A considerable amount of heritage has been damaged and destroyed by fighting simply because the armed forces were not aware of it, or of its importance.
Mitigation: A number of factors have worked to change this and increase awareness, including:
- the negative press following the destruction of heritage in Iraq after the 2003 invasion by Coalition Forces, and the widespread coverage of heritage destruction in Syria;
- the increased violence in Iraq after key heritage sites were destroyed;
- the loss of community goodwill in Afghanistan after some sites were accidentally damaged;
- the positive coverage of NATO’s heritage protection during Operation Unified Protector;
- the raising of awareness raising by organisations such as the Blue Shield.
Since the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, most western military forces have accepted that warfare has changed and that troops require a much greater understanding of the place and population where they are deployed than previously considered necessary. NATO, for example, has developed what it calls its ‘Comprehensive Approach’ in which a better understanding of culture and cultural property can be seen as a mission relevant priority. With this change in mind-set has come a realisation within armed forces that partnership with heritage experts is essential. Following environmental disaster, as well, the military need to know if there are particular issues to take into account – for example, what can be cleared up immediately and what should be left for later expert attention.
Photo: The ruins of the well known belfry of Arras (Pas-de-Calais, France). Vintage postcard from 1915. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons