Conservative Tastes

Monumental Disasters

Continuing to patronize the past.

By From the April 2014 issue

In explaining why he wants to save, as he sees it, the cultural heritage of Europe, stolen and spirited away into Germany by the retreating Nazis, George Clooney’s character in The Monuments Men (which he also directs) says: “If you destroy their achievements, their history, it’s like they never existed.” I don’t quite buy this. The Nazi art-lovers (in emulation of the Führer) were not destroying art but squirreling it away in salt mines against the hopeful day of Germany’s revival—the scene in the movie where they are shown burning some paintings including Raphael’s lost “Portrait of a Young Man” is fictional. But even leaving aside that fact, the “they” in this case is too numerous and must include far too many whose achievements, let alone history, were never in any danger of being destroyed. At least not by the Nazis.

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About the Author

James Bowman, our movie and culture critic, is a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He is the author of Honor: A History and Media Madness: The Corruption of Our Political Culture, both published by Encounter Books.