Home Arts Filmmaker gives talk on his controversial work

Filmmaker gives talk on his controversial work

by Archives November 25, 2003

Documentary filmmakers, Brian and Terence McKenna have a new mini-series out entitled: Korea: The Unfinished War.

Their last war documentary, The Valour and the Horror, caused a lot of controversy.

Back in 1992, The Valour and the Horror enraged veterans and many others across the nation. The film was accused of being a work of “faction”-a blend of fiction with fact.

So deep was the controversy, some said, “revisionist” view of WWII history that Brian McKenna had to appear before a senate sub-committee on Veterans Affairs.

The committee found that the film was “riddled with inaccuracies and biased perceptions.”

On Remembrance Day, McKenna was at Concordia speaking about his new Korean War series and The Valour and the Horror. During the lecture, he accused Canada of war crimes.

He said Canadian soldiers “committed war crimes in World War II” and that Canadians on the home front “didn’t know” about this because they were “spun” by the newspapers of the time.

McKenna characterized the heavy bombing of German cities and the death of innocent civilians as a Canadian war crime.

He said his controversial film, The Valour and the Horror, was made to portray this side of the Canadian war effort to which most Canadians had no knowledge.

However, a quick check of some early 1940s articles from newspapers that are still around today: the Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Sun and the Hamilton Spectator among others, show that this was not the case.

In an article from the Hamilton Spectator of Dec. 17 1941, a group calling themselves “the committee for the abolition of night bombing” called on the government to end this “most indiscriminate form” of warfare.

The article said there were “heavy tolls of civilians,” and went on to say the Allies should reserve their rights to restart the bombing campaign if the Germans continued night bombing.

This article was written years before Bomber Command started firebombing German cities.

In another article from the war years, the Vancouver Sun of Sept. 9, 1942 lists 40 German cities in categories of: destroyed, heavily raided involving partial destruction, subject to heavy raids and still to be bombed heavily. Among the last category are Berlin and Nuremberg.

The article goes on to state that “total destruction would erase the places of employment, the production, the homes and the capacity to continue any existence.”

It then says that out to “eliminate them is about 100 of the Royal Air Force’s (R.A.F) new 8000-pound bombs…to the inhabited square mile.”

When asked about the journalism of this time, McKenna said that, “it was spin. Canadians of the time just didn’t know.”

The July 30, 1943 Hamilton Spectator has an article, entitled “Canadian Flyers to Fore As Tremendous Air Force Pours Ruin on Nazi City,” which tells of “battered Hamburg, still quaking and burning from a series of record day and night bombings.”

The R.A.F. and the Royal Canadian Air Force (R.C.A.F.) were involved in their seventh raid on the city in what was called “round-the-clock bombings.” The article also says, “the massive attack stirred speculation that Hamburg is being made the subject of an Allied experiment to determine whether a city that large can be paralyzed completely from the air.”

McKenna spoke about the ignorance of the Canadian people. He said, “We weren’t quite sure where the bombs were going.”

Another story from the Spectator tells of Dresden, “a great city…wiped from the map of Europe.” It says “tens of thousands of its citizens…buried under ruins.” (March 5, 1944)

In another article a headline, “Nuremberg is smashed,” tells of brutal Canadian losses and talks about bombs called “town-busters,” and 24 consecutive nights of raids on Berlin alone.

McKenna said later that Canadians weren’t told of the losses either. He said the horrific numbers of casualties were kept hidden.

In a Globe and Mail article of July 5, 1945, entitled “Canada Bomber Group Suffered Heavy Losses”, journalist Fred Backhouse writes that Canadian number six bomber group alone suffered “in two years and four months, one eighth of total casualties” in all of bomber command. This did not include the casualties among the estimated one third of Canadians flying in R.A.F. planes.

After The Valour and the Horror McKenna discussed the new series, Korea: The Unfinished War. He said, “North Korea is the most isolated place in the world.”

He said he was “excited” about the series and that it would probably be controversial to Americans.

“We were asked to do a special screening at the Nixon Library,” said McKenna. He sent them a sample of the film because he new they would probably have some misgivings. “I never heard from them again,” he said. McKenna went on to say he thought the series would never be shown in the U.S.

In the series the McKenna’s claim that the U.S. dropped biological weapons on North Korean civilians. The series also alleges that American pilots were ordered to napalm refugees. Despite the controversy surrounding the accusations, the series praises the 35,000 Canadians that fought in Korea.

There does not seem to be a lot of room for Canadians to be outraged by the series. In fact, Peter Worthington, journalist and former soldier on the Korean battlefield, wrote that the “series gives a better idea of the Korean war than most documentaries that preceded it.”

But he also adds, “The McKenna’s appear generous to North Korea, even implying that the South provoked the North to attack in 1950.”

The first three episodes seem to be fairly accurate. When you get to the fourth episode that is where the controversy cuts in.

Apart from the final episode, and the unhappiness that some Americans will feel, Canadian Veterans will be happy with this series.

The series runs in four parts:

In part one, Land of the Morning Calm, civilians and spies, and special operatives and military personal tell of the beginning of the war up to the invasion at Inchon.

In part two, Enter the Dragon, the one-hour episode deals with the controversy over the plans for the U.S. to establish a nuclear base in Labrador.

Part three, Silent Night, tells of the Chinese invasion of Seoul, South Korea, as Canadian troops enter the war and a UN led army holds the Chinese forces at the 38th parallel.

Part four, Burnt Ground, seems to be the most contentious of the lot. In this episode the McKenna’s accuse the U.S. of using Japanese biological weapons against two million North Korean civilians as well as dropping leaflets with feathers and insects containing Bubonic Plague and Anthrax.

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