Internship at Section Cultural Affairs and Information at the Royal Dutch Defence Forces

By Jelle Kuijper, class of 2021

During the pre-Master of Heritage Studies, I followed the course World Heritage in Conflict. It was during this class that I first learned about the 1954 Hague Convention, Cultural Property Protection (CPP) and the geopolitics behind organisations such as UNESCO. Because of my historical and geopolitical interests, these topics quickly grabbed my attention. During one of the lessons World Heritage in Conflict, a staff officer on Cultural Heritage from the Ministry of Defence, Ankie Petersen, gave a guest lecture. She spoke about her work at the Section Cultural Affairs and Information (Section CAI) and the subjects she was involved with.

The Section CAI is part of 1 Civil and Military Interaction Command (1CMICO) stationed in the Koning Willem III Barracks in Apeldoorn. The Section CAI was founded, following the example of the American Monuments Men, in 1953 to implement the 1954 Hague Convention into the military doctrine of the Royal Netherlands Army. The 1954 Hague Convention was established because of the incredible amount of cultural goods that were destroyed and looted during the Second World War. Since the Second World War, the number of international armed conflicts has decreased while the number of armed internal conflicts has increased. These internal conflicts are even more often about identity-driven politics which can lead to ethnic cleansing and thus to the plundering and destruction of cultural goods. That heritage has great historical and cultural value is obvious. But that protecting heritage has important value for modern societies is not always self-evident. In most cases, the destruction of heritage during a conflict is an intentional act by the warring parties. The identity of a particular group is often linked with symbolism. This symbolism is reflected in heritage and cultural goods, such as buildings or monuments, (historical) objects and certain architecture. The destruction of such cultural goods can break the ties with the past, erasing their cultural identity from historical memory. The destruction of cultural goods in these situations has a disruptive effect on societies and can be performed to psychologically weaken the enemy.

Monuments Man Daniel J. Kern and art restorer Karl Sieber looking at panels of Jan van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb in the Altaussee mine, 1945. (Thomas Carr Howe papers, Archives of American Art)

As an operational concept, Cultural Property Protection can be seen as a descriptive label for a set of policies aimed at respecting, protecting and generally addressing various challenges related to objects and places of significant cultural importance during crisis situations. The Hague Convention is one of the most important instruments in this field. The Contracting Parties to the Convention recognise that every culture contributes through its heritage to the cultural diversity of the world. The preservation of these cultural goods is therefore considered to be of international importance and their destruction can be considered a war crime.

Nowadays, the main tasks of the CAI Section arise directly from international treaties signed by the Netherlands in recent decades. CAI is within the Netherlands Royal Army the point of contact with regard to the protection of cultural heritage. The Section conducts research, provides training, and advises on its area of expertise within the entire army of the Netherlands. In general, CAI is the knowledge institute within the Armed Forces in the field of socio-cultural expertise. Another important task of the Section is to prepare and support defence personnel in operating in different cultural contexts. This is achieved by the creation of cultural awareness, in both a mission-related environment and in the general army. At the moment, the Section focuses on the international obligations of the Dutch Armed Forces during missions abroad. Cultural awareness lessons are obligatory for every soldier prior to deployment. The protection of cultural heritage plays an important role in these lessons. Responsibility for the teaching programme is assigned to the Section.

These goals and tasks of CAI had a great appeal to me. In the past, I have often thought about a military career and now I found out that this could be combined with the subjects I find interesting. During the Master of Heritage Studies students have the possibility to follow an internship as an elective course. So, after the guest lecture, I immediately contacted Ankie via LinkedIn. We agreed to stay in touch about the possibilities of an internship. Soon after I received a call that there was an internship opportunity at CAI.

Over the past few months, I have enjoyed contributing to the goals of the CAI Section. When I look back on the internship period, I am satisfied. It has brought me what I hoped for. I have learned a lot about Cultural Property Protection and the army of the Netherlands as a work environment. I was able to contribute with my gained knowledge from the Master’s program and I had the opportunity to meet interesting people who work for UNESCO, Clingendael Institute etc. It was instructive for me to work together with people in the field of heritage protection and cultural awareness. The work experience with the Section CAI has given me a better idea of the direction I want to take in my future professional career. It is therefore no coincidence that I am going to write my thesis about the legal trade in antiquities in Israel and Palestine. This topic arose during my internship at CAI and will hopefully help me further in specialising in topics such as heritage protection, heritage and identity and conflict studies in relation to heritage.

The Master’s degree in Heritage Studies is a very broad and internationally oriented programme. Assuming that the student’s interests are in line with the Royal Netherlands Army as an organisation, I think that the CAI Section can be a very interesting and instructive internship for Heritage Studies students. As a Heritage Studies student, you are taught to act as a critical heritage person. This means examining the relationships between people, heritage and power. It is important to always take into account the possibility that heritage can be used as a political tool. This critical attitude towards heritage is useful for the CAI Section. The Section functions as an institutionalised body where experts can make decisions on domestic and foreign heritage. Thus, it is valuable for the CAI Section to have students with a critical attitude towards heritage in order to place its importance and significance in a broader framework.