Senate urges war museum: rewrite bombing exhibit
Published Tuesday, June 12, 2007 5:04PM EDT
OTTAWA - The Canadian War Museum should find a way to rephrase a 60-word panel in an exhibit about Bomber Command in the Second World War and placate air force vets who feel it accuses them of war crimes, a Senate subcommittee urged Tuesday.
The senators, who held a series of hearings on the exhibit controversy this spring, described it as "an unfortunate public dispute'' and said they regretted it had gone on so long.
The issue pitted aging, but determined veterans and the Royal Canadian Legion against the museum, and the senators tried to be conciliatory.
"In our view, it is an entirely unintended consequence of a genuine professional effort on the part of the Canadian War Museum to present a historically accurate and ethically substantive depiction of the allied strategic bombing effort in the Second World War,'' the report said.
"The veterans' argument is based on fact and emotion, while the Canadian War Museum stand is based on fact and academic objectivity. The subcommittee understands both positions.''
They urged the two sides to sit down in good faith and find a mutually acceptable solution.
The museum itself had no immediate comment. It did hold two earlier meetings with veterans over the issue, but those discussions soon reached an impasse and the museum said it would stick with its display.
Senator Joseph Day, chairman of the subcommittee, said he hopes the museum will be open to a rewrite of the exhibit.
Paul Manson, a retired air force general who helped lead the vets' charge, said the report offers a step in the right direction.
"There must be easy way out of this dilemma in which all parties can come out of it looking good and get on with the job of running a good museum,'' he said.
"It would take a relatively simple change in the wording ... I hope the museum takes this guidance and does the right thing.''
The panel at issue contains just three sentences. It says that the bombing campaign remains a matter of "enduring controversy'' 60 years after the war, with debates over its effectiveness and morality.
Adjacent photographs show dead German corpses in rubble-strewn streets.
Some veterans in their 80s told the subcommittee that the display effectively accuses them, and their dead wartime comrades, of war crimes.
The museum flatly rejected that interpretation.
Dean Oliver, the museum's director of research and exhibitions, said nothing in the display accuses wartime bomber crews of any crime or immoral action.
"No such gratuitous slight appears in any other gallery either, nor would it,'' he said.
"What the museum does say -- that the strategic bombing campaign is an `enduring controversy' -- remains beyond all reasonable argument.''
Jack Granatstein, one of the country's most respected historians, backed the museum in his appearance before the committee.
He said he has the highest respect for the men who defeated Hitler and Nazism, but can't side with them on this question.
"Every fact in that panel is a fact, it's true,'' he said. "It's almost impossible for me to put the interpretation on it that they do. I'm frankly baffled on this one.''
The report said the museum should take the lead in resolving the question.
"We feel they have the duty to review the detailed presentation of the display panel in question and that they will want to consider alternative ways of presenting an equally historically accurate version of its material, in a manner that eliminates the sense of insult felt by aircrew veterans and remove potential for further misinterpretation by the public."