Friday, August 31, 2007

Revised does not equal 'Revisionist'

In today's National Post, historian Randall Hansen takes issue with the War Museum's recent decision to replace the controversial plaque about Bomber Command. Yesterday the National Post quotes Randall as calling the decision 'craven' and 'appalling'. He went so far as to say that attempts to deny the plaque's accuracy are 'absolutely Stalinist' and 'Orwellian'.

I've already posted my opinion on the plaque, here and here.

The plaque in question is poorly worded because it purports to be a neutral commentary on Bomber Command but then goes on to draw a negative conclusion about the Canadian air campaign against Germany. The plaque draws a reader's attention to the 'enduring controversy' regarding 'the morality and value' of the air strikes and then wraps up by drawing the conclusion that the raids were ineffective except in their slaughter of innocent civilians. Hansen might believe the conclusion is factual, but then why does the plaque pretend the issue is controversial if this conclusion is unequivocally true?

Hansen is an historian who has written about this period in our history. He comes to the issue armed with research and an agenda -- to propagate ideas he set out in his book. He sneers at Cliff Chadderton who has taken offense at both the content and the tone of the plaque. Hansen accuses him of not having read, or having read his history poorly.

What Mr. Hansen fails to realize is that as clever and well-read as he is and with all that education and research under his belt, the War Museum is not meant for him. It wasn't built to satisfy his interpretation of the air war and, he's right, it wasn't meant to assuage the souls of Vets. It was meant to inform.

The plaque in question does not inform -- it leads. It wording of the plaque leads the reader to the one conclusion -- that despite their actions being militarily ineffective, Canadians continued to bomb the hell out of poor innocent German civilians, killing hundreds of thousands of them. It gives no indication of Bomber Command's losses or limitations -- it simply leaves the modern reader with the impression that it was unnecessary and wrong -- not controversial -- unnecessary and wrong.

A school kid reading the plaque -- which, let's be clear, is the defining statement of the display -- would have no grasp of the total war, no sense of the intractability of the enemy, little understanding of the limitations of the technology of the day, small idea of the risks of pinpoint bombing, and minimal awareness of the huge Bomber Command losses (51 out of every 100 airmen were killed in action). That school kid might move further along in the display and see some of these facts mentioned somewhere -- but not in relation to the destruction and death described in the centrepiece plaque. This kid is likely to conclude that Bomber Command was wantonly murderous. What else could someone who is not an expert think after reading that plaque?

Hansen uses words like 'craven', 'appalling', 'Stalinist' and 'Orwellian' to describe the veterans' attempts to have the plaque reworded. He uses hyperbole to defend something so small and insignificant as an opinion -- yet he doesn't understand why the veterans are compelled to defend their honour, their service and their sacrifices for this country. It's academic tunnel vision.