Canadian War Museum changes controversial wording on WWII bombing

The Canadian War Museum has rewritten a controversial part of its exhibit on Allied bombing campaign during the Second World War.

The Canadian War Museum has rewritten a controversial part of its exhibit on the Allied bombing campaign during the Second World War.

[Original text:] Strategic Bombing: An Enduring Controversy
Mass bomber raids against Germany resulted in vast destruction and heavy loss of life.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 in German war production until late in the war.

The wording of the original text angered veterans, who eventually appealed to a Senate subcommittee to get it changed.

The Senate subcommittee consulted with historians and found the panel to befactual, butit said the museum ought to change it.

The panel appears in an exhibit that displays photos of the destruction and German dead.

The new text is longer than the original and still questions the effectiveness and morality of the bombing campaign. However, the new wording adds much more detail, including facts about public support for the campaign among the Allies and the terrible losses suffered by Allied bombing crews.

Itappears to have won the approval of veterans, who said the wording of the originaltext makes Bomber Command appear to be "war criminals."

"This new panel is three times longer than the original wording. It adds more context," said Duane Daly, dominion secretary of the Royal Canadian Legion.

Daly, who helped take the issue to the Senate, said the new display gives a better explanation of the long and bloody campaign airmen waged in the skies over Europe.

[New text:] The Bombing

The strategic bombing campaign against Germany, an important part of the Allied effort that achieved victory, remains a source of controversy today.

Strategic bombing enjoyed wide public and political support as a symbol of Allied resolve and a response to German aggression. In its first years, the air offensive achieved few of its objectives and suffered heavy losses. Advances in technology and tactics, combined with Allied successes on other fronts, led to improved results. By war's end, Allied bombers had razed portions of every major city in Germany and damaged many other targets, including oil facilities and transportation networks. The attacks blunted Germany's economic and military potential, and drew scarce resources into air defence, damage repair, and the protection of critical industries.

Allied aircrew conducted this gruelling offensive with great courage against heavy odds. It required vast material and industrial efforts and claimed over 80,000 Allied lives, including more than 10,000 Canadians. While the campaign contributed greatly to enemy war weariness, German society did not collapse despite 600,000 dead and more than five million left homeless. Industrial output fell substantially, but not until late in the war. The effectiveness and the morality of bombing heavily-populated areas in war continue to be debated.

Mark O'Neill, acting head of the museum, said he's satisfied that the new, longer wording also remains true to history.

"I would say that what we have accomplished is a text that's respectful of the history and also of the veterans," he said.

Historians such as Jack Granatstein had backed the museum on the original wording, saying that the original panel was factual and that it was correct to point out the controversies surrounding the campaign.

O'Neill described four differences in the new text.

"One of them is noting the public and political support at the time. Next is we include the fact that there were major strategic targets that were identified," he said.

"We note that the air crew had great courage against heavy odds. We also talk about the cost of lives in the campaign for the Allied and the Canadian members of the air crew."

With files from the Canadian Press