controversy regarding Bomber command exhibit at Canadian War Museum

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controversy regarding Bomber command exhibit at Canadian War Museum

Joined: March 15th, 2006, 3:45 pm

August 29th, 2007, 1:28 pm #1

Hello to all forum members

I would greatly appriciate hearing the opinins of all forum members regarding the controversy of Bomber command exhibit at Canadian War Museum. For those not aware, a body of text on a panel in the museum was offensive to war vet's who felt it painted them as war criminals.

There are now actions being taken to change the text.
The war museums director, Joe Gerts has mysteriouly resigned since this has come into light.

Here is the text in question...

''The value and morality of the strategic 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''


Please post your opinion

Thanks
Roger
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S.M. Fochuk
S.M. Fochuk

August 29th, 2007, 2:33 pm #2

Unfortunately, at the time, the crews were not informed of the higher policy (Bomber Harris) hence them being up-in-arms over this so called controversy at present.


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Joined: June 10th, 2004, 11:45 pm

August 29th, 2007, 3:16 pm #3

It's plain the first quote is quite straight-forward. Not much can be said about it. The fact the we are debating it is proof enough.

The second quote is more problematic. I wish there had been some evidence (historic not modern conjecture) that the war effort was not significantly reduced as a result of the bombing. Also some sort of quote that the aim was to demoralize the German civilian population would have been an excellent way of making the point in the text.

Out of context, I'd hate to make any firm opinions. I hope to get there this fall/winter where I can better see what they've done.

War is not pleasant, that much is clear and civilian deaths during bombing raids are a fact of war. Was there, however, a belief in Bomber Command (or higher) that demoralizing the Germans by intentionally killing civilians would be more effective than simple industrial raids? And if so, this would be a hard pill for many vets to swallow.

Bob
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Clive M. Law - Service Publications
Clive M. Law - Service Publications

August 29th, 2007, 3:31 pm #4

I believe that Albert Speers' autobiography shows that military production was greater in 1944 than it was in 1940 so the point about the bombing not having an effect on Germany's ability to supply its war machine is accurate.

What is unfortunate here is that veterans are acting as censors. The text used by the CWM was not drafted by a high-school student but rather by a group of qualified historians who view the events through dispassionate eyes 60 years after the fact.

Although the truth can be painful it doesn't change the fact that it is still the truth. Nonethless, the CWM has a burden to bear in this also. It is one thing for a committee of historians to present the museum management with their proposed texts but management should have then consulted with veterans' groups, and other stakeholders, to ensure that the message was in context and took into account the times.
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Joined: September 5th, 2005, 12:07 pm

August 29th, 2007, 4:31 pm #5

Hello to all forum members

I would greatly appriciate hearing the opinins of all forum members regarding the controversy of Bomber command exhibit at Canadian War Museum. For those not aware, a body of text on a panel in the museum was offensive to war vet's who felt it painted them as war criminals.

There are now actions being taken to change the text.
The war museums director, Joe Gerts has mysteriouly resigned since this has come into light.

Here is the text in question...

''The value and morality of the strategic 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''


Please post your opinion

Thanks
Roger
Clive is right about Albert Speer’s comments. My problem is with
"The value and morality of the strategic offensive against Germany remains bitterly contested".
I'd rather see a publicly funded museum stay away from opinions and let the public develop their own views. A museum's job in my humble opinion is to present the historical facts and artifacts. Any time someone puts their values into an exhibt, problems arise. Case in point was the Enola Gay B29 exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum. The exhibit had the horrific exhibts and photos of the atomic bomb. The B29 vets said fine, but also present the bloody pictures of the atrocities committed by the Japanese, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and all the events that led to August 6th & 14th, 1945 and why the bomb was dropped. They should be entitled to their requests.
It should be remembered Bomber Command was one of the only ways the Allies could hit back at Germany in the early days.
My extra two cents, Bomber Command should have switched from 4 engine heavy bombers to more DeHavilland Mosquito Bombers and went after precise bombing as is attempted today.
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Ken Joyce
Ken Joyce

August 29th, 2007, 4:59 pm #6

I believe that Albert Speers' autobiography shows that military production was greater in 1944 than it was in 1940 so the point about the bombing not having an effect on Germany's ability to supply its war machine is accurate.

What is unfortunate here is that veterans are acting as censors. The text used by the CWM was not drafted by a high-school student but rather by a group of qualified historians who view the events through dispassionate eyes 60 years after the fact.

Although the truth can be painful it doesn't change the fact that it is still the truth. Nonethless, the CWM has a burden to bear in this also. It is one thing for a committee of historians to present the museum management with their proposed texts but management should have then consulted with veterans' groups, and other stakeholders, to ensure that the message was in context and took into account the times.
I dont think research has been done here. I also do not feel that they have provided enough explanation to the overall wartime situation which prompted various types of bombing campaigns by BC/USAAF.

Firstly, Speer may be right. However did they clarify what war production would have been without the bombing campaign? I think someone mentioned on this forum before that Germany, despite the emense growth of its military industry, did not really get into the industrial swing of things until mid-war period anyway. So its not what wartime production ultimately amounted to in 1944 compared to 1940-41 but what it COULD have amounted to without both US and British bombing campaigns. This has not been explained.

Then there is the amount of German war production that went into fighting the bomber effort. This was tremendous. It is not well accounted how many able bodied people had to be utilized to defend against attack from the air. How many talented Luftwaffe pilots used up simply fighting the bomber streams. Production of anti-aircraft weapons etc. etc.

As Stephen probably knows, the initial bombing campaign achieved little due to lack of technology. However there were debates at the highest levels as to what targets should be. One has to remember the dire situation confronting the allies up until 1943. Churchill was scrambling to appease both the Americans and the Russians. He had to keep their happy trigger fingers at bay so that he would not be pressured into mounting an impossible assault across the channel. So what did Churchill have to work with? Well initially all he had was bomber command and the commandos. Then TORCH and so-on.

So if bomber command occasionally chose to set fire to the odd German city, it was all they could do. Their was also the desire for revenge.

I agree. In total war there is no such thing as civilians. The Germans made that very clear to the British, Poles etc. throughout the war. This did not just end around the period of 1940-41 but continued through into the V-1 and V-2. Very few, if any, of these weapons hit military targets. In fact I noted when I was at the National Archives in Kew, that the ground used for the archives was once a thriving neighborhood. It was completely destroyed by a V-2.

All Germans were part of the war machine. Its sad, its terrible, but Harris and Bomber Command were doing all they could to win the war.

It is also very probable that without an extensive and highly destructive bomber effort, Churchill would have been pressured by Stalin to mount an even larger version of Dieppe. Possibly an invasion of France in 1942? I wonder how that would have gone?

The bomber campaign was in part a terror campaign. So what? Do you want to win the war or not? The effects BC and the USAAF had on the enemy is immense. I just dont think it has been properly related.

To lump the air crews into the higher strategic direction of the war is stupid. Personally if it was my display, I would have had a story line explaining the strategic need for the bomber campaign, discussing the planning, moving from fighter production targets to oil installations, civilian targets ( if there ever really where strictly civilian targets ) and the build up to invasion. Keeping the Lufwaffe at bay etc. etc. and then have a completely separate story discussing the efforts of the bomber crews. Their impossible missions and their heroics.

The War Museum is to honour our veterans. You can criticize the greater strategic direction of the war, but you do not lump this in with the effort of our veterans. After all as Stephen pointed out, they had nothing to do with it. They did their jobs and we should be proud of that. That pride should be reflected in the display.

If the War Museum wants to judge history and criticize how war was fought, maybe they could have a separate display simply discussing the stupidity of war and the waste of it.

However in this case they would have to make it very clear that we were not the aggressor.
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Dave King
Dave King

August 29th, 2007, 5:19 pm #7

Clive is right about Albert Speer’s comments. My problem is with
"The value and morality of the strategic offensive against Germany remains bitterly contested".
I'd rather see a publicly funded museum stay away from opinions and let the public develop their own views. A museum's job in my humble opinion is to present the historical facts and artifacts. Any time someone puts their values into an exhibt, problems arise. Case in point was the Enola Gay B29 exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum. The exhibit had the horrific exhibts and photos of the atomic bomb. The B29 vets said fine, but also present the bloody pictures of the atrocities committed by the Japanese, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and all the events that led to August 6th & 14th, 1945 and why the bomb was dropped. They should be entitled to their requests.
It should be remembered Bomber Command was one of the only ways the Allies could hit back at Germany in the early days.
My extra two cents, Bomber Command should have switched from 4 engine heavy bombers to more DeHavilland Mosquito Bombers and went after precise bombing as is attempted today.
A couple of quick points:

- there was a hell of a lot of slack in Germany's so-called "totalwar" economy until quite late: the Nazis' reluctance to mobilize women (German women, I should specify) for war production work is a prime example (I think this was due mainly to their ideological stance, coupled with not wanting to bring their hausfraus into more contact with foreign workers and forced workers and POW workers than could be avoided). There were even toy factories still producing toys for Xmas 1944, if I remember correctly.

- It is very true that for much of the war, the accuracy of both the RAF and USAAF (and the Luftwaffe, who managed to bomb a German city at least once) was awful. Area bombing was really the only way to be sure to hit something strategic. And even then, as the Strategic Bombing Survey showed after the war, the estimated damage level was much overrated by assuming that a de-roofed factory was out of operation: machinery doesn't burn.

- On the other hand, what else was there to usefully do? No cross-channel action was possible in 41-43...Stalin would not have stood for us simply sitting in the UK building up strength and telling him to "be patient." We had to do something to hit the Germans; we also had to show our civilian populations that we were striking back, even if that meant something as nasty as revenge for Coventry, London, Clydebank, Rotterdam, Guernica...what is the statistic? For every ton of HE the Germans dropped on the UK (including V-weapons), they got 300 tons back? Even if war production wasn't brought to a standstill, there were tens of thousands of troops (even if they were 14 or 15 years old) on flak batteries around German cities, ammunition, cement used on towers and shelters: all of that could have been facing us in Normandy instead.

- Last quickie thought: I understand the Vets getting hot under the collar about younger generations passing judgement on what they did. But I've been to the CWM and seen the panel. I think it makes a simple statement about the history in a dispassionate way. It makes no accusation about anyone's conduct or morality--it states that ''The value and morality of the strategic offensive against Germany remains bitterly contested," which is perfectly true. Hell, there were even questions raised in the British House of Commons during the war about the bombing of Dresden--how much more proof of historic controversy do you need than that?
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Ken Joyce
Ken Joyce

August 29th, 2007, 5:42 pm #8

Why do you even need to state that in the story board? Contested by whom? Geeze man, everything today can be contested. Maybe the guy in the HofC protesting Dresden had a thing for the Germans? These days in Canada you can have one issue and 30,000,000 opinions. However if the facts are presented and research done, then you dont have to make such a statement. It is the job of the museum to present the facts and not to make bias opinions, or express bias possibilities based on the, possibly ignorant, work of a few.

As someone who might know little about the "strategic" bomber campaign, after reading that quote, you instantly come away with the thought that perhaps grandpa might have murdered innocent people and for nothing. It should not even be in the story caption.

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GrantR, Medicine Hat, AB
GrantR, Medicine Hat, AB

August 29th, 2007, 6:04 pm #9

Hello to all forum members

I would greatly appriciate hearing the opinins of all forum members regarding the controversy of Bomber command exhibit at Canadian War Museum. For those not aware, a body of text on a panel in the museum was offensive to war vet's who felt it painted them as war criminals.

There are now actions being taken to change the text.
The war museums director, Joe Gerts has mysteriouly resigned since this has come into light.

Here is the text in question...

''The value and morality of the strategic 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''


Please post your opinion

Thanks
Roger
... shouldn't it be entirely fair to also note that "the Germans started it" (... i.e. with the "Blitz") and that the Allies then merely responded with similar tactics ...?
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Michael Dorosh
Michael Dorosh

August 29th, 2007, 6:20 pm #10

I dont think research has been done here. I also do not feel that they have provided enough explanation to the overall wartime situation which prompted various types of bombing campaigns by BC/USAAF.

Firstly, Speer may be right. However did they clarify what war production would have been without the bombing campaign? I think someone mentioned on this forum before that Germany, despite the emense growth of its military industry, did not really get into the industrial swing of things until mid-war period anyway. So its not what wartime production ultimately amounted to in 1944 compared to 1940-41 but what it COULD have amounted to without both US and British bombing campaigns. This has not been explained.

Then there is the amount of German war production that went into fighting the bomber effort. This was tremendous. It is not well accounted how many able bodied people had to be utilized to defend against attack from the air. How many talented Luftwaffe pilots used up simply fighting the bomber streams. Production of anti-aircraft weapons etc. etc.

As Stephen probably knows, the initial bombing campaign achieved little due to lack of technology. However there were debates at the highest levels as to what targets should be. One has to remember the dire situation confronting the allies up until 1943. Churchill was scrambling to appease both the Americans and the Russians. He had to keep their happy trigger fingers at bay so that he would not be pressured into mounting an impossible assault across the channel. So what did Churchill have to work with? Well initially all he had was bomber command and the commandos. Then TORCH and so-on.

So if bomber command occasionally chose to set fire to the odd German city, it was all they could do. Their was also the desire for revenge.

I agree. In total war there is no such thing as civilians. The Germans made that very clear to the British, Poles etc. throughout the war. This did not just end around the period of 1940-41 but continued through into the V-1 and V-2. Very few, if any, of these weapons hit military targets. In fact I noted when I was at the National Archives in Kew, that the ground used for the archives was once a thriving neighborhood. It was completely destroyed by a V-2.

All Germans were part of the war machine. Its sad, its terrible, but Harris and Bomber Command were doing all they could to win the war.

It is also very probable that without an extensive and highly destructive bomber effort, Churchill would have been pressured by Stalin to mount an even larger version of Dieppe. Possibly an invasion of France in 1942? I wonder how that would have gone?

The bomber campaign was in part a terror campaign. So what? Do you want to win the war or not? The effects BC and the USAAF had on the enemy is immense. I just dont think it has been properly related.

To lump the air crews into the higher strategic direction of the war is stupid. Personally if it was my display, I would have had a story line explaining the strategic need for the bomber campaign, discussing the planning, moving from fighter production targets to oil installations, civilian targets ( if there ever really where strictly civilian targets ) and the build up to invasion. Keeping the Lufwaffe at bay etc. etc. and then have a completely separate story discussing the efforts of the bomber crews. Their impossible missions and their heroics.

The War Museum is to honour our veterans. You can criticize the greater strategic direction of the war, but you do not lump this in with the effort of our veterans. After all as Stephen pointed out, they had nothing to do with it. They did their jobs and we should be proud of that. That pride should be reflected in the display.

If the War Museum wants to judge history and criticize how war was fought, maybe they could have a separate display simply discussing the stupidity of war and the waste of it.

However in this case they would have to make it very clear that we were not the aggressor.
And if Bomber Command had stopped screwing around wasting its time dropping bombs here, dropping them there and either

a) concentrated on a single industry

or

b) pledged itself to pure tactical support ala Caen, COBRA, etc.

They would probably have done a lot more good. Speer laughed (Speer was not unbiased, of course) that just when one industry (ballbearing, say, or oil) got critical, the Allies turned attention to something else. There was no grand strategy - they were all over the place.

And then Harris et al would refuse to lend tactical bomber support except in extreme circumstances. And when they did provide it - TOTALIZE, CAEN, COBRA - they often bombed short anyway. General McNair of the US Army Ground Forces was killed in COBRA and Keller was fortuitously taken out of the war in TOTALIZE, not so fortuitous was the carpet bombing of 3 Cdn Div and 1 Pol Arm Div.

Not to downplay the heroic exertions of the aircrew - and the groundcrew - but Bomber Command's role in the war is very much a controversial subject, and I agree it is too bad that Cliff Chadderton, bless him, is once again setting the agenda on what Canadians get to see or whom they should regard as "heroes".
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