The E-Sylum:  Volume 5, Number 42, October 20, 2002, Article 15


  The Star of Toronto, Ontaria, Canada published an article
  by Philip Marchand on October 12, 2002, titled "Cultural
  Terrorism Destroys Morale." As bibliophiles, we all realize
  at some level that while we individual humans come and go,
  printed works and the knowledge they contain usually live
  on, sometimes in perpetuity.  The article's discussion of the
  destruction of literature and art is haunting.  In one terrible
  moment, the loss of an important library or museum could
  be a catastrophic blow to mankind's collective culture.
  In the grand scheme of things, numismatics is just a footnote,
  yet the loss of a major numismatic library is unthinkable.

  Luckily books are usually not unique, and even the largest
  library could largely be reassembled one day.   Private
  collectors are guardians of the knowledge contained in their
  books.  So take good care of your libraries.  Those scarce
  or rare volumes on the shelf may, in a twist of fate, one day
  become the only remaining copies on the planet.  Here
  are some excerpts from the article.   The full article may
  be seen on their web site:

  "A DOZEN OR SO poets and writers were at the downstairs
  bar and art gallery of the Gypsy X restaurant on Carlton St.
  the other night, including the owner, Goran Simic. I first met
  him six years ago when he had just arrived in Toronto as a
  refugee from Sarejevo.  Not only was he a noted poet in his
  homeland, but he had also been the head of an association of
  Bosnian writers and proprietor of a now-vanished bookstore
  in Sarajevo.

  At one point in the evening Simic showed a video of a
  documentary by Norwegian filmmaker Knut Gorfald, titled
  Burned Books, a deeply disturbing account of the shelling of
  the Bosnian National Library in Sarejevo in August 1992, by
  Serbian nationalists dug in the hills surrounding the city. The
  shelling, and the fire it caused, destroyed thousands of priceless
  manuscripts and books, as well as gutting a historic and
  beautiful building.

  It was an act of cultural terrorism, which New York City was
  at least spared.  As bad as Sept. 11 was, it left New Yorkers
  with their morale intact. They mourned the 3,000 dead - but
  no one mourned the World Trade Center.  It was missed, of
  course. People who had gotten used to seeing those
  monumental buildings in the city skyline took a long time before
  they adjusted to the shock of their absence.  But this was
  nothing compared to the emotional and spiritual loss the people
  of Sarajevo felt for the assault on their National Library, which
  was a cultural symbol as well as an important landmark and

  New Yorkers only began to fear a similar loss when rumours
  circulated about a possible terrorist attack on the Statue of
  Liberty.  Such an attack would result in minimal loss of life
  compared to the assault on the Trade Center, but the emotional
  blow would be as heavy, or perhaps even heavier.  A society
  can absorb severe loss of life and economic destruction, but it
  can hardly tolerate the loss of its sacred symbols.

  Great art on a monumental scale has this kind of symbolic
  value to a society, quite apart from its excellence as art or
  architecture. To the Allies in World War I, nothing symbolized
  the barbarism of the Germans more than their deliberate
  shelling and destruction of the great Cathedral of Notre Dame
  in Reims, France. Nothing frightened Italy more than the Mafia
  car bomb that went off near the Uffizi Gallery in Florence in
  1993 - putting notice that a huge legacy of Western civilization,
  the best of Renaissance painting, was under threat.  Nothing
  served notice more starkly that the Taliban were beyond the
  pale than their blowing to bits those 1,500-year-old statues
  of the Buddha in Afghanistan two years ago."

  [Here are a few links to more information on the library's
   destruction, and efforts to reconstruct it.  "Scholars who are
   now working to replenish the collection say the attack was
   the worst single book burning in history, comparable to the
   burning of the great classical library at Alexandria and the
   Chinese communist Cultural Revolution of the 1960s."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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