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The Boston Globe

Ideas

Brainiac

When modern wars borrow ancient buildings

And more recent highlights from the Ideas blog

Recently government troops in Syria’s bloody civil war retook the famed crusader castle Crak des Chevaliers from rebel soldiers. It’s not the first ancient fortification to have played a tactical role in the conflict: Last year The Washington Post reported that the citadel in the Syrian city of Aleppo, once a major tourist attraction as a UNESCO world heritage site, has turned into a shooting blind for regime snipers, who fire through the arrow slits in its walls.

We wondered whether there are other examples of ancient buildings being used for defensive purposes in modern wars and queried three experts in military history: Paul Dover at Kennesaw State University, Clifford Rogers at the United States Military Academy, and Geoffrey Parker at Ohio State University. By e-mail, they explained that there is indeed precedent for what’s happening in Syria, and offered these four 20th century examples: the Chateau de Coucy, which harbored German soldiers in World War I; the Alcazar of Toledo, Spain, which was the center of a pivotal siege at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War; the abbey in Monte Cassino, Italy, whose ruins provided cover for German soldiers in World War II; and Malbork Castle in Poland, which was destroyed at the end of World War II in last-ditch, heavy fighting between the Germans and the Russians.

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