Canadian war vets up in arms
It is not hard to imagine what would have happened if the Germans and Japanese had emerged victorious in World War II. Most of us would rather not contemplate that hellish nightmare.
Thankfully it did not happen and we leave it to historians and museums to record these horrific and heroic times. The current controversy over the Canadian War Museum ’s wording in an exhibit covering the Canadian role in the strategic bombing of Germany illustrates how delicate this role of recording history can be.
Canadian war veterans are up in arms over a 67-word inscription dedicated to those attacks on German cities, and we agree it is too negative. The idea for bombing German cities, adopted by British strategists, was to bring the war home to the Germans and sap civilian morale in German cities.
Starting in 1942, Bomber Command of the Royal Air Force (RAF) expanded the bombing beyond industrial and military targets. Cologne, Hamburg, Rostock, Leubeck and, in February 1945, Dresden, were pounded with incendiary bomb clusters. Sir Arthur Harris, known as “Bomber Harris” was in charge of the controversial campaign, which caused enormous destruction and up to 600,000 deaths. The RAF campaign included Royal Canadian Air Force Squadrons and individual Canadians.
The panel, which the museum has wisely agreed to rewrite, asserts that “the value and morality of the strategic bomber offensive against Germany remains bitterly contested. ”
It also says that the raids “resulted in only small reductions in German war production until late in the war. ” Museum officials say the new wording will ensure that the historical record shows “respect” for our soldiers’ effort to fight off the Nazi scourge. We submit that the value of the strategic bombing campaign has never been determined. We do know what effect the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had on the Japanese. We also submit that the morality of the strategic bombing was and is not at issue when juxtaposed to the horrors of Germany ’s cruel and vicious inhumanity. Lest we forget, one in four Canadian members of Bomber Command died. Lest we forget, the Germans attacked their neighbours and were slaughtering millions of innocent civilians — Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, Communists, Slavs, Freemasons, the mentally ill. Lest we forget Hitler was determined to fight till the last child soldier died. Lest we forget that even as the Third Reich was collapsing late in 1944, Adolph Eichmann was rounding up Hungarian Jews for the one-day cattle-car trip to the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau. And let us remember that the bombing of Dresden was also designed to slow down the Russians drive to Berlin.
Civilian morale in Germany was a legitimate target. The bombing helped bring the war to an end and limit civilian deaths. Had the Germans won, many of us would not be here today. Let the rewritten commentary say clearly that Bomber Command was necessary, justified and effective.