The Ruins of War

In Jeanette Bicknell, Jennifer Judkins & Carolyn Korsmeyer (eds.), Philosophical Perspectives on Ruins, Monuments, and Memorials. New York and London: pp. 228-240 (2020)
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Ruins are evocative structures, and we value them in different ways for the various things they mean to us. Ruins can be aesthetically appreciated, but they are also valued for their historical importance, what they symbolize to different cultures and communities, and as lucrative objects, i.e., for tourism. However, today an increasing number of ancient ruins have been damaged or completely destroyed by acts of war. In 2001 the Taliban struck a major blow to cultural heritage by blasting the Bamiyan Buddhas out of existence. They were not easy to destroy. This direct targeting of cultural property might change our attitudes toward conservation practices. Francesco Bandarin, the UNESCO assistant director-general for culture, states, “Deliberate destruction has created a new context. At the time, Bamiyan was an exceptional case.” Bandarin’s comments notwithstanding, the destruction of cultural property in times of war is not new. Not only is there relatively settled international law prohibiting the looting of cultural property during times of war, we can find examples of intentional destruction of cultural property from thousands of years ago. In this paper I would like to focus on one particular case, that of the Mỹ Sơn Archaeological Sanctuary, in the Socialist Republic of Việt Nam. Mỹ Sơn is the foremost Champa archaeological site and the largest archaeological site in Việt Nam. The largest temple (kalan) at Mỹ Sơn, A1, was destroyed in a US bombing raid in 1969. In this paper I highlight different approaches to architectural cultural heritage preservation in terms of reconstruction, restoration, and ruination -- with an eye to applying these approaches to the remains of the A1 temple in Mỹ Sơn. I briefly discuss the history of Mỹ Sơn before providing some reasons to believe that we should allow A1 to ruinate.

Author's Profile

Elizabeth Scarbrough
Florida International University


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