THE VALOUR, THE HORROR AND THE RIOTSMarch 19th, 2000
MONTREAL MELEE … Police protect NHL Commissioner Clarence Campbell from irate Montreal Canadiens fasn in 1955 after Campbell suspended Maurice “Rocket” Richard, causing riots in Montreal. The riots are the subject of a new film by Brian McKenna, one of the makers of the controversial The Valour and the Horror.
You could have missed several items of federal news last week because of the Chretien melodrama that climaxed when he faced down the agents of his timid Brutus, Paul Martin.
My story today is on an odd “cause and effect” scenario that helps explain some very tardy generosity by Ottawa 55 years after the event.
The main cause? Remember the grand fuss over The Valour and the Horror, a three-part, government-funded dramatized documentary about Canadians in World War II?
First shown on TV in 1992, it slowly but surely generated a storm of objections. It was produced by brothers, Brian and Terence McKenna, who as one droll academic phrased it, ” … were determined to be fair to the Nazis.”
The Valour was harsh about the performances and superior about the motives of Canadian airmen and soldiers. Figuratively-speaking, The Valour woke up those of the war-time generation still living.
Although the McKennas were strongly backed by media colleagues, zealous for artistic freedom and creativity, the rebuttals mounted. One example is the fine video series No Price too High, produced by Dick Nielsen, and sponsored by veterans led by Barney Danson, a former Liberal defence minister, himself an infantry casualty in Normandy.
Not by intention, The Valour triggered a more positive interest in Canadians at war. One notes it in the surge of those at reunions and commemorations, in much larger attendance at remembrance ceremonies, and in a major spate of both academic books about the war and memoirs in profusion by soldiers, RCN sailors, RCAF men and women, and by some leaders at home in production and supply.
Some impetus for recall in Canada was created by the flow here of productions by Americans and Britons, cued in particular by the patriotic emphases of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The challenges and feats of the World War II generation became a popular topic through the ’90s and a genuine curiosity is abroad in the land about Canadians in “the big war.” Most politicians were very chary of The Valour. Indeed, the Tory minister of communications warned the Tory caucus to ignore criticism of the series because it raised the dicey issue of creative licence. But some politicians, notably in the Senate, would not be quiet. More and more veterans’ groups fired up. In particular, RCAF survivors were furious at their depiction as simple-minded sheep, directed to their useless slaughter by “Bomber” Harris.
Eventually, all hesitation to take on the moralistic denigrators of our military disappeared. Despite claims of The Valour’s epic worthiness, it now largely symbolizes an unfair, crude manipulation of events and people.
The domination in post-war presentations of our wartime debacles or badly-handled policies has given way to a larger, more positive context. You may recall the “debacle” items: the mean refusal of entry to Jewish victims of the Nazis; the relocation of Japanese ethnics living on the West coast; the two regiments sacrificed at Hong Kong; the literally terrible casualties of the Dieppe raid; and the divisive crisis at home about reinforcements created by the high scale of infantry casualties in Normandy and Italy.
No post-war item of anti-war propaganda has sparked such a turnaround in public interest as The Valour.
Out of this reaction comes the recent federal undertaking to give wartime merchant seamen full veterans’ benefits and a modest lump sum for benefits missed. And last week the Chretien government set aside some $70 million for the following: (i) Building a new war museum on a fine site in the capital next to the Air Museum, a project led by Barney Danson; (ii) Full “veterans’ benefits” to those still living who served as civilian pilots and mechanics in “the air bridge” over the Atlantic, moving planes like the Mosquito to the UK, and for the remnant of 1,500-plus Newfoundland woodworkers who logged and sawed in the forests of Scotland through much of the war, and for a thousand or so Red Cross volunteers who served overseas, mostly as hospital workers.
My obvious prejudice comes from being one of the million (out of some 11 million) who volunteered for the military and one who believes Canadians did truly great things together – such as laying the basics for an industrial economy and a fairer social system. Devil take those who were not there or who came later, who slight the contribution and discount the sacrifices in a great cause.
The McKennas symbolize the debunkers, the belittlers of a generation. And wouldn’t you know, Brian McKenna is still at his mission of cruising our history for authoritarians to put down and their victims to eulogize. His vehicle of this moment is a film (which aired last week on Global TV) about the Richard riots of 1955 in Montreal that shocked the country. Some say they presaged the Quiet Revolution and separatism. A mob exploded from the Forum and beat up downtown Montreal. It was raging over the suspension for the season of the Canadiens’ superstar Maurice Richard by Clarence Campbell, the NHL president. The Rocket had punched an official who got in the way of his stick-swinging attack on a Boston player.
It is truism that the Honorable Maurice Richard, now ailing, is a folk hero in Quebec, even a member of the privy council, courtesy of Brian Mulroney.
Yes, the late Clarence Campbell was an Anglo, a Rhodes scholar from Alberta, and a former investigating officer in World War II for the Judge Advocate-General of the army overseas.
For those who swallow the McKenna line whole, the resurrected Campbell is a prime symbol for Anglo misreading and patronizing of Quebecois nationalism.
It happens I worked closely on hockey affairs with Clarence Campbell in the 1970s. Few men I’ve known relished talking more about great teams and players, and over time I became impatient with his insistent and rather encyclopedic recognition of Richard as the wonder player of his lifetime and “Canadien” teams as the best, best, best.
Source: BY DOUGLAS FISHER, TORONTO SUNTop
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