Monuments Men Foundation Discovers New Audio Recording of General Eisenhower
April 1, 2011
Newly discovered Eisenhower audio emphasizes the importance of protecting art during war
General Eisenhower Speeking at the Metropolitan Museum of Art after receiving a Honorary Life Fellowship from the museum directors
Robert M. Edsel, President of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art and author of The Monuments Men, announced today the discovery of an audio recording of a speech given by General Dwight D. Eisenhower about the importance of art and its protection during war. The speech was delivered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City on April 2, 1946 at an event in which General Eisenhower was presented with an Honorary Life Fellowship from the museum with a citation that read: “To Dwight D. Eisenhower, soldier, diplomat and statesman, through whose wisdom and foresight irreplaceable art treasures were saved for future generations.” Francis Henry Taylor, Director of the Met and advisor to the Monuments Men, stated that General Eisenhower “more responsible than any other, made it possible for the world in which great civilizations of the past could continue for future generations.”
During World War II, General Eisenhower issued unprecedented orders, first in December 1943, instructing soldiers that they were “bound to respect monuments so far as war allows” and again on May 26, 1944, shortly before the invasion of Northern Europe in which he outlined his instructions for the protection of historic monuments and cultural centers in war areas which stated in part, “it is the responsibility of every commander to protect and respect these symbols whenever possible”. This was the most comprehensive effort in history by an army to fight a war while mitigating damage to cultural treasures and monuments.
While conducting ongoing research at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last year, Robert Edsel discovered photographs of General Eisenhower accepting his Life Fellowship, which were accompanied by eight rare lacquer audio discs. Mr. Edsel and the Monuments Men Foundation worked with the museum archivists to have the audio discs digitized. Upon first hearing General Eisenhower’s voice, Mr. Edsel said “a chill ran up my spine; the passion of Ike’s delivery made it clear to me how important this speech was to him. The historical significance of his remarks, having been a firsthand witness to these events, as well as its contemporary relevance as it relates to more recent conflicts such as those in Iraq and more recently in Egypt, can’t be overstated.”
During the speech, Eisenhower remarked that he was struck by his soldier’s interest in visiting cultures of historic civilizations but also warned against failing to respect what is important to the members of those cultures: “The freedom enjoyed by this country from the desolation that has swept over so many others during the past years gives to America greater opportunity than ever before to become the greatest of the world’s repositories of art. The whole world will then have a right to look to us with grateful eyes; but we will fail unless we consciously appreciate the value of art in our lives and take practical steps to encourage the artist and preserve his works.”
Of the discovery, Mr. Edsel stated: “There are many lessons to be drawn from World War II, and no better instructor than General Eisenhower. We as a nation should honor his leadership and basic decency, by demonstrating in all future conflicts no less the concern and respect for the cultural heritage of others than in winning the peace we as a nation seek. I hope this extraordinary discovery, and the example set by General Eisenhower will inspire our current leaders, most importantly the President of the United States, to do something no leader of the United States has done since World War II: restate our nation’s commitment to respect the cultural and artistic heritage of all people in our increasingly global community.
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General Eisenhower and his wife Mamie on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art