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From Plunder to Preservation: The Untold Story of Cultural Heritage, World War II, and the Pacific

  • 08 Nov 2012
  • 09 Nov 2012
  • National Trust for Historic Preservation, Washington, DC


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Last year marked 70 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Now, a lifetime has passed since the United States entered the Second World War on December 8, 1941. The anniversary revived interest in World War II, and in particular, the Pacific Theater of Operations. With 2012 also commemorating the Battles of the Coral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal, focus on the War in the Pacific will continue to increase this year.

This emphasis is welcome but belated. The European Theater has long overshadowed its counterpart in the Far East. Despite its unfathomable atrocities, WWII in the West was the last of the so-called "great" wars, with its front lines, conventional combat, and massive land campaigns. It was a familiar horror, as it had been fought before many times, in some cases on the same battlefields, and even by many of the same men.

The Pacific Theater --- with its Kamikaze suicide bombings, guerrilla tactics, and nuclear weapons --- was instead a harbinger of terrors to come. A take-no-prisoners fight to the death through island jungles exotic to both the Americans and Japanese. Like the conflicts today in Afghanistan and Iraq and earlier in Vietnam and Korea, it was a clash between East and West. And since it was fought between civilizations, heritage was a major target, and thus a major casualty.

This cultural cost of the Pacific War, like its broader toll, has also been eclipsed by the devastation in Europe. We have condemned the Nazi looting of art, mourned Monte Cassino's loss, reconstructed old Warsaw, applauded Holocaust restitution, and tended graves at Normandy. But what do we know of the Empire of Japan’s systematic pillaging of Asian treasures from Mongolia to Singapore? Or the U.S. plan to first destroy --- and ultimately spare --- historic Kyoto? South Korea's efforts to recover their looted artworks? The neglect suffered by the cemeteries at Tarawa?  Or the environmental time bomb of sunken battleships, and gravesites themselves, in pristine South Pacific waters?

Do you want to learn more about these untold stories? Then join us for our fourth annual conference in Washington, DC, on November 8-9, 2012. Registration opens August 8, 2012. Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits will be available. For more information, visit the official website.
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