In nations around the world, the military plays a crucial role in protecting cultural heritage and stopping the further destruction or illicit trafficking of artifacts. Members of the U.S. Army Civil Affairs Corps are the modern-day “Monuments Men” with responsibility to advise the military about cultural heritage issues, legal obligations, and diplomatic concerns that a unit could encounter in deployments or throughout the world. This mandate was institutionalized in 2009, when the United States ratified the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, which requires cultural heritage protection to be included in the planning and execution of military operations.
The Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative and the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield collaborate with other cultural heritage experts to bring this significant training to current Civil Affairs personnel, who serve as military liaisons to civilian officials in the theater of operations, including those working with cultural heritage. The training involves sections on the 1954 Hague Convention and how it relates to U.S. military doctrine, information on basic object conservation and handling, and lectures on the archaeological history and resources. Trainees are also given copies of SCRI’s guides to Mosul or Raqqa heritage, useful tools for those deploying to the region. The program has trained more than 500 military personnel.
Army Monuments Officer Training (AMOT)
In October 2019, the Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) (“USACAPOC(A)”) signed a Memorandum of Understanding in order to increase collaboration in protecting and preserving cultural property in armed conflict and develop a training program for Army Reserve Civil Affairs Soldiers. Though the Smithsonian has helped train USACAPOC personnel in the past, this new collaboration will build real long-term capacity, starting with the Army Monuments Officer Training at the Smithsonian in Fall 2020. Learn more about this important MOU here.
Interested in learning more about the original WWII Monuments Men? The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art holds the personal papers and oral history interviews of a number of the Monuments Men as well as photographs and manuscripts from their time in Europe.