is reminder that freedom is fragile and not necessarily passed down from generation to generation.

    1. We thank your father for his service. We thank you for your part in restoring a piece of history to Normandy. That must have been quite a trip. I have lost most of the desire I had as a youth to tour Europe, but I would still like to visit Normandy.

      It was Dwight Eisenhower, I believe that said 'Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty'. That certainly holds true in a world of Islamic fanaticism.


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