If you believe there is a careless disregard for human life during war time, this translates to the destruction of fine art as well. In the film Monuments Men, an Allied group is entrusted with recovering artwork stolen by Nazi Germany, during World War Two. This film is based on a book by Robert M. Edsel and discusses the greatest treasure hunt in history. George Clooney, director, producer, writer, and actor of the film says that it’s 80% based on historical accuracy, but the names of all characters have been changed.
Just what were the Nazis doing with the fine art that they stole from the museums of conquered countries? You’d be surprised to hear that a greater part of it was destroyed. For a country that claimed to be progressive, they were highly intolerant of anything that didn’t fit within their twisted core values. The film raises the question about whether humans lives should be sacrificed in the saving of rare art. The Nazis were also collecting the art for their own archives, and most likely were planning on selling the rarer pieces to finance their war with the world. In some instances, the curators themselves destroyed pieces of art so they didn’t fall into the Nazi’s hands. We’ll never know all of the treasures that have been lost during this period of time. Occasionally a piece or two is recovered from someone’s private collection, and donated to a museum, but this is a rare occurrence.
Frank Stokes (George Clooney) oversees the team that is going to collect the art. As the film proceeds, he loses many men. At the end of the film President Truman asks him if the lives of the men were worth the retrieval of the fine art that his team found. He says it was. Back during WWII life seemed cheap. Men signed on for a war and knew they weren’t coming back. Many Nazi war criminals and their cohorts have undergone war trials to determine their guilt. How guilty is a person if they’re forced to undergo orders? Claire Simon from France is forced to oversee the theft of art for Viktor Stahl. Eventually she helps in the recovery of these goods, but one has to wonder at the correlation between between coercion and guilt.
Today, the world continues to lose fine art and monuments. Islamic State/ISIS members have destroyed many of the antiquities around Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. They’ve even been destroying their own cultural heritage, as ancient Muslim temples and fine art is lost. Is anyone willing to step forward to rescue some of these relics? The Monuments Men team risked their lives to retrieve valuable fine art. They brought a massive load back to the USA. Over time, much of this fine art has been returned to its rightful owners. We can be grateful that we can still visit Michelangelo’s Madonna sculpture in Bruges, Belgium, but who is going to save the works of art that are still being destroyed today?