Enduring Controversy

29 Aug

History books never completely close.

But in an era when Canadian soldiers are once again fighting and dying overseas, the question of who gets to write military history is particularly important.

Last year, the federal government stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy by banning media coverage – the first draft of history – of the return to Canadian soil of coffins of soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

The Canadian War Museum sparked controversy of its own when its display about the Allied bombing of German cities during the Second World War described the “value and morality” of those missions as “bitterly contested”. Veterans groups complained the description made them out to be war criminals. A senate committee agreed and suggested the museum change the wording of the display.

For eighteen months, museum officials argued the wording was historically accurate, the display presented all sides of what it characterized as an “enduring controversy”, and there would be no changes to the exhibit.

Until yesterday, when the museum suddenly announced a reversal in policy – it will now reword the controversial panel to take into account the veterans’ concerns.

But the controversy may prove to be… well… enduring, as the museum’s about-face has outraged many of this country’s prominent historians. One called the decision “absolutely appalling”.

For a good overview of the pro and con arguments surrounding the issue, have a listen to a podcast of a show I produced on the subject back in April.

Let me know what you think.


2 Responses to “Enduring Controversy”

  1. Milan August 30, 2007 at 10:13 pm #

    I think changing the panel would be a mistake. To begin with, historians agree that the facts states are accurate. Over and above that, it sets a bad precedent to let a group directly involved in a historical event change museum displays about it, in situations where those displays are not factually incorrect.

    Grappling with the ethics of wars, and the morality of our own past actions, is one of the things a reasonable war museum must encourage. Brushing the issue aside with a less controversial display is not the way to achieve that.

  2. F/O John A. Neal October 3, 2007 at 5:17 pm #

    I am also a Historian (of sorts) as well as a Veteran of the R.A.F. Bomber Command campaign over Germany during World War 11. While my operational life lasted only abour 3-1/2 months (before it was interrupted by a Me 110), I did see enough action to ascertain the effectiveness of our attack. But, frankly, at 20,000 feet, even my 20/20 vision could not tell for certain what we were hitting. We went by briefing, navigation, and markers, and assumed that all the German Civilians were in underground shelters, just as were the Brits. Our thoughts of Babies and Women were those of the ones we would see when we got home.

    I was in the War Museum on September 26th, and spent some time reading the Plaque that has caused all the controversy. While it is not to my liking, any more than the other protestors, I concede that the Historians have a ‘write’ to pen what they research. We did not go through that Horrible war so that everybody would think and write the same. That was what we were fighting against.

    However, this does not mean that the Air Veterans should lie back, and concede. Why not write our own plaque, based on the facts as we ex-Airmen know them, and coerce (another term we fought against) the museum into displaying it.

    Who knows, a title that would outshine history is, perhaps, “The Enduring Legacy”.

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