The ethics of cultural heritage
The ethics of cultural heritage

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The ethics of cultural heritage

1.1 The evidential reading

The evidential reading of the inseparability thesis is that, whenever cultural heritage is deliberately attacked, that is good evidence that attacks on people are imminent or already happening.

Weiss and Connelly (2017) argue that attacks on heritage are a kind of ‘alarm bell’, warning us that attacks on human beings are impending. Raphael Lemkin, who constructed the concept of genocide, once asserted that ‘burning books is not the same as burning bodies, but when one intervenes in time against mass destruction of churches and books one arrives just in time to prevent the burning of bodies’ (Lemkin, 1948).

Indeed, Lemkin’s chosen example evokes well-known real events. During World War Two, the Nazis were responsible for the genocide of approximately 6 million Jews. Prior to the start of the war, however, they were also responsible for provoking antagonism against groups seen as un-German. One practice in particular was that of book burning, as the video below highlights.

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Burning books in Nazi Germany.
Beginning in May 1933, the Nazis carried out public burnings of books which they deemed were "un-German". The works of Jewish, liberal, and politically-left writers and thinkers were burned in large bonfires. The book burnings were carried out by Nazi-led student groups and took place in 34 cities and university towns across Germany. In Berlin, 40,000 people gathered for the book burning to listen to an address by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. The book burnings were part of a Nazi effort to 'purify' Germany by promoting 'Aryan' culture and suppressing other artistic and ideological productions. It symbolically marked the censorship, intolerance, and terror of the Nazi regime.
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The idea behind the evidential reading is that practices such as book burning warn us that more serious crimes against humans are likely to follow.

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