15.9.08

Blurred lines

I've just finished a book, The Acadians: A people's story of exile and triumph. It's an account of la grande derangement, aka the 1755 expulsion of the Acadians from Canada by the British.

Part of the problem I had with the book is that it purports to be unbiased non-fiction. Yet in so many little ways, it is biased. Words like "tragically" and "unfortunate" fill the text, and let's not discuss how the author describes the British governors. Since there's nothing in the author's biography (in the book) to indicate his Acadian roots, it seems that he's choosing sides in this story, one that is horrific enough without his help. If you're intimately involved with the story/events, I expect a little bias, but here? Could have been done without. To be honest, a blank statement of fact would have been far worse than how the sensationalisation.

The other blurred line is the one between genocide (which Jobb calls the expulsion) and diaspora. Where does one become the other?

Years ago a friend and I argued over the slave trade. He claimed it was a genocide, I said it wasn't. The definition of genocide is "the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group' and implies the existence of a coordinated plan, aimed at total extermination, to be put into effect against individuals chosen as victims purely, simply and exclusively because they are members of the target group." Ugly as this sounds, it was bad economics for the slave traders to lose cargo during the Middle Passage.

However, in this case, the two terms do apply. The British did try to exterminate the group, to eradicate their culture, because of their refusal to swear a loyalty oath to the King that included the bearing of arms against the French or local Indians. It started as a diaspora, but the decision to burn down the houses, split up families and leave survivors to starve turns it into a genocide. The blur is between intent and extent. Even the most charitable reader knows that the deaths of the exiles weren't planned, but weren't mourned either.

I've been working with our 9th grade history classes as they start their research careers, talking to them about identifying the bias in books, articles and websites. I wonder if they'd pick up on the subtlties here.

2 comments:

Laura said...

I enjoyed your review. Good idea to point out bias in books supposed to be factual.

Chris said...

Great review. Even in text books, The Expulsion was always described that way: tragic, etc. It was a very sad chapter in Canadian history. Maybe it's hard to separate personal feelings from facts. Good points.