2017 is an important year for Canada. It’s the 150th anniversary year of Confederation and the 100th anniversary year of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. All but forgotten is the 25th anniversary of the production of a National Film Board three-part documentary on Canada’s effort in the Second World War: The Valour and the Horror, produced in 1992. It is not a comprehensive history, neither is it glorious in any sense. It is a highly critical examination of three important events in Canada’s military history: the doomed defense of Hong Kong against the Japanese in 1941; Canada’s role in British Bomber Command; and Canada’s role in the Battle of Normandy. In each of these parts, the producers show great admiration, even reverence, for the Canadian junior officers and ordinary men, while being highly critical, even contemptuous, of political leaders and senior Canadian and British officers.
Perhaps the most famous, or infamous part of this documentary was Part II: Death By Moonlight: Bomber Command. In it the producers are highly critical of Air Marshal Arthur “Bomber” Harris for his enthusiastic targeting, through area bombing, of German civilians in a failed effort to demoralize the population. They use as their chief example the fire-bombing of Hamburg in 1943 that killed over 32,000 civilians including more than 9,000 children. While absolving the pilots and crews under his command, they all but accuse Harris of war crimes. This set off a firestorm (pardon the pun), of protest from politicians who were greatly affronted by the implication of Canadians participating in war crimes. They even hauled the producers before a Senate committee. The CBC was so cowed by this (self) righteous indignation that they cravenly decided to pull the broadcast of the documentary.
I invite you to watch this three-part documentary and to read up on the attack on free speech it spawned, an attack that was not so vigorously defended by our less than intrepid public broadcaster.