1. Extrinsic Justifications for Harming

Examples of Extrinsic Justifications

Various extrinsic justifications have been put forward for the protection of heritage. Some proponents of heritage protection argue that preventing the looting of heritage sites will eliminate an important source of funding to terrorist organizations and thereby thwart terrorist attacks and disrupt terrorist networks. Much of the work by the Committee of the Blue Shield, perhaps the best known nongovernmental organization (NGO) in the field of heritage protection, emphasizes the strategic and military value of respecting cultural sites. With so many recent and ongoing conflicts taking place in urban environments, the cooperation of local people—“winning hearts and minds”—can be a pivotal factor in the success of a military operation. Destroying sites of cultural significance, whether through ignorance or disregard, can seriously hamper the prospects of military success. Proponents of heritage protection have thus channeled a fair amount of energy into demonstrating the military advantages of heritage protection (of course, this is not to say that they are themselves motivated by these advantages). Preventing the destruction of cultural sites can also facilitate postconflict reconciliation and sustain important sources of income for local people by protecting the tourism industry.

Perhaps the most common, and important, extrinsic justification for heritage protection is grounded in an alleged connection between threats to heritage and threats of genocide. Many people argue that threats to cultural heritage are a precursor to violence against people and that if one reacts to or preempts attacks on cultural heritage one can thereby preempt that violence. This claim is most famously articulated by Raphael Lemkin, who, echoing Heinrich Heine, argued 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.” Weiss and Connelly describe the destruction of heritage as an “alarm bell” for harms to people, citing the infamous Kristallnacht attacks in Nazi Germany.

These reasons for protecting heritage do not attribute to heritage any particular intrinsic value. Of course, their proponents may also believe that heritage is intrinsically valuable. But they do not invoke this value as a justification for protecting heritage. Rather, it is the capacity of heritage protection to prevent, for example, physical harms to humans of the sort involved in genocide and terrorism, or the harms of poverty, that explains why heritage ought to be protected.

Heritage and Genocide

It seems plausible that at least some of the ends specified by extrinsic justifications for protecting heritage—such as curtailing terrorist attacks and halting or preventing genocide—warrant the use of lethal force. Lethal defense is a proportionate response to the threat of death and other serious physical harms.

That there exists such a connection between, say, attacks on heritage and genocide is of course an empirical claim. If true, it would help justify the use of force in cases in which heritage is threatened. But if our concern is the protection of heritage for the purpose of preventing atrocities, it is not clear why the current R2P doctrine does not adequately enshrine such protection in law. The current R2P doctrine stipulates that “actual or apprehended” large-scale loss of life is a cause for intervention. If there is indeed a robust predictive connection between the widespread destruction of heritage and genocide, then international law seems to already sanction the use of force to protect against the destruction of heritage. Insofar as Weiss and Connelly’s proposal relies on the role of protecting heritage in preventing genocide, then, it looks redundant. The efforts of those who are concerned to save heritage would be best directed toward producing solid empirical evidence of this connection rather than drafting new norms or legislation. As Luck points out, “It would make little sense for practitioners to downgrade the status of cultural genocide if it is, in fact, the most reliable sign of coming physical and biological genocide.”

An important part of this empirical work would be to establish the precise relationship between the destruction of heritage and harms to people. To do the necessary justificatory work, this relationship must have two features. First, the destruction of heritage must reliably indicate the threat of genocide. Second, preventing the destruction of heritage must reliably avert the threatened genocide. Of course, “reliably” is a somewhat vague term: given the grave harm at stake in genocide, one might think that a fairly low probability that attacks on heritage will be followed by genocide suffices to make lethal force permissible. But, as with any military intervention, one must remember that grave harms are also at stake when one uses military force. Any intervention aimed at protecting heritage faces the same concerns regarding escalation and collateral harm as besets other types of intervention. Given this, one cannot set the bar too low.

Heritage Destruction as Indicative of Genocide

Note that the first feature of the relationship between attacks on heritage and genocide would not be established by showing that attacks on people are always preceded by attacks on heritage. Luck, in his discussion of Lemkin, makes this faulty inference. Even if it is true that genocide is always preceded by attacks on heritage, it does not follow that attacks on heritage are “the most reliable sign of coming physical and biological genocide.” By way of comparison: it may be true that Amy’s eating at her favorite out-of-town restaurant is always preceded by Amy’s driving her car, but Amy’s driving her car is not a reliable sign that she is going to her favorite restaurant. To justify harmfully protecting heritage on these grounds, one must show not that genocide is always or usually preceded by attacks on heritage but rather that attacks on heritage always or usually precede at least an attempt at genocide. And yet this latter claim seems implausible given the many examples of damage to heritage that are not part of or precursors to genocidal campaigns. Protesters have recently defaced many statues of Cecil Rhodes in South Africa, for example, but there has been no attempted genocide of or widespread violence against white South Africans, nor does any such violence seem likely. Heritage might also be destroyed as a means of coercion but without genocidal intent (the bombing of Dresden by British forces in World War II is an example of this). And, of course, a great deal of heritage is damaged or removed in the course of looting, but it seems unlikely that, in general, the looters also have genocidal intent.

An analysis of whether the destruction of heritage is a reliable predictor of genocide should also have a comparative dimension. One needs to know not only how reliably the destruction of heritage precedes threats to persons but also whether it does so more reliably than other factors. This will matter for whether one should treat attacks on heritage as sufficient evidence of genocidal intent or merely as one (more or less reliable) defeasible indicator of genocidal intent among others. For example, there is evidence that the extent of a population’s access to mass media is the most important determinant of whether unrest will turn into violence against persons. This evidence shows that wider access to mass media decreases the chances of violence. In his analysis of this evidence, T. Camber Warren recognizes that this result may seem surprising given the widely reported role of social media in mobilizing resistance movements. But, in a similar vein to the foregoing remarks, he notes that the reason mass media has seemed to lead to violence is that

studies of the relationship between mass media and mass violence observe mass communication behavior only in those countries that are experiencing the outbreak of large-scale civil conflict. It should hardly be surprising that in the midst of brutal civil wars the mass media have frequently been observed to transmit inflammatory messages. However, this observation does not constitute evidence that mass media systems are generally inclined to the promotion of collective violence, nor does it provide any insight into the factors that allow some countries to avoid the outbreak of such conflict in the first place.

Likewise, even a very strong correlation between the destruction of heritage and genocide in countries in which genocide has occurred cannot tell us how reliably destruction of heritage leads to genocide. We also need to take into account the myriad cases in which heritage is damaged and no genocide occurs or is credibly threatened.

Heritage Protection as Averting Genocide

The second part of the relationship—that preventing the destruction of heritage also prevents genocide—is no less important if it is the connection to genocide that is to justify the use of force. Weiss and Connelly tell us that “curators and archivists, recognizing the warning signals [of genocide], have died while attempting to save heritage in the face of early violent attacks.” This description (along with their wider proposal) implies that the successful protection of heritage might somehow prevent a genocide that would otherwise have taken place. But, given both its role in their proposal and its moral significance, we need a much clearer explication of this claim than Weiss and Connelly offer.

One way to defend this claim is to draw on the role of dehumanization in creating the conditions for genocide. The attitude that members of the target group are in some way inferior or deserving of harm might, in some cases, first manifest as attacks on the group’s heritage. But in such cases the belief in the target group’s inferiority or lack of desert must be at least partly inculcated in the perpetrators prior to the attacks: they must already believe that the target group’s monuments, manuscripts, and sacred sites are legitimate targets. It is thus hard to see how in these cases merely defeating attacks of heritage could be an effective means of ridding the perpetrators of those beliefs. One does not stop one’s genocidal campaign because one failed to take the library.

Alternatively, leaders might order or encourage attacks on heritage as a first step toward genocide, knowing that it is easier to persuade people to attack buildings than to kill other people. In these cases, attacks on heritage will form part of the process of dehumanizing the target group rather than the outcome of the attackers having already inculcated those beliefs. But again, it is not clear that forcibly preventing these attacks would prevent the perpetrators from going on to inculcate the belief that members of the target group are legitimate targets. It seems equally likely that being met with forceful resistance might engender further animosity and a desire for revenge. Here, too, the causal relationship between preventing attacks on heritage and preventing genocide is unclear.

Of course, if one kills (a sufficient number of) the people attacking the heritage and those people would have gone on to commit genocide, then one will have prevented genocide in the course of defending heritage. This relationship, at least, is clear. Something similar is true in cases in which the attacks on heritage are intended to demoralize and intimidate the target group in order to make them easier to defeat militarily. When attacks on heritage are a straightforward means of trying to achieve the goal of genocide, thwarting this means will at least decrease the probability of genocide. Since preventing genocide (and comparable harms, such as mass enslavement, rape, or forced displacement) warrants lethal force, lethal force could be a permissible response in these cases. It is better to preempt genocide than to respond once it is under way. But this simply reinforces the need to clearly establish the first part of the causal relationship, that is, to show, to a high degree of certainty, that the particular people whom we will intentionally kill while defending heritage are indeed bent on genocide. If our evidence about the connection between attacks on heritage and genocide is more mixed—that is, if there is a significant number of cases in which attacks on heritage are not followed by genocide—then we are unlikely to meet the standard of proof required for killing.

None of what we say here should be taken as skepticism that the destruction of heritage is often connected to, and may be an indicator of, genocide. But if one relies on this connection to justify killing people, the nature of the connection must be clearly established, showing both that attacks on heritage are a reliable predictor of genocide and that thwarting those attacks reliably prevents genocide. The importance of demonstrating these claims is easily overlooked in the contexts of the recent conflicts in Iraq and Syria, where members of ISIS were killing people and destroying heritage at the same time. We can agree that members of ISIS were legitimate targets in virtue of the threat they posed to people’s lives. But this does not establish a general causal connection between defending heritage and preventing threats to people’s lives. And one cannot infer the permissibility of lethally defending heritage from the permissibility of lethally preventing unjust killing.