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.
The military’s comparative advantage lies less with “providing good governance, and inculcating democratic values in foreign, undeveloped societies driven by internal conflicts,” as the Stimson Center has noted, than in playing a supporting rather than starring role.
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