Wednesday, August 29, 2007

He Who Controls the Present . . .

. . . Controls the Past. He who Controls the Past Controls the Future. (George Orwell 1984)

There was an intelligent debate happening at the Globe and Mail. It's a pity they closed comments so quickly. The issue surrounds a decision change the wording of a display at the Canadian War Museum that seemed to paint Canadians as War Criminals:
"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 of German war production until late in the war."
Fortunately we still have primary sources that want to set the record straight. One of them is Art Smith, a former Bomber Command captain and former Conservative MP, who explained: "The words said that we were responsible for 600,000 dead. I took offence that we were just helter-skelter bombers. We always had justified targets."

Many Historians have taken offence that the museum has agreed to change the wording of the display. It's sometimes admirable to defend accounts of history from political lobby groups but in this case the display seems inaccurate. Historian David Bercuson seems to have summed it up best, "I don't see it as giving in. I see it as correcting something that was unfortunately and badly placed in the first place, and I don't see why anyone shouldn't be given leeway to correct errors."

I think the museum has made the right decision; Museums must respond to public input, especially when it comes from people with first hand knowledge. Far too often academics do not recognize their own (usually very left-wing) bias. The museum has not bowed to political pressure simply agreed to make their display more accurate. It's about time.

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