William H.A. Willbond MSM, CD

HANGING MATCHEE AND BROWN

Out of sight and out of mind
that would make the sitrep kind
when they hang those pictures there
they show that they don’t really care!

One has to ask the question: Why?
The CWM wants to crucify
Our AIRBORNE – AIRBORNE all the way
on Lebreton Flats this Veterans’ Day?

These pictures make me a little sick
My taxpayer money purchased these pics!
These paintings slight the AIRBORNE name
Does the Liberal Party have no shame?

For Shame! For Shame!

Members of the Airborne Brotherhood

The following is a report on our meeting on Friday, May 6th, at the Canadian War Museum (CWM). The aim of our meeting was one of reconnaissance and fact finding. While we, along with many other members of the “Brotherhood” were surprised and disappointed in the decision to use the two pictures that we considered inappropriate, we wanted to see the exhibits in the proper context, and understand the rationale that had caused this perceived travesty to be created. We did not wish to “lash out” without the facts, and thus leave ourselves open to the accusation of reacting in a knee jerk fashion to a well thought through artistic decision by the museum to use the pictures. Ian Douglas therefore spoke with the President of The Friends of the Museum to ascertain their role in acquiring the paintings. He also spoke to the Director of exhibits to arrange this meeting.

At the meeting were Clay Samis, President Canadian Airborne Forces Association, Ian Douglas, Chair of the Canadian Airborne Forces Museum; Charlie Mann, WW II veteran and Director Eremites of the First Special Service Force; and Louis Lapierre, President of the Airborne Regiment Association of Canada. Jan Devries President of 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion Association was in Europe at the VE Day celebrations and could not be present. We met with the Director of Exhibits, Dr. Dean Oliver and the Art Curator, Ms. Laura Brandon of the CWM. We toured the two areas where the Brown and Matchee paintings are displayed and got an explanation of the theme being presented in each area and why those paintings were chosen.

We then retired to a conference room and spent about an hour and a half in discussions. We explained to the museum staff members that the Brown painting (Title: The Dilemma of Kyle Brown) put him, the only convicted criminal in the gallery, in the entranceway of the Museum, and somehow glorified him at the expense of the remainder of the Airborne Battle Group in Somalia. How many others were faced with difficult, dangerous and life effecting dilemmas and made the correct decision? If nothing else it put him there as an example, if not typical at least representative, of the other airborne soldiers in theatre. This was denied by the staff that suggested that the Brown painting was simply a depiction of the decisions on good or bad that have to be made by “man” in the context of the ugliness and brutality of war. We still believe that it glorifies Brown inappropriately and the “dilemma” aspect has no historical basis. Our opinion remains that the painting should not be displayed in the museum.

The Matchee painting, by far the more horrific of the two, replicates the infamous photograph taken by Brown, of Matchee murdering Arone. It is twinned with an impressionistic outline painting on camouflage cloth of the face of Gen. Romeo D’Allaire obviously agonizing over the situation of the Rwandan genocide, and his frustrations as he tries to deal with this horrific atrocity. According to the staff it is meant to illustrate the two extremes of “Man’s” reaction to the inhumanity of situations of war. It was also explained that the label on the Matchee picture points out that this was one individual, that the Regiment is not identified and the mission as a whole was a success. It was suggested that the video in the same gallery clearly illustrated the positive side of the Canadian Peacekeeper (note that Somalia was not a PKO), and it indeed is very uplifting. As opposed to Greg Janes positive recollection of the video, it was not clear to the team that the Regiment was shown in ‘any’ light at all, notwithstanding a few flashes of an airborne T shirt and a couple of maroon berets from current airborne companies, and a similar quick look at a shoulder flash. Our initial reaction was one of dismay as we as soldiers, and laymen, simply saw the Matchee picture as a gratuitous display of brutality, indeed almost pornographic in its detail, and we saw no redeeming social aspect to the display of it. Indeed given the general nature of the “explanatory” video it could be seen as a denunciation of the Canadian Operations, and thus the Regiment in Somalia. It was explained that the exhibit was designed not only to show the heroic side of war but also to cover the entire spectrum,’ the good the bad and the ugly”. While the explanation of the exhibit was appreciated, it was considered by your team that there were other, and equally efficient ways of doing it without demonizing an organization that successfully completed a most difficult and arduous humanitarian mission. Indeed when the withdrawal of the airborne battle group was announced there was kudos, not only from the US mission commander, but more importantly from the senior clan chiefs of the Belet Huen area who asked if the Canadian Airborne could stay as they had pacified the region so well. The exhibit as it is will leave an extremely negative perception of Somalia in the minds of visitors, and of how Canadians performed there.

The CWM staff listened with politeness and indeed seemed sensitive to our concerns, and is willing to try to find ways to better balance the bad with more of the positive side of the AB Regiment Somalia story. There is no reference to the Regiment in either display and each painting is being used to portray aspects of the effect of conflict on the human spirit. They have agreed to make some adjustments to the displays but are not willing to remove the pictures from display.

We still believe that the pictures are not required to tell the story of war and all of its horrors and are an affront to the memory of the Airborne. We offered some ideas to the staff that they noted and agreed to consider. In fact the staff agreed that if we, the Airborne family, could come up with a suitable artefact from the Somalia operation that it would be located in its own case in the “Matchee” area, and would have a label that positively describes the Regiments successful efforts in the Somalia operation.

Our discussions also ascertained that as opposed to statements by the artist in today’s Ottawa Citizen that she is… “surprised that…… …… is so upset by the Somalia paintings since the fundraising group, Friends of the War Museum, made up largely of veterans was behind their purchase”… It has been ascertained that this is a “spin”, worthy of the government spin doctors, put on the purchase. In fact the Friends were contacted some years ago by the museum staff to ask for approval to buy two paintings from the artist who had tried to sell them elsewhere. This is normal procedure and came at the request of the museum artistic staff. The Board of Directors, in the normal fashion, (as this is how material is purchased for the museum out of funds raised by the friends) agreed, and the paintings were acquired and stored away. The Friends of the Museum were NOT and indeed never are, consulted on the display of the paintings.

We did not come away satisfied but we made some headway. We are going to continue the discussions. CWM staff does not want to remove the offending paintings because of their perception of the historical reality of the Somalia situation. There is not likely to be a quick solution to this, but we are still talking and seeking an acceptable outcome. Our only option at this time is keep up our pressure using the press and our elected officials while continuing discussions with the CWM staff. Now is not the time to mount public protests. We still want the two paintings removed from display and will continue to press for that in our discussions. We will keep you informed.

I am including an assessment of the two paintings by Sgt. Greg Janes, Secretary ARAC which presents a different view of the paintings. Accompanied by the artist, he visited the museum on behalf of ARAC prior to our meeting. Greg was a member of the Regiment and served in Somalia. His perception of the paintings is somewhat different than your executive’s, but keep in mind that the artist accompanied him and explained her concept of the paintings as they toured. I think you should see this viewpoint as well in order to form a balanced opinion. Here is Greg Janes report:


Gents,

I had an opportunity to view the paintings today in the company of the artist. Speaking as someone who was there and as an Airborne soldier I am comfortable in saying that there is nothing to fear in these paintings.

The words Airborne Regiment do not appear and aside from a small dab on Maroon paint in Brown’s belt buckle(I am told it is a Maroon Beret and it is my opinion you would have to be an artist to see it), there is no overt reference to the Regiment or the fact that these two were Paras.

The painting of Brown (Title: The Dilemma of Kyle Brown) does not dominate the entrance to the CWM and the painting of Matchee is deep in the bowels of same.

My opinion of the painting of Brown is that it evokes a sense of pity and confusion on his part. Here in lies the DILEMMA aspect. The image of Brown appears quite harmless hanging with the other paintings. There is no narrative as yet.

The painting of Matchee and ARONE is quite a powerful image and as such is initially disturbing. If one takes the time to study it, one can see that it is the act of an individual and not the failing of a Regiment. The painting is balanced by a narrative that acknowledges the success of the mission.

I did point out to Dr Dean Oliver that the narrative stated that Somalia was a peace keeping mission and that this was wrong. He said he would have it changed by next week and the words Peace Enforcement will replace Peace Keeping. The Painting of Matchee and Arone is further balanced by an Audio-Visual presentation on the violent state of the world post 1990. This depicts the difficult and dangerous roles undertaken by the Canadian Forces since then. I did observe that the Maroon Beret and the AB shoulder flash are portrayed in a very positive light in this video.

If we can separate ourselves from the emotions associated with this event and these two individuals I believe there is very little here to be concerned about.

Having said that, this is art and it will evoke different emotions in each individual that observes it.

As to the question, should these paintings be displayed in the CWM and do they detract from the noble deeds of all other soldiers? One has to realize that this must be answered on an individual basis. Each Canadian will have their own opinion on this matter.

Again as one who was there I see nothing to be feared in this display.

Greg Janes


I think those who have not seem the paintings will have to reflect on these two descriptions and reactions. If you can get to the CWM, please have a look at the paintings and let me have your opinion and thoughts about their display.

Clay Samis
President
Canadian Airborne Forces Association