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The ethics of cultural heritage
The ethics of cultural heritage

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Problems with the strategic reading

Unfortunately, the strategic reading of the inseparability thesis is probably false as well. As noted in Section 1.1, there are many occasions when heritage was attacked and even destroyed without any accompanying violence aimed at human beings. Therefore, it is incorrect to claim that defending heritage always helps us to avoid harming people.

Even in wartime, the defence of heritage is not always a force-multiplier and can sometimes be an obstacle to a mission’s success. This is precisely why the Hague Convention, which you examined in Week 2, has a waiver allowing heritage to be sacrificed in cases where doing so is imperative to achieving a military goal. If protecting heritage and protecting lives never came into conflict, as the strategic reading suggests, there would be no need to offer this waiver. However, it is a matter of fact that such conflicts do occur, so the strategic reading is wrong.

In addition, the strategic reading portrays the value of cultural heritage in precisely the same way as we would calculate the value of a purely instrumental structure such as a bridge or a power plant. Yet, this ignores the heritage values which we have previously acknowledged (for example, beauty or historic value). Therefore, to the extent that individuals were criticised for being overly concerned with the loss of these valuable features at the expense of human tragedies, the strategic reading offers no defence. There is still a deep dilemma about whether human lives can ever be worth paying to preserve the heritage values of certain buildings or sites.

In the rest of this section you will assess one final reading of the inseparability thesis which does not neglect heritage values. Instead, it denies the existence of the previously mentioned dilemma by collapsing all the values of heritage and of human lives into one single category.