‘The Sun was Obscured by the Smoke of Books’: Libraries and Memory Institutions in Conflict Since the End of the Cold War

Bruce Harpham


Why are libraries attacked in war? At first glance, this appears to be a puzzling question as they cannot be considered military targets. The answer to this lies in the role that libraries play in sustaining cultures and collective identities. In the three post-Cold War conflicts examined here (Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq), the destruction of libraries and their reconstruction illustrate how vital these institutions are to national identity. Attacks on libraries in this period have tended to be part of a more general extremist or even genocidal campaign to eliminate dissenting cultures indirectly by attacking institutions that symbolize difference and multiculturalism.

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