Monday, 11 November 2013

Cultural frames and cultural property -- part three

Royal Flying Corps, marching in Toronto, Canada
1st May 1918
In many countries, and under different names, today is Remembrance Day. Although now applied to remember those of the armed forces who were killed in all military conflicts, it originated as a response to World War I. In 1914, H. G. Wells published a book entitled The War That Will End War. Even at the time, the title met with some skepticism, but it captured the public imagination over the following few years, especially because of the dreadful loss of life for so little advantage. It epitomized the Pyrrhic Victory.

A young person, today, might be forgiven for misunderstanding the symbolism in the Remembrance Day events. While being a tribute to those soldiers who fell, are we supposed to envision some sort of glory in their deaths? Certainly, during and after World War I, it was widely understood that there was no longer any glory in a war where thousands were killed over a piece of ground that had been a market garden (Ypres). How many people, today, have learned the lesson that H.G. Wells wrote in that book (p.16):
But be it remembered that Europe's quarrel is with the German State, not with the German people; with a system, and not with a race.
But could the desire to end wars also lead to another sort of Pyrrhic victory? let us return the theme that I started yesterday, an analysis of some of the points in UNESCO its Purpose and its Philosophy, by Julian Huxley, 1946. Let us look at another passage:
The moral for Unesco is clear. The task laid upon it of promoting peace and security can never be wholly realised through the means assigned to it -- education, science and culture. It must envisage some form of world political unity, whether through a single world government or otherwise, as the only certain means for avoiding war.
Is this not a bit like saying that the best solution to avoid strikes and other forms of labor unrest would be slavery or totalitarianism? In the Wikipedia entry for the causes of World War I we read: "Militarism, alliances, imperialism, and nationalism played major roles in the conflict as well." Yet, the very nature of all of the various UNESCO conventions about cultural property revolves around alliances and nationalisms.

Pursuant to the UNESCO cultural property conventions, are the U.S. Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) about the importation of objects designated as "cultural property" into the U.S. These are deals arranged between the U.S. State Department and foreign nations by which bans are imposed by the U.S. on the importation of  certain classes of objects (without an export permit -- which is often impossible to obtain) in return for concessions paid to the U.S. by the nations in question. While the American people are informed of what they must forgo in importation rights, they are not informed of what these countries have agreed upon as a quid pro quo. In fact, that side of the deal is a State Secret and not even obtainable (so far) through legal actions. An illusion of democracy is maintained by allowing the public to voice their concerns, agreement, or disagreement with the proposed MoU through messages that are published on the web, yet it is only one side of the deal which is revealed. It is thus very possible, and in the light of the secrecy component, highly likely that many Americans in favor of the MoU would not be so favorable if they knew all of the details. So far, there has not been a single incidence of where the public were overwhelmingly against a particular cultural property MoU and it was subsequently dropped, so the problem is moot. It is only an apparency, and thus a mockery, of the democratic process.

For about three years, I did some voluntary work for the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild which included encouraging public responses and aiding those with questions about various MoU's which included ancient coins. No other collecting area was similarly represented by any organizations or individuals because advances in numismatics are overwhelmingly due to the work of independent scholars. The subject is so complex, and so interdisciplinary, that it cannot be successfully taught during the time allowed for a university education. I have told many people that I think that it takes at least twenty years to become proficient enough in the subject to make real contributions to its methods. Because of the nature of the subject, these methods are often unique to a study in question. There is little "one size fits all" methodology beyond simple die-linking and, as I have proven in my own work, the usefulness of that is limited. Anyone who has read my blog for some time will realize that the number of subjects I have used in my research are many.

Over a number of MoU processes, I heard things about, and did further research on, the subject of what secret concessions were granted to the U.S. in return for their imposition of import restrictions. Interestingly, only two possibilities surfaced: the establishment of military bases and concessions to the Monsanto Corporation. The first was an expected response -- almost part of  the mythology about the U.S. The second was due to actual observations and known data -- Hillary Clinton was the Secretary of State at the time and if you want to make up your own mind, then simply Google Hillary Clinton Monsanto.

So, we have seen two of the assigned causes of World War I (alliances and nationalism) also absorbed by the UNESCO cultural property conventions, and the other two (militarism and imperialism) absorbed by the perceived quid pro quos in the U.S. cultural property MoU processes. Of course, the latter depends on much speculation because its secrecy allows only for speculation. Yet, it is very clear that these two are the only answers voiced by the American public and are thus indicative of their main concerns. You would think that the U. S. government would be swift to reveal the second half of the deal knowing, as they must, this aspect of public opinion if neither were true. The only other explanation is that the real quid pro quos are so horrible that they have not even been imagined by members of the public.

After banging my head against the wall for three years, I came to the conclusion that public opinion could not possibly sway the U.S. State Department, and instead, I decided to start this blog to show the more positive side of amateur research. This current series, however, contains a crossover between the two, and this particular post is the only one where it will show up. I thought it pertinent to Remembrance Day as during those three years, "war" and "battle" were the dominant metaphors that I had encountered. Tomorrow, we will start to look into the ways that nationalism and the past has been used to influence people's thinking to the benefit of certain politicians and leaders.


  1. Wayne G. Sayles, the Executive Director of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild emailed me to say that he ran into a problem leaving a comment, and as it has yet to come through, I am posting his (reconstituted) comment here:

    "Very interesting post John! My personal observation has been that Cultural Property Nationalism is more of a political phenomenon than a philosophy. There are strong similarities between that phenomenon and National Socialism, though making that connection is sure to draw the ire of archaeo-bloggers. Perhaps the proof is in the nearly rabid denials and counter criticisms that spring immediately when anyone dares make that connection. On this day of remembrance perhaps we ought to give some thought to the root cause of war and suffering. It does make one wonder if UNESCO is really on the right course."

  2. Thank you, Wayne. Yes, I certainly agree that Cultural Property Nationalism is political -- at least, in its intent. The problem is, however, that such political motives can then be adopted by individuals as a philosophy (which is also part of that same intent). It comes down to the attempt to control people's thoughts for political ends. while purporting to be cultural, all of its applications are national. There is absolutely nothing within any of the UNESCO Cultural Property Conventions that defends the interests of cultural minorities within any nation. Thus, when the Chinese not only looted the Tibetan temples, but also changed the ethnic percentage of the Tibetan region to greater favor Chinese ethnicity, it was beyond the scope of anything that UNESCO covered within their cultural property conventions. The word "cultural" should never have been used, and was clearly an attempt to control the way people think -- it is about national property, and nothing else.
    Within any nation, the UNESCO conventions thus become imperialistic.

    In effect, this also promotes the concepts of Social Darwinism, which, as the Wikipedia article says "... the strong should see their wealth and power increase while the weak should see their wealth and power decrease. We certainly encountered that phenomenon when public opinion was ignored to the point of not even being acknowledged by DOS in the MoU processes, and where the courts simply "rubber stamped" what DOS had ordered.

    But beyond the political is the scientific, and UNESCO as outlined in Huxley's address is hopelessly outdated in that respect -- in ideas of education, evolution and anthropology. While Martí, in his paper, reveals that culture is far more individualistic then ethnic, UNESCO fails to validate even the ethnic.

    I think that the World Bank has a far better track record in aiding ethic minorities than UNESCO as for example:

    The Catch 22 being that the World Bank can do nothing without an application from a nation. The United Nations, as a body, certainly has influence over its member states, but this is not reflected in anything that UNESCO has to offer in the area of the cultural property conventions.

    Whenever war is not being promoted for economic reasons, it reveals a failure to recognize social problems until they become national or international problems. Big Business and Big Government are wholly to blame. When governments and bureaucracies become too large, the end of a state is on the horizon, and I know of no historical precedent where this was averted.