on the publicly owned Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, The
Valour and the Horror is a Canadian-made documentary about three
controversial aspects of Canada's participation in World War II.
This three part series caused a controversy almost unprecedented
in the history of Canadian television. Canadian veterans, outraged
by what they considered an inaccurate and highly biased account
of the war, sued Brian and Terrance McKenna, the series directors,
for libel. An account of the controversy surrounding The Valour
and the Horror with statements by the directors, the CBC Ombudsman
and an examination of the series by various historians can be found
in Bercuson and Wise's The Valour and the Horror Revisited.
Valour and the Horror consists of three separate two hour segments
aired on consecutive Sunday evenings in 1992. In the first, "Savage
Christmas Hong Kong 1941," the McKennas explore the ill-preparedness
of the Canadian troops stationed Hong Kong, the loss of the city
to the Japanese, and the barbarous treatment of Canadian troops
interned in slave labour camps for the duration of the war. Arguably
the most moving of the three episodes, it was the least controversial.
The eyewitness testimony of two surviving veterans, combined with
archival photographs and reenactments of letters written by prisoners
of war testifies to the strength of emotion which can be generated
by television documentary.
second episode, "Death by Moonlight: Bomber Command," proved to
be the most controversial of the three episodes. It details the
blanket bombing of German cities carried out by Canadian Lancaster
bombers, including the firestorm caused by the bombings of Dresden
and Munich. The McKennas claim that the blanket bombing, which caused
enormous casualties among both German civilians and Canadian aircrews,
did nothing to hasten the end of the war, and was merely an act
of great brutality with little military significance. In particular
British commander Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris is cited for his bloodthirstiness.
"In Desperate Battle: Normandy 1944," the third episode, deals primarily
with the massive loss Of Canadian troops at Verrieres Ridge during
the assault on Normandy, citing the incompetence and inexperience
of Canadian military leadership as the cause for the high casualty
rate. This episode also accuses the Canadian forces of war crimes
against German soldiers--war crimes which were never prosecuted
after the war.
three episodes consist of black and white archival footage of the
war, combined with present day interviews with both allied and enemy
veterans. Each episode has a voice over narration by Brian McKenna,
and is accompanied by music taken from Gabriel Faure's Requiem of
1893. The sections taken from the Requiem are those sung primarily
by young boys. The accompaniment was perhaps chosen because the
McKennas emphasize, throughout each episode, the youth of the combatants,
and the terrible but preventable waste of Canada's young men.
youthfulness of the soldiers is also emphasized in some very controversial
reenactments in which actors speak lines taken from the letters
and diaries of Canadian and British military personnel. Although
these reenactments are well marked as such, the veterans have claimed
that they are misleading and extremely selective about what they
include. Reenactments, which are more characteristic of "Reality
TV," like America's Most Wanted and Rescue 911, are problematic
in conventional documentary practice. As Bill Nichols argues in
Representing Reality "documentaries run some risks of credibility
in reenacting an event: the special indexical bond between image
and historical event is ruptured." Certainly reenactments are more
conventional in television than in cinematic documentary.
battle which ensued over The Valour and the Horror is a battle
over the interpretation of history and the responsibilities of publicly
funded television. The McKennas have argued, in the tradition of
investigative journalism, that they wished to set aside the official
account of the war and examine events from the point or view of
the participants. They have also argued that the real story has
never been told, and that their own research has shown gross incompetence,
mismanagement and cover ups on the part of the Canadian government.
Historians and veterans have argued that The Valour and the Horror
is a revisionist history which is both historically inaccurate and
major complaint against The Valour and the Horror by historians
are its lack of context, poor research, and bias which led to misinterpretation
and inaccuracy. The McKennas, in defending themselves, have to a
degree been their own worst enemies. By claiming that their series
is fact, and contains no fiction, and also claiming that their research
is "bullet proof" they have set themselves up for all kinds of attacks--attacks
which have also affected the status of publicly funded television
in Canada. Publicly funded institutions are particularly vulnerable
to attacks by powerful lobbies whose animosity can and does jeopardize
their financial stability. The Valour and the Horror can
be seen as a particularly acrimonious chapter in the continuing
battle between a publicly funded institution and the taxpayers who
support it. In this it is not unlike the battle waged in the United
States between veterans and the Smithsonian Institute over the representation
of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The Valour and the Horror
Photo courtesy of Galafilm, Inc.
Arnie Gelbart, André Lamy
NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA PRODUCER Adam Symansky
BROADCASTING CORPORATION PRODUCER Darce
Brian McKenna, Terence McKenna
January 1992 3 Parts
Bercuson, David J., and S.F. Wise. The Valour and the Horror
Revisited. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1994.
Bill. Representing Reality. Bloomington: Indiana University
_______________. Blurred Boundaries. Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1994.
Programming in English