Thursday, May 6, 2010

Who rightfully owns the plunder of war?

In recent decades, there's been an upsurge in claims for art and cultural objects seized in past conflicts or by occupying armies. Northern European museums face claims on their antiquities from governments in southern Europe or North African. Native Americans want stolen objects -- even bodies -- returned. Germany wants art taken by the Soviets during World War II and vice versa.

But returning wartime plunder to its rightful owner isn't at all straightforward, particularly for objects seized in the distant past. Who the 'rightful' owner is seems to depend largely on your point of view, and international law doesn't provide much help prior to the 20th century.

This is the subject of my cover story in the new issue of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History, out on news stands shortly and online now.

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