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Maxwell Air Base key piece in 'Monuments Men Japan' documentary

By REBECCA BURYLO | Montgomery Advertiser, Ala. (Tribune News Service) | Published: December 31, 2016

Thanks to Hollywood, the world knows the story of the Monuments Men.

The movie tells the true story of Capt. Robert Posey and Private 1st Class Lincoln Kirstein, two members of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section of the Allies, a small corps of historians, architects, museum curators and professors recruited to recover countless artworks stolen by the Nazis during World War II.

However, few know that on the other side of the world, much of the same was done to preserve Asian art, monuments and history against bombing and attacks during the war.

Just recently a news crew from the Japan Broadcasting Corp., Nippon Hoso Kyokai, or NHK, visited Maxwell for the final piece of their documentary, a map that links the Allied war efforts and the preservation of Japan’s major historical sites.

Kojiro Yamada, NHK Special Content Development Center producer, visited Maxwell’s Air Force Historical Research Agency before and noticed an interesting map that outlined the Allied incendiary bombing strategy. Areas within that map were also marked as areas to avoid. Yamada realized those areas exactly coincided with major historical landmarks of Japan.

He decided to return to look at the map again, bring his film crew and interview Daniel L. Haulman, Air Force Historical Research Agency chief of Organization Histories Branch.

The episode will feature the actions of the “Monuments Men in Japan” as a part of a series that already has 10-12 million viewers.

The Monuments Men or the Monuments and Fine Arts and Archives section of the Allies consisted of more than 300 men and women who halted their careers in history, education and museum curation to search the ruins of war, often times behind enemy lines and salvage valuable cultural art and landmarks. Their mission was to return them to their rightful owners after the Nazis had stolen and hidden them.

It is a rare positive story that emerged from a bloody, war-torn world where enemies were reminded of their humanity and what defines a country‘s heritage, Yamada said. He wanted to tell the story.

“Even today there are old temples and statues that are very popular to study by scholars and the general population. You go to Tokyo and those temples and shrines are seen by tourists,” Yamada said. “I can’t imagine Japan without those cultural important places.

“It’s where we draw our national identity.”

As a man born and raised in Japan, he understands Japan and the U.S were once enemies, but he is grateful for the Allied efforts to preserve his country’s heritage.

Before arriving at Maxwell, Yamada and his film crew traveled around the U.S. where the map was the last piece of information they needed.

It helped prove that 80 percent of Japan's cultural areas that were spared from Allied incendiary bombing raids was likely deliberate. The map also coincided with the writings of Harvard University archaeologist and art historian Langdon Warner who created a list of historic monuments for Japan, China, Korea, Siam and Thailand and where to find them.

Warner had studied in Japan before the war and was familiar with the location of the nation’s cultural treasures, Haulman said.

The map shows the city of Tokyo dated in 1943. Areas planned to be bombed are outlined in red. Areas within those lines are noted to avoid including the Imperial Palace.

“No question the Imperial Palace was not targeted,” Haulman said.

“I think the primary concern to those selecting targets was not so much what to avoid, but what to concentrate on and they concentrated on military and industrial targets. It’s likely there may have been a deliberate effort not to bomb everything in Japan.”

However, Haulman added that it would have been difficult for the Allied pilots to avoid certain areas during an incendiary bombing raid later in the war because the Japanese structures were very flammable. However, because of the stone used for the Imperial Palace and other shrines, they would have been less likely to burn and were naturally spared.

The incendiary bombing attacks in February and March 9-10, 1945, destroyed nearly 16 square miles of Tokyo and were considered the worst raids of their kind because of the mass destruction and the death of more than 83,000 people.

Along with the Imperial Palace, the city of Kyoto was also untouched because American officials knew the city held much cultural, historical and artistic significance as Japans’ first capital city, Haulman said.

Yamada and his film crew's documentary is scheduled to air in January.

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©2016 the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.)

Visit the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.) at www.montgomeryadvertiser.com

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