Canada's War museum to reword controversial WWII display


The Canadian War Museum has done an about-face and agreed to rephrase the wording of a Second World War display that has outraged some veterans.

Air-force vets have complained that the small panel -- part of a larger Second World War exhibit about Bomber Command that consists of a headline and just three sentences -- paints them as war criminals.
The issue has pitted the determined veterans and the Royal Canadian Legion against the museum. The 18-month fight that ended with the latter agreeing to change how it describes the bombing campaign against Germany.

"We need to find a way to explain the information that's on this particular text panel in a manner that is respectful and doesn't, in any way, inadvertently cast some of the veterans of the country in a negative light," Mark O'Neill, the Canadian War Museum's vice-president of public affairs, told CTV News.
Christina Selin, the museum's communications manager, told the wording will be revised in the coming weeks and the final text should be completed by October.
"At this point we haven't determined what the new text will be," Selin said from Ottawa in a phone interview.
"It will be written by the professional museological staff. Right now we're consulting with veterans' organizations, including the Legion and the Mayday Committee -- one of the initial groups that raised their concerns over the wording," she said.
Since January 2006, the museum held meetings with veterans over the issue, but discussions reached an impasse and the museum said earlier this summer that it would stick with its current display.
A Senate subcommittee weighed in on the issue. After holding a series of hearings on the exhibit controversy in the spring, the committee in June urged the museum to find a way to rephrase the 60-word panel and put and end to the "unfortunate public dispute."

The panel currently reads:
"The value and morality of the strategic bomber offensive against Germany remains bitterly contested. Bomber Command's aim was to crush civilian morale and force Germany to surrender by destroying its cities and industrial installations. Although Bomber Command and American attacks left 600,000 Germans dead and more than five million homeless, the raids resulted in only small reductions in German war production until late in the war."
Accompanying photographs show dead German corpses in rubble-strewn streets.


Museum officials maintained the display is only a small part of a much larger exhibit on the bombing campaign, and that the exhibit also pays tribute to the 10,000 Canadian airmen who died.

Officials also museum authorities say the display is fair and balanced in depicting that the morality and effectiveness of the campaign are still matters of controversy more than 60 years after the end of the war.
But some veterans were adamant that the display effectively accuses them, and their dead wartime comrades, of committing war atrocities.
"It's about time," said Cliff Chadderton, chairman of the National Council of Veterans Associations, reacting to the museum's decision to make the change.

"And we don't know what took them so long, because it's patently wrong, the text of the panel. It goes against all of the books that have been written on Bomber Command."

Chadderton said the museum decided to change the text only after receiving "great pressure from above."

"They were adamant they weren't going to change the wording," he told, and their decision was "definitely not" an act of goodwill.
Museum historians and experts, meanwhile, have defended the existing text. Jack Granatstein, respected historian and former head of the war museum, has said museum displays shouldn't be dictated by aggrieved groups or political pressure.

McGill University professor Desmond Morton has told The Canadian Press the panel "records and illustrates an irrefutable fact: There is a controversy."

He added that removing the contested words "because of pressure-group intervention would qualify as a suppression of historical fact."

Muriel Macdonald is one of a number of concerned citizens who are opposed to changing the panel, and who say the museum is caving to pressure.

"It's not being truthful, and it's not regarding history. It's rewriting history and we don't need to rewrite history," Macdonald told CTV News.
Selin told there has been "no direction politically" and that the museum's decision came about as a result of the Senate subcommittee report and discussions with various veterans' organizations.

Veterans groups say while they see the museum's latest decision as a victory, they'll scrutinize the reworked display and say they should have a veto over the new text.

"I have my doubts," Chadderton told, "but that's based on past performance and the bitter way the museum people have defended one stupid plaque."

Chadderton said if his organization is unhappy with the new text it won't hesitate to push for another change.

But "we'll be fair about it. We'll look at it and decide whether it's fair. If it is, then we'll accept it," he said.

The Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command was formed in 1936. During the Second World War, it conducted devastating air raids on Germany and occupied Europe. The Royal Canadian Air Force made up the RAF's No. 6 Group, representing about one-sixth of Bomber Command's strength.
The bombing campaign lasted almost six years, and led to about two million tonnes of bombs dropped over Europe.

While Germany continued to produce weapons during the offensive, they still had to devote hundreds of thousands of troops to battle the planes. In the final days of the war, Allied bombers focused on cutting off the German fuel system.

The bombing destroyed several German cities. The writer Kurt Vonnegut was a U.S. prisoner of war in Germany who survived the bombing of Dresden in February 1945. His 1969 novel "Slaughterhouse Five" was based in part on that experience.
It's okay Phoenix, I think servicemen and ex-servicemen will have to come to terms with the fact that these people who live freely thanks in part to the shield that the military provides will label us as criminals.
The military should go on a five day strike. Will not engage any hostile forces for whatever reason for 5 days. Free to strike our homelands. Go ahead. I'm sure that'll be a lot of fun.