This is based on the article The Other Monuments Men by Matthew Wills. Euro-centrism, in other words a tendency to interpret the world through the eyes of European or Anglo-American values and, therefore, prizing those more than the rest, has been long around for various reasons. It is still clearly very much so today – if we only look around us. Hollywood is doing its share for leveling (and sanitizing) our views.
Asia has its own problems, but they do not count, do they? Not even in culture and arts.
As the article shows “The American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas was the civilian component of the Monuments Men operation.” How did it work? Twenty-three experts handled European country reports; only three experts handled Asia. And of those, Langdon Warner, responsible for China, Japan, Korea, and Thailand, made some “professionally and ethically questionable actions”. Says who? An American academic from George Washington University. True she’s of Korean descendants.
In the image above you can see the nine royal seals of the Korean Empire and Joseon Dynasty which had been repatriated to Seoul, South Korea, by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) in 2014 on the occasion of President Obama’s visit.
Cristine Kim, with a PhD from Harvard and an interest in Asian Studies and research focusing on national identity, material culture, and political movements, evaluates the US ‘Monuments Men’ operations in Korea. Kim underlines some sad truths: imperialist attitudes, perceptions of Korean culture as backward compared to the Japanese one, for example, political sensibilities of the time including the US interest in maintaining the national interests of its newest ally – all this contributed mainly to the preservation of Japan’s cultural patrimony and the development of modern society.
Sounds familiar? It should, history never repeats itself mechanically. But those who know it may have a déjà vu of the future. For more and amazing details, not that we couldn’t imagine them, read the article.