Letter to the Editor:
Re: ‘A war of facts and feelings’ (editorial, Aug. 31)
I enjoyed the editorial about the Canadian War Museum controversy, and Graeme MacKay’s “museum bombing” editorial cartoon on Aug. 30.
I suspect, however, there are a lot of people who may have missed the point in this controversy.
It stems from a poorly written paragraph, on an air display at the museum, that begins with the statement, “The value and morality of the strategic bomber offensive against Germany remains bitterly contested.”
The use of the subjective word “morality” and the fact that the balance of the paragraph is one-sided in opinion is the basis of our airmen’s outrage, and justifiably so.
While pointing out that 600,000 Germans died in the five-year bomber campaign, implying that our men were accountable for this immoral bloodshed, nothing is said about how the Allies were desperately trying to stop the production of the German war machine that was indiscriminately firing V1 and V2 rockets at the British Isles.
Nor was any mention made of the importance of bombing Germany to keep its air force occupied in the defence of Germany instead of trying to crush the D-Day landings and liberation of Europe.
While the museum questions our nation’s morality and the value of the air campaign in this paragraph, one would never guess from their interpretation that we were at war with the most powerful and perverse military regime the modern world has known.
It seems the museum lapsed into misguided political correctness over this issue and needed a blast of common sense or unbiased writing skills.
Hence my appreciation of MacKay’s cartoon and your editorial’s attempt to clarify the situation.
— Robert Williamson, Hamilton
Robert Williamson is a retired Canadian naval officer and a military historian.
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Here’s the editorial …
A fierce controversy reignited by a display in the Canadian War Museum illustrates the danger of letting emotions influence how a society records and knows its own history.
It also reminds us that sensitive and/or politicized outbursts can confuse a debate to the point where it detracts from the key issue.
The storm centres on a sign dealing with the Allies’ Second World War bombing campaign. Some Bomber Command veterans and their supporters demanded the museum remove the text which told visitors, “the value and morality of the strategic bomber offensive against Germany remains bitterly contested.” It also pointed out that 600,000 German people died in a five-year bombing campaign which had limited impact on the Nazi war effort until the very late stages of the fight.
Outraged veterans say the sign demeans the valour of the airmen, somehow casting them as immoral and accountable for the bloodshed.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The heroism and character of Canadian flyers, sailors and soldiers is beyond debate. Perhaps more than any conflict in history, the Second World War was a struggle between good and evil, a fight to save freedom from tyranny.
In the skies, nearly 10,000 Canadians died fighting the bomber war. The crews, prosecuting orders forged by military and government leaders, had no input on Bomber Command’s much-criticized policy of “strategic” bombing, which Sir Arthur Harris himself acknowledged was aimed at “the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers and the disruption of civilized community life throughout Germany.”
Our veterans should stand proud of what they did to stop a dictator, and Canadians must be eternally proud of our veterans.
But in the case of the museum sign, the vets are wrong. The wording is accurate and does not second-guess or impugn their integrity.
There is a cruel, surely unintended irony that the very people who risked their lives to defend freedom would lobby and pressure a museum to censor a historical statement that, however disturbing, is true.
Neither the war nor the bombing of civilians were brought on by the Allies. Hitler provoked the world into conflict in 1939 by invading countries across Europe and beyond. His bombers indiscriminately blitzed British cities with death and destruction. Because the Nazis had chased Allied ground forces off the continent and back to England, the only way to defend against Hitler was to bomb Germany from the air.
But by the late stages of the war, after Allied ground troops returned to Europe on D-Day, the bombing policy was under growing criticism by some politicians, military, clergy and others. Many saw it as a slaughter of children and the elderly, trapped in a crumbling regime led by a defiant madman.
Long after the war, the most famous symbol of that ethical debate remained Dresden. In February 1945, about 12 weeks before the war would end in Europe, Canadians were among waves of Allied bombers which destroyed the eastern German city with tons of explosives and firebombs. It is estimated the raid killed between 25,000 and 40,000 people. Such was the inferno that its glow was visible to aircrew 160 kilometres away.
A few weeks later, in a memo to his military chiefs of staff, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote, “the destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of the Allied bombing.”
Our leaders admired the bravery of the aircrews, but archives show they debated the morality of this aspect of a war. Who was right?
That debate will and should continue. But the facts from Canada’s past should never be obscured or withheld from future generations. Our national museums must reflect the truth. This duty must be protected.