The Nazis, in their vicious greed, looted some of the world's greatest works of art, confiscating them from Jews and declaring them "ownerless." Despite his anti-Semitism, Hermann Goring understood the value of Jewish taste in painting and sculpture and he stole enough art to fill eight rail cars. Hitler, the failed art student, revealed his ignorance of modern art, which he called "degenerate," and sold or burned many paintings by Picasso, Salvador Dali and German expressionists.
The monuments men recovered millions of pieces, including works by Michelangelo, Rembrandt and da Vinci, taken from churches, museums and private owners. The Nazis had hidden them in caves, mines and castles for the future Fuhrermuseum. After the war, the art was returned to rightful owners whenever possible. Germany continues to return art to families who were dispossessed of it, but they're lagging with the recent treasures found in the vast collection of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of a Nazi art dealer.
Less well-known is that the preservation of art by the United States continues in war zones today. After looters broke into the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad in the shock and awe of the allied invasion in 2003, the U.S. military set out to recover stolen pieces, and a team of experts rescued thousands of books and documents of Iraq's ancient Jewish community found in Saddam Hussein's basement. Laura Rush, an archeologist hired by the Army, arranged for more than 40,000 packs of playing cards illustrated with historic ruins in Iraq and Afghanistan to be distributed to American soldiers. Since the GIs spent so much downtime handling the playing cards, she told The Wall Street Journal, "they served as the ideal teaching tool."
It's important to foster an appreciation of art and the history of art in the schools, instead of waiting for experts in time of war to enlighten soldiers in their barracks. Isn't that worth doing?