We don’t need a TV show about looting Nazi battlefields
The National Geographic Channel International (the U.S. version of which previously brought us the program Diggers) has greenlighted a show called, no kidding, Nazi War Diggers, which it, apparently un-ironically, refers to as a ‘factual series.’
The press surrounding the program is revealing. Let’s take a look at the “team” the National Geographic Channel International network has assembled (quoted from this post here):
Nazi War Diggers was shot in Poland and the Baltics and stars former U.S. Marine Craig Gottlieb; military expert Stephen Taylor; gadget guy Kris Rodgers; and Polish metal detectorist Adrian Kostromski.
A Marine, a “military expert,” a “gadget guy,” and a metal detectorist. All of those can be excellent occupations, and all of those occupations can be filled with people who have a deep knowledge of and respect for history and heritage and material culture. But none of them appear, on the surface, to be qualified to conduct what the network refers to as an “archaeological series.”
And the only video preview that has been released so far is, shall we say, not exactly comforting. (Link here. Caution: It portrays human remains). The outrage in the comments, at least, is encouraging. I’m no bioarchaeologist, but there are few human bones that are more distinctive than a femur. To mistake one for a humerus, as the “team” does, gives me pause.
As we’ve covered before in this space (see this post here, and also this one here, and also this one here), I object to programs like these not out of professional spite, but because they do incredible damage the archaeological record that they claim to be working to preserve. The Conflict Antiquities blog presents 20 “urgent ethical and legal questions” surrounding the program that I, for one, would like to see the National Geographic Channel address. I also call BS on the network’s basic attempt to justify this program. A quote by executive Russell Barnes, from the same post linked above:
“The Eastern Front of World War II saw probably the bloodiest fighting in human history and time is running out for us to capture the historical truths of the conflict that lie literally hidden in the ground.”
Time is not “running out” at all. There’s no pressing threat to the archaeological record of WWII battlefields besides unchecked development, climate change, and the looting of the sites themselves. By broadcasting this program, the network is (indirectly, to be as kind as possible) encouraging more looting.
And then there’s the Nazi issue.
In his Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues blog, archaeologist Paul Barford raises his own serious ethical questions about the series, focusing most interestingly on the Nazi aspect. Barford notes that one of the presenters is chairman of a war relics collecting group, which has a related forum filled with WWII German military regalia, and is sponsored by Nazi memorabilia collectors and re-enactors.
In my own work as an archaeologist who specializes in the African Diaspora, I deal with difficult and painful history and material culture. I have absolutely no respect for anyone who purports to “collect” memorabilia of the slave trade, the Jim Crow era, or other racist relics. The simple act of collecting or trading in objects of the past that are intimately connected with slavery and racism cannot possibly be considered a value-neutral act. The same applies to Nazi objects, as far as I can see. If Nazi artifacts really are in danger of being “lost” to formation processes, then perhaps the world would be a slightly better place for it. It’s certainly a quantitatively worse place if it tolerates Nazi artifacts being bought and sold for profit. Nazi War Diggers cannot help but encourage that.