By George Weigel, First Things.
The Monuments Men was a disappointing movie, but one of its most chilling scenes sticks in my mind as an analogue to the appalling wickedness underway in the Middle East.
In the film, SS Colonel Wegner supervises the destruction of art works plundered by the Nazis: treasures intended for Hitler’s fantasized Fuehrer Museum in Linz, Austria. But as the Allies close in on Germany in 1945, Hitler decides that, if he and his goons can’t have these masterpieces, their rightful owners—and the future—won’t have them, either. So Wegner and an SS squad armed with flamethrowers incinerate painting after painting, including Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man. Colonel Wegner, we learn later, was an extermination camp superintendent before he got busy destroying paintings.
The Nazi destruction of stolen art was an act of gratuitous violence against Europe’s cultural heritage, undertaken in service to a demented ideology—the corollary, in the field of culture, of the far more wicked Nazi slaughter of Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, the mentally ill, and all those who fell under the category of lebensunwertes Leben: “life unworthy of life.” Similarly gratuitous destruction of ancient cultural centers and artifacts is now underway wherever the black flag of the Islamic State, ISIS, is raised in Iraq and Syria. And so is another genocide, this time of Christians.