Monday, September 25, 2023

Controversial Tribute by Canada's Speaker of the House to Ukrainian Veteran Reveals State of Modern Journalism


Canadian news sources - as well as international ones - are now broadcasting the fact that the Speaker of the House rose in Canada's House of Commons and paid tribute to a 98-year old veteran of the 1st Ukrainian Division of the Ukrainian National Army. It's former identity as the 14th Division of the Waffen-SS is a matter of fact and has drawn condemnation for which the speaker has apologized. But some other matters of fact seem to loom large as well.

The Soviet Union starved millions of ethnic Ukrainians in the 1930s in an attempted genocide now known as the Holodomor.

When German soldiers arrived in the Ukraine, still part of the Soviet Union, in the summer of 1941, they were treated as liberators. The Germans were not so quick to adopt them as allies, but did find allies and willing participants to their own genocide, the Holocaust of the European Jews. In fact, the majority of killings in the Holocaust occurred in open-air shootings throughout eastern Europe, and not in the death camps in Poland. Anti-Semitism was rife throughout the East - for that matter, in North America as well - and locals often enthusiastically volunteered to assist the killing apparatus of the Germans who employed Einsatzgruppen (Special Detachments) for the job of mass killings.

The Soviet Union became an ally of Canada in 1941, though more by circumstance than design. As Britain's Prime Minister famously said at the time of their unlikely alliance - if Hitler had invaded Hell itself, he would at the very least rise and give favourable mention to Satan in the House of Commons. War makes strange bedfellows.

Ukraine and the Soviet Union fought a civil war for years after war with Germany ended in 1945. There was no more Waffen-SS, but there was indeed the victorious Soviet Union, on a clear trajectory to being an adversary of Canada under Stalin. While the UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army) was largely destroyed by 1948, active fighting continued until 1955. By this time the Cold War was in full swing.

Soviet weapons were used by North Korea in active combat against Canadians. For what it is worth, the Chinese army, fresh from its victory in its own civil war, bore much of the burden of the fighting against United Nations forces of which Canadians were a part.

All of these are facts, and some of them are being used to greater effect than others to stoke the outrage machine. In my own experience, I find those with a deep knowledge and understanding of history generally have little time for outrage at failed political stunts (something the Speaker's actions surely were). History is far too complicated and nuanced for that. It used to be that journalists would know that. If the Speaker can't be forgiven for being unaware of the complicated history of the Ukraine, halfway around the world, neither should journalists be forgiven for broadcasting only those elements of that history that make their chosen side of the debate look bad.

The controversy is a bad look for everyone involved, none of whom had the complicated choice of whom to fight for in the Second World War when caught between two genocidal regimes.