Sunday, December 15, 2013

Army Field Manual passage protecting cultural property under revision -- Not to Worry

At the recent colloquium at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum one of the panelists asserted something very disturbing: that the sentence added in 2009 (if memory serves) to the military's invasion planning "bible" (the Army Field Manual), requiring the US military to include in any invasion plans orders to secure cultural monuments, buildings, and sites, was being stripped from the new edition. That would be terrible news, since getting that sentence added was -- along with the ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention -- one of the key policy recommendations made by policy experts and stakeholders who studied what went wrong in Iraq, and one of the few concrete changes made by the military based on lessons learned.

I am happy to report that reliable sources tell me that there is nothing to worry about. While it is true that the draft left blank the portion dealing with cultural property protection, that is because the language is being strengthened and the revisers of the manual are deciding how to coordinate its placement in one chapter or the other.

But this episode demonstrates why it would be better to embed such a requirement in law rather than trust that the policy will remain in effect. On the other hand, as I pointed out in The Rape of Mesopotamia, the law in which heritage protection advocates invested their hopes, the 1954 Hague Convention, was already being observed by the US military as a matter of customary international law, even though it had not been ratified as it would be eventually -- but nothing in the Hague Convention requires militaries to secure archaeological sites from civilian looters. (The looting that the convention addresses is looting by militaries, not civilians -- of a piece with the convention's focus on restraining the destructive actions of militaries.) If we want to be more assured that American invasion plans will always include provisions for securing sites and museums from looters, we would need to be pushing for additional legislation. I myself do not think that is the best use of our energies right now. 

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