Museum, veterans continue battle in Canada

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The Canadian War Museum in Ottawa has been under attack for months, from an unlikely quarter: veterans who say one text panel in the museum insults the airmen of Royal Air Force Bomber Command in which large numbers of Canadians participated in the Second World War. Yesterday, in a Globe and Mail op-ed article, retired chief of defence staff Paul Manson, who had just stepped down as a member of the board of the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corp. -- which is responsible for the war museum -- joined the barrage. Meanwhile, the museum and Minister of Heritage Bev Oda stand firm in their positions.

Vets charge that the panel implies that they performed a cruel deed with little strategic value. The disputed text reads: "The value and morality of the strategic bombing offensive against Germany remains 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 the American attacks left 600,000 Germans dead and more than five million homeless, the raids resulted in only a small reduction in German war production until late in the war."

Art Smith, a vet leading the attack, insists, "Ten thousand crewmen didn't make it back. It really distresses me that people want to knock their memory." A former MP, he is lobbying for a private member's bill to force a rewrite of the text.

In December, military historian Jack Granatstein commented, "I'd hate to see a private member's bill. You shouldn't have political interference in a reputable museum, one where every exhibit is weighed in a scholarly way." However, he has since joined the museum board and is no longer in a position to comment.

"The museum has asked for independent expert advice on the panel in question," said Mark O'Neill, museum vice-president of public affairs. "We'll have their analysis within the next few months. Then we'll assess the situation."

Yesterday, Oda said, "The museum has been in discussion with Art Smith. But I have not decided to take further action at this point and we await their report."

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