Jack Granatstein: Historian calls plan to pardon soldiers 'nonsense'

Historians in the News

The likely posthumous pardon of 306 soldiers, including 23 Canadians, shot for desertion and cowardice during World War I is "nonsense," says one of Canada's leading military historians.

"It means the British government is trying to demonstrate that it is deeply sensitive and no longer like its predecessors," Jack Granatstein, former director of the Canadian War Museum, said in an interview. "People did things the way they did 90 years ago. Trying to change history this way is nonsense."

British Defence Secretary Des Browne has ordered, "as a matter of priority," a review of official policy on the men who were shot at dawn for running away from battle. "I believe it is better to acknowledge that injustices were clearly done in some cases, even if we cannot say which, and to acknowledge that all these men were victims of war."

A total of 25 Canadians, including four from Toronto and one from St. Catharines, were executed by firing squad during the 1914-1918 war, though two of them were convicted of murder. Granatstein said dragging the men's names back into the public eye could be more humiliating for their descendants than simply letting matters rest.

Supporters of a blanket pardon argue that many deserters were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, then known as shell shock. But this was rarely considered a valid defence by British generals bent upon maintaining discipline in appalling front-line conditions.

Several of the executed Canadians had deserted more than once and had jail sentences commuted so they could fight....

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