Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Battle of Lebreton Flats

The new Canadian War Museum opening this week on Lebreton Flats (you know, that big empty lot of prime real estate just west of downtown Ottawa that's been sitting vacant for 40 years because the NCC has never been able to figure out what the hell to do with it) is catching flak from War Amps boss Cliff Chadderton for hanging portraits of two soldiers who tortured a Somali boy:

One of the paintings portrays Master Cpl. Clayton Matchee – of the Canadian Airborne Regiment – torturing a teenager, Shidane Arone, inside a Canadian compound in Somalia in 1993.

The other painting shows Pvt. Kyle Brown, who was sentenced to prison for his role in Arone's torture and death.

"The commission of these paintings was completely contrarily to the mission of the new war museum," Chadderton, who also heads the War Amps of Canada, wrote in an editorial published in Tuesday's Ottawa Citizen.

"I am proud of my work for veterans and could not stand by and have my name associated with a trashy, insulting tribute to those who gave their lives."

One may object that the purpose of the Canadian War Museum, or indeed any war museum, is to present an honest reflection of military history, not a jingoistic glorification of war and conquest.

But those object to the display of these portraits are not calling for history to be whitewashed. We are all aware of the horrors of war. It is not the museum's place, however, to propagandize against the Canadian military, and war in general, by throwing the shameful conduct of a few soldiers in people's faces.

One could find examples of even worse acts committed by Canadian soldiers during other conflicts. Why are those not displayed, if this one is?

What is it specifically about the Shidane Arone case that merits such prominence, unless it allows the curators a chance to express their disdain for the military as a haven for violent, racist thugs?

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