I just borrowed "Death by Moonlight" from the library to refresh my memory as to its contents.
I have just recently read Donald L. Miller's majestic "Masters of the Air" in which he backs up many of the "Death by Moonlight" affirmations about "Bomber" Harris and the whole culture of denial experienced by both American and Allied bomber crews.
Although Miller principally describes American strategic daylight bombing - itself a tragic miscalculation - he also covers the efforts of the RAF to demoralize German civilian populations by carpet bombing their cities with incendiaries.
Canadian and Commonwealth crews could not possibly have had any illusions about what they were doing, knowing they were carrying this kind of ordinance. The innocence and lack of complicity of the fliers is one point the film tries to push that doesn't jibe. On the other hand, one expects that a scared 20 year old whose life expectancy was counted in months (remember only one in three crews survived their tour of duty) had other priorities than to question the overall strategy of bomber command.
In 1993 I was a film student in Montreal and read all about the controversy "The Valour and the Horror" elicited in its original broadcast. The whole story of this film and its two companion pieces brings into question the role documantarians play in the way we see ourselves over time.
This question becomes even more relevant with the manipulation of the media in the war on terror, the invasion of Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, 9-11 and various nations jumping onto the American band waggon to war.
This film is too important a document (in Canadian media history) to be dismissed in a cavalier manner. Please take note that I do not refer to it as a "documentary", but nor do I think of it as a work of fiction or "theater" as tombaginski describes it. It is worth seeing as part of the corpus of historical work on Canada's part in World War Two as well as for its controversial role in our media history.
The brothers McKenna brought into question the competence and motives of Canadian and British military leaders during World War Two in their three episode series. They thought they were doing so from the safe platform of a 50 year distance. Veterans living at that time rallied and savagely questioned the validity of the series and the right of both public broadcaster (CBC) and film makers to dare suggest they were anything like war criminals. The McKennas found their credentials and integrity were severely brought into question - very publicly so.
I was thinking of how we think about historical events and where we get background information when writing about history. How are myths created? I was going to quote journalist Philip Graham, who in 1963 said:
"So let us today drudge on about our inescapably impossible task of providing every week a first rough draft of history that will never be completed about a world we can never really understand."
The key phrase is "the first rough draft of history" - one that becomes all but impossible to erase over time once it sets into the public mind, like concrete. Ironically, as I sought out the originator of the quote I discovered that it's attribution has also been called into question
In a 1943 book review in the New Republic journalist Alan Barth wrote, "News is only the first rough draft of history." It has also been attributed to Douglass Cater.
I hope this film does not sink into obscurity. It should be seen. It deserves to be studied and discussed. Its strengths and flaws should be analyzed.
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