Media twists history to suit anti-war bias, says military expert Gilbert Drolet
Gilbert Drolet spoke for many war veterans at a lecture at Lonergan College on February 19. Drolet, a veteran of the Korean War and a former professor at Loyola College, blasted the media for what he sees as blatant distortions about war - distortions which are too often accepted as factual.
"Unfortunately, the power of the media is such that people believe what they see and hear. The lie becomes the myth becomes the reality for many people. What I am asking - pleading - for is balance and truth."
He says that an anti-war bias in popular media can even result in distortions from people who were there. He cited the example of the film Born on the Fourth of July.
"[Writer and director] Oliver Stone fought in Vietnam, so he knows whereof he speaks. Yet there are things in the movie which simply didn't happen. For example, there is no evidence or record of American law-enforcement officers beating up crippled Vietnam veterans, but that is depicted in the movie. It then becomes part of the consciousness of the viewer."
Another example, much closer to home, is last year's flap over the statue of General Charles de Gaulle in Quebec City.
"The English media, in TV and print, just blasted him as a coward, saying that he 'hid in England' during the war. To question his physical courage is a lie. This is a man who was wounded three times in the First World War, and who repeatedly escaped from prison camps."
But Drolet devoted most of his lecture to heaping scorn on the efforts of Brian and Terence McKenna, who faced a heavy backlash from veterans against their CBC series on World War II, The Valour and the Horror.
"That documentary was extensively but selectively researched, so that they only presented facts which supported their thesis. They wanted to show that Canadian troops were a bunch of dupes led by a bunch of dopes, and that military intelligence is a contradiction in terms."
Veterans protested "because they didn't want their grandchildren to see them portrayed as bloodthirsty savages." But instead of addressing the concerns of the veterans, Drolet said, "the media circled the wagons. In editorials, they hurled accusations of McCarthyism and censorship at veterans."
The McKennas are now working on a series about the Holocaust, Drolet noted. "Maybe they're trying to make up [for The Valour and the Horror], because they never mentioned the Holocaust in the series. They emphasized the failures and mistakes of our side, but not the evil that Hitler represented. That was the reason we went to war in the first place."
In an interview following his lecture, Drolet said the spectre of Vietnam has tainted attitudes toward wars and those who fight in them.
"This is a generational issue. The media is made up of people who grew up in the '60s and '70s, during the Vietnam fiasco, and the concept of a just war just didn't enter the debate. But World War II was a just war, when you consider the alternative. The McKennas would not be free to do their documentaries if we hadn't fought and won that war."
At the same time, aging veterans feel a growing sense of urgency to tell their side of the story. "I've spoken with a lot of veterans, and I know how they feel. They are in their seventies and eighties, and they know they don't have much time to tell people about the war. In recent years, they were hurt that Remembrance Day didn't seem to mean as much any more."
But since the 50th anniversary of V-E Day, in 1995, Drolet has noticed signs of a resurgence of interest in WWII and war history in general. On last year's Remembrance Day, Drolet and several other veterans were invited to speak at high schools.
"The kids were interested in what we had to say, and they asked a lot of questions. That generation's attitude is more open-minded, because they don't look at war just through the prism of Vietnam. And that gives us hope that we can tell them the truth."
Drolet is currently retired. He is a former professor of Literary Studies and Military and Strategic Studies at Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean.