Friday, December 5, 2008

War Victims

How many living beings died in the wars of the 20th century? How many had their lives destroyed, both military and civilian? How many lost sons and daughters, mothers and fathers? How many lost limbs and bodily functioning? How many lost minds? Incalculable, I guess. And how many more have suffered similarly, already, in the twenty-first century?

These thoughts were prompted the other night by watching the recording we had made of The Rape of Europa, the documentary film that tells the story of the looting of Europe's private and museum art collections by the Nazis during World War II. This part of the story would have been horrifying enough by itself, but the film goes further: it also tells the story of the vast numbers of art works and irreplaceable architectural landmarks that fell victim to Allied bombs and artillery, and of their wanton, systematic destruction by retreating German forces. It includes amazing footage of the hordes amassed by Nazi leaders--Field Marshall Goering for his own aggrandizement, Hitler in order to fulfill his overweening ambition for a "Reichsmuseum" in Linz, Austria, the modest town of his birth.

That some significant part of the European patrimony survived is thanks to the efforts of many who risked their lives to pack, remove and hide the treasures from the Nazi invaders, and to those who prevailed upon the Allied armies to respect, where possible, the artistic heritage of the countries they liberated--no easy task, as the film makes clear, when infantrymen in the field, under attack from fortresses like the monastery at Monte Cassino in Italy, were forced to make agonizing choices between that heritage and their own lives.

It's an inspiring and, in may ways, a horrifying film, in which we learn much about the boundless greed and vengeful fury that warfare inspires in the souls of men. To steal or destroy a country's art is to disempower it by draining its cultural lifeblood: the toppling of that Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad is but one recent example of the powerful symbolism involved. So, too, sadly, was the destruction of the Bamyan Buddhas by the Taliban not many years ago in Afghanistan.

And yet... and yet... From the Buddhist point of view, of course, all these things are just that: things, no matter how beautiful or filled with symbolic or spiritual value. Transience, in this view, is a relative term: even the mountain crumbles in the course of the millennia. Life, on the other hand, transient though it might be, is the ultimate value. Given the choice between art and life, I assume that for the good Buddhist there is no contest. But the great achievement of "The Rape of Europa" is in reminding us just how morally complex and emotionally agonizing those choices can be.

7 comments:

mandt said...

Particularly horrific was the detailed and systematic destruction of whole peoples. The erasure of Poland was heart wrenching as was the Ukraine. Between the Nazi's and Stalin it is estimated that nearly a hundred million were murdered.

khengsiong said...

AFAIK, US spared Kyoto of bombing during WW2 because of its architecture. Over in Europe, I think the Allied forces were more desperate, so preservation of historical landmarks was not in their mind. There were other things more important than art, e.g. human lives.

Tim said...

I always carry the thoughts of war in the archives of my mind; My father was a WWII German held P.O.W. and that very fact impacted my life in ways that are vastly immeasurable.

Pete Hoge said...

I was in Dresden in the late 80's
and I could feel the "negative
energies. the loss, from the
firebombings...all the ancient
buildings gone.

I think my parents just named
me Peter for no particular reason
to asnwer your question.

I would have preferred Emil.

carly said...

"The most beautiful experience we can experience is the mysterious - the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science."
 Einstein

"My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind."
 Einstein  

Albert Einstein’s warning that "if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left"
 
"The only real valuable thing is intuition.  The intellect has little to do on the road to discovery."
Einstein

"I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination."
Einstein
 
"Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master.  For this reason mastery demands all of a person."
Einstein 

"Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them."
Einstein

"Laws alone cannot secure freedom of expression.  In order that every man present his views w/o penalty there must be a spirit of tolerance in the entire population."
 Einstein

"He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt.  He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice."
Einstein
 
"How I wish that somewhere there existed an island for those who are wise and of good will."
Einstein
 
"If you can't explain it simply you don't understand it well enough."
Einstein
 
"It's not that I'm smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer."
Einstein

"Heroism on command, senseless brutality, deplorable
> love of country stance
> and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name
> of patriotism, how
> passionately I hate them!"
> Einstein
>
> "Never do anything against conscience even if the
> state demands it."
> Einstein

"How  do I work?  I grope."
 Einstein
 
"I think and think for months, for years. Ninety-nine times the conclusion is false.  The hundredth time I am right."
 Einstein 

"The distinction between past and present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion."
 Einstein

"When I examine myself and my methods of thought I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract positive thinking."
 Einstein

"A man's moral worth is not measured by what his religious beliefs are but rather by what emotional impulses he has received by Nature during his lifetime."
Einstein
 
"I don't believe in mathematics."
Einstein
 
"Nature hides her secrets because of her essential loftiness but not by means of ruse."
Einstein
 
"One of the strongest motives that lead men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness from the fetters of one's own ever shifting desires."
Einstein

"The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulate the creative mind."
Einstein

"Everyone should be respected as an individual, but no one idolized."
 Einstein

"I am not only a pacifist but a militant pacifist.   I am willing to fight for peace.  Nothing will end war unless people themselves refuse to go to war."
Einstein

"Truth is what stands the test of experience."
Einstein

"Our task is to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty." Albert Einstein
 
"Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master.  For this reason mastery demands all of a person."
 Einstein

"There remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable.  Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion."
 Einstein 

"Computers are incredibly fast, accurate and stupid.  Human beings are incredibly slow, inaccurate and brilliant.  Together they are powerful beyond imagination."
 Einstein

"The only real valuable thing is intuition.  The intellect has little to do on the road to discovery."
 Einstein

I'm convinced Albert did not believe in their god, per se, but in talking to students, couched ancient Greek and Chinese philosophy in their old, Euro, duality-laden beliefs. Thinking that maybe one day more people will realize they can drop the God part. They just can't get over the idea that a man image is not superior to the nature system. 

"My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind."
Einstein
 
"Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet."
Einstein
 
"As our circle of knowledge expands, so does the circumference of darkness surrounding it."
Einstein

"...the high destiny of the individual is to serve rather than to rule, or to impose himself in any other way."
Einstein
 
"The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives."
Einstein
 
"The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination."
Einstein
 
"The secret of creativity is knowing how to hide your sources."
Einstein
 
"It is strange to be known so universally and yet be so lonely."
Einstein

"Dancers are the athletes of god."
 
"Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the the end, by forces over which we have no control.  It is detemined for the insect, as well as for the star.  Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper."  
 
"I have no particular talent.  I am merely inquisitive."
 
"It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education."
 
"The attempt to combine wisdom and power has only rarely been successful and then only for a short while."

"I know quite certainly that I myself have no special talent.  Curiosity, obsession and dogged endurance, combined with self criticism have brought me to my ideas."
Einstein
 
"The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once."
Einstein
 
"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent.   It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage - to move in the opposite direction."
Einstein
 
"Everyone tries to define this thing called character.  It's not hard.  Character is doing what's right when nobody's looking.  Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist.  They are wrong : it is character."
Einstein
 
"The important thing is not to stop questioning.  Curiosity has its own reason for existing.  One cannot help but be in awe when he comtemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.  It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day.  Never lose a holy curiosity."
Einstein

"There comes a time when the mind takes a higher plane of knowledge but can never prove how it got there."
Einstein

"It gives me great pleasure indeed to see the stubbornness of an incorrigible noncomformist warmly acclaimed."
Einstein
 
"Logic will take you from A to B.  Imagination will take you everywhere."
Einstein

> "Three Rules of Work : Out of clutter find
> simplicity; from discord find
> harmony; in the middle of difficulty lies
> opportunity."
> Einstein
THIS IS TOTALLY FROM THE ICHING!
ORDER IS IMPLICIT IN CONFUSION.
The great man brings order out of chaos.
THE GREAT MAN EQUALIZES THE EXTREMES.
THE GREAT MAN SEPARATES AND UNITES.
THAT WHICH IS DIFFICULT PRESENTS A WAY OUT.

> "I used to go away for weeks in a state of
> confusion."
> Einstein

>
> "Only two things are infinite, the universe and
> human stupidity, and I'm not
> sure about the former."
> Einstein

"A man must learn to understand the motives of human beings, their illusions, and their sufferings."
 Einstein
  
"Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better."
 Einstein

"A person starts to live when he can live outside
> himself."
> Einstein
 
"Nationalism is an infantile disease.  It is the measles of mankind."
 Einstein

"The difference between what the most and the least learned people know is inexpressibly trivial in relation to that which is unknown."
 Einstein

"The state is made for man, not man for the state.  And in this respect science resembles the state."
Einstein

Your finger on a stove burner for a second seems like an hour. Being with a girl seems like a minute.

You don't really understand something, unless you can explain it to your grandmother.

If they want to see me, here I am. If they want to see my clothes, they can look in my closet.

"There are only 2 ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."
Einstein

"Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable."
Einstein

"Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous."
Einstein

"Nature shows us only the tail of the lion. But I do not doubt that the lion belongs to it even tho he cannot at once reveal himself because of his enormous size."
Einstein

"The bigotry of the nonbeliever is for me nearly as funny as the bigotry of the believer." Einstein

"The state of mind which enables a man to do work of this kind is akin to that of the religious worshiper or the lover.  The daily effort comes from no deliberate intention or program, but straight from the heart."
Einstein 

"Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom."
 Einstein
 
"Few are they who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts."
 Einstein
 
"God does not care about our mathematical difficulties.  He integrates empirically."
 Einstein
 
"Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds."
 Einstein
 
"In the middle of difficulty is opportunity."
 Einstein
 
"The real problem is in the hearts and minds of men.  It is not a problem of physics but of ethics.  It is easier to denature plutonium than to denature the evil from the spirit of man."
 Einstein
 
"Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics.  I can assure you mine are still greater."
Einstein

"A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?"
 Einstein
 
"Everything passes.  Everything changes.  Just do what you think you should do."
 Bob Dylan
 
"I want to know how God created the world.  I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element.  I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details."
 Einstein
 
"Intellectuals solve problems.  Geniuses prevent them."
 Einstein
 
"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.  The important thing is to not stop questioning."
 Einstein

"When Einstein died his final words died with him.  The nurse at his side didn't speak German."

Catherine said...

I too was moved and awed by The Rape Of Europe.

http://playanon.blogspot.com/2008/11/more-than-ever.html

When you destroy a culture, you destroy a people -not just their bodies, but their souls. Artwork may just be "things" as you wrote, but those things are powerful symbols of ideas and collective values. Though little can be said about the Nazis, they utterly understood the vital role culture plays in shaping a society.

Watching footage of Florentines weeping in the streets as the truckloads of art returned after the war is something I will never forget. The "thing" itself may burn... but the wider meaning of that thing lives forever. Viva art! Viva creation! Viva human spirit!

PeterAtLarge said...

mandt--this is something that shaped my consciousness, as a European born before WWII...

ks--glad the Kyoto was spared, though I don't know the reasons for it. It's a beautiful place, and the human spirit there is strong. A shame that Hiroshima and Nagasaki--and Tokyo, of course--were not accorded the same privilege...

Tim--the sons of survivors of experiences like that are bound to have inherited something of the father's wounds. As a child, I knew German and Italian POW's in England, who were working on the farms. I like to think they were better treated than the Allies' POWs in Germany and, certainly, the Far East. But who knows...?

Pete--I too was in Dresden just a few years ago, and had exactly the experience you describe. The ghosts still haunt the city...

Carly, a man of infinite wisdom, this Einstein! A "war victim"?

Catherine, thanks for linking to your mention of "The Rape..." I enjoy visiting you, up north...