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The ethics of cultural heritage
The ethics of cultural heritage

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1.2 The strategic reading

The strategic reading of the inseparability thesis does not claim that attacks on heritage are mere evidence that attacks on humans are imminent. Rather, it holds that defending heritage against such attacks will always effectively assist in the defence of human beings. Therefore, if we want to protect humans, protecting heritage should be an inseparable element of our military strategy.

This specific claim is similar to the force-multiplier justification for protecting heritage which you considered in Week 2. There, you saw various ways in which the successful defence of heritage could aid a military effort (for example, by preventing the breakdown of social order, boosting the morale of the army, and increasing support for them among local people).

For instance, in 1917 Field Marshal Allenby was leader of the British Empire’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force which was occupying Jerusalem (Figure 1). He used Muslim troops under his command to guard the Mosque of Omar. This showed concern for Jerusalem’s heritage and ways of life. Without this choice, and other gestures such as entering the city on foot rather than on horseback, the people of Jerusalem may have been more hostile to the British forces.

This is a black-and-white photograph taken in nineteen seventeen. It shows a large stone archway in Jerusalem, with an attached clock tower. In the foreground there is a street with a crowd of people and soldiers. Walking down the street towards the camera and from the archway is a group of soldiers with General Allenby at the front.
Figure 1 General Sir Edmund Allenby entering the Holy City of Jerusalem on foot in 1917, to show respect for the holy place

The strategic reading, if true, reveals that attempts to defend human beings in conflicts should, where possible, be allied with attempts to conserve heritage. Hence, there would be a kind of inseparability between the two concerns. Protecting cultural heritage would be similar to protecting power plants, water sources or other things which are important for our survival. Given this, it might seem strange to accuse someone of prioritising the protection of cultural heritage at the expense of human lives since protecting heritage helps us protect lives.