Canadian war remembrance and the ghosts of Ortona


Ruins of San Tommaso church, Ortona, 30 December 1943. Credit: Terry F. Rowe. Library and Archives Canada, PA-136308

Here is a description of, and a link to, my PhD dissertation.

Killing Matters: Canadian War Remembrance and the Ghosts of Ortona
(PhD Dissertation, Social Anthropology, York University, 2014)

ABSTRACT: This dissertation combines critical discourse analysis with person-centred ethnography to examine the dissonant relationships between Canadian war veterans’ narratives and the national discourse of Canadian war remembrance. The dissertation analyses Canadian war remembrance as a ritualized discourse (named Remembrance) that is produced in commemorative rituals, symbols, poetry, monuments, pilgrimages, artwork, history-writing, political speeches, government documents, media reports, and the design of the Canadian War Museum. This Remembrance discourse foregrounds and valorizes the suffering of soldiers and makes the soldier’s act of dying the central issue of war. In doing so, Remembrance suppresses the significance of the soldier’s act of killing and attributes this orientational framework to veterans themselves, as if it is consistent with their experiences. The dissertation problematizes this Remembrance framing of war through an analysis of WWII veterans’ narratives drawn from ethnographic fieldwork that was conducted in western Canada with 23 veterans of the WWII battle of Ortona, Italy. The fieldwork consisted of life-story interviews that focused on veterans’ combat experiences, supplemented by archival research and a study of the Ortona Christmas reconciliation dinner with former enemy soldiers. Through psychoanalytically-informed discourse analysis, the narratives are interpreted in terms of hidden meanings and trauma signals associated with the issue of killing. The analysis shows that many of these veterans were strongly affected by killing even when they did not know if they had killed and even though most of them tried to suppress their dissonant affects. In sum, these Ortona veterans’ narratives constitute dissonant acts of remembrance that unsettle the limited moral frame within which Canadians imagine war.

The external examiner, Dr. Catherine Lutz, observed that “the treatment of the veteran interviews… is beautifully done, with rich and plentiful insights on virtually every page”.

To view and/or download a copy, please click here (pdf file, 15MB).