History Wars: The Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Pastby Edward T. Linenthal
From the "taming of the West" to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the portrayal of the past has become a battleground at the heart of American politics. What kind of history Americans should read, see, or fund is no longer merely a matter of professional interest to teachers, historians, and museum curators. Everywhere now, history is increasingly
From the "taming of the West" to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the portrayal of the past has become a battleground at the heart of American politics. What kind of history Americans should read, see, or fund is no longer merely a matter of professional interest to teachers, historians, and museum curators. Everywhere now, history is increasingly being held hostage, but to what end and why? In History Wars, eight prominent historians consider the angry swirl of emotions that now surrounds public memory. Included are trenchant essays by Paul Boyer, John W. Dower, Tom Engelhardt, Richard H. Kohn, Edward Linenthal, Micahel S. Sherry, Marilyn B. Young, and Mike Wallace.
The curators of the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum planned an ambitious exhibit centered on the Enola Gay, the airplane used to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. The exhibit, marking the event's 50th anniversary, would have described the intense desire to end the war that led to the bombing, but also the way the bombing's nightmarish effects infected the world with fear of nuclear annihilation. Conservatives claimed the exhibit would be anti-nuclear and anti-war, throwing into question the decision to drop the bomb, and would transform the Enola Gay's crew from heroes to terrorists. Under relentless attack, the museum backed down and its director resigned. The Enola Gay is now displayed virtually out of context. These essays take the controversy as the starting point for ruminations on American attitudes toward war, the nuclear age, and, with exceptional insight, history itself. The writers are not uniformly supportive of the planned exhibit: Former air force chief historian Richard H. Kohn concludes, for instance, that it wasn't a balanced presentation; New York University history professor Marilyn B. Young says that it was. But there is unanimous regret among the essayists that an opportunity was lost, as Kohn writes, "to inform the American people . . . about warfare, airpower, World War II and a turning point in world history." The Enola Gay conflict, writes University of Wisconsin history professor Paul Boyer, was about "the disparity between the mythic past inscribed in popular memory and the past that is the raw material of historical scholarship."
This round of history wars, conclude the writers in this excellent collection, was won by the myth-makers.
“In their illuminating explorations of contemporary American struggles with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, these essays contribute to much-needed nuclear-age wisdom.” Robert Jay Lifton
“Informative and compelling.” Eric Foner
“A stimulating and revelatory work.” Studs Terkel
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Read an Excerpt
ANATOMY OF A CONTROVERSY
EDWARD T. LINENTHAL
When, in the fall of 1993, Martin Harwit, director of the National Air and Space Museum (NASM), asked me to serve on an advisory committee for that museum's upcoming Enola Gay exhibit, I was excited. After all, for many years I had studied battles over battlefield memorialization, clashes over "sacred ground." In the late 1980s, I had spent much time with National Park Service personnel as they struggled to transform the Little Bighorn battlefield from a shrine to George A. Custer and the Seventh Cavalry into a historic site where differentoften clashingstories could be told. There, I had first heard curatorial decisions attacked and derided as "politically correct history," and as a craven caving in to "special interests"; but there, too, I had watched as a complex interpretation of a mythic American event had successfully supplanted an enduring "first take."
In the early 1990s, I studied the National Park Service's preparations for the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of World War II at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. Watching members of the Park Serviceand Pearl Harbor survivorsgrapple with such a seemingly simple matter as whether a Japanese airman's uniform should be displayed (in an attempt to give a "human dimension" to the former enemy), I came to a fuller appreciation of the inevitable tension between a commemorative voice"I was there, I know because I saw and felt what happened"and a historical one that speaks of complicated motivesand of actions and consequences often hardly considered at the moment of the event itself.
By the time Martin Harwit called me, I had published a book on the problems of memorializing American battlefields, from Lexington and Concord to Pearl Harbor, and had for more than a year been observing from within the volatile creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In addition, as a historian I was aware of how uneasily the atomic bombing of Hiroshima rested in the American consciousness. Nonetheless, nothing in my experience with memorial exhibits prepared me for what happened when the National Air and Space Museum tried to mount its Enola Gay exhibit to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II.
I certainly imagined that such a show would raise difficulties for the museumproblems between the commemorative and historical voices, between a reverently held story and its later reappraisal. But I expected, as had happened elsewhere, that the museum would overcome them and that a historically significant Enola Gay exhibit would open in 1995. In fact, I felt remarkably sanguine about the problems or issues that might arise, and the record of the advice my colleagues on the committee and I offered the museum during its early script preparations indicates how little any of us foresaw what lay in the museum's path. So the following reconstruction of the ugly controversy that doomed the exhibition is meant not just as a record of the failures and errors of others, but also of what I proved incapable of imagining as events began to unfold.
There is probably no better place to start that reconstruction than with a simple fact that was largely ignored while the controversy was under way. Although uneasiness about the Enola Gay and its mission would often be called a product of a disaffected Vietnam generation, left-wing historians, or the politically correct, its roots are half a century old. In the spring and summer of 1945, for example, the American press engaged in lively debate over alternatives to unconditional Japanese surrender. There was vigorous disagreement among Manhattan Project scientists who made the atomic bomb about the wisdom of the decision to use it, andafter the war's end, there was strong criticism of its use from many prominent Protestant and Catholic spokespeople.
Influential conservative voices also criticized the decision. In 1948, Henry Luce, the founder of Time, wrote, "If instead of our doctrine of 'unconditional surrender,' we had all along made our conditions clear, I have little doubt that the war with Japan would have ended no later than it didwithout the bomb explosion that so jarred the Christian conscience." Similar criticism was voiced by Hanson Baldwin, military affairs correspondent for the New York Times, David Lawrence, editor of United States News, and various conservative journals. For example, writing in William F. Buckley's National Review in May 1958, Harry Elmer Barnes argued that "the tens of thousands of Japanese who were roasted at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were sacrificed not to end the war or save American and Japanese lives but to strengthen American diplomacy vis-a-vis Russia." Within a few years, note media critics Uday Mohan and Sanho Tree, "this iconoclastic position taken in the conservative National Review would be labeled as 'left-wing revisionism' and would remain thus to this day."1
Artifact: The Uncomfortable Presence of the Enola Gay
Enduring uneasiness with the use of atomic weapons was also expressed in an enduring lack of enthusiasm for displaying the Enola Gay. After its mission, the plane returned to Tinian. On November 6, 1945, it was flown to Roswell Air Force Base, New Mexico. "After some modifications," a National Air and Space Museum report notes, it was flown back to the Pacific for Operation Crossroads, a test in the Marshall Islands "to determine the effects of atomic weapons on naval ships." However, the Enola Gay did not take part, because of engine problems. On July 2, 1946, it was stored at Davis Monthan Army Air Force Base, Arizona. 2
Several months earlier, on March 5, 1946, New Mexico senatorCarl Hatch had drafted a bill to house the Enola Gay in an "Atomic Bomb National Monument" at Alamogordo, New Mexico, under the stewardship of the National Park Service. The site, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes wrote Robert Patterson, secretary of war, was appropriate for the Enola Gay because of its "links with Hiroshima" and because it "vividly demonstrates the ease with which atomic power could again be devoted to the destructiveness of war." Hillary A. Tolson, the acting director of the National Park Service, sought to assuage critics by stating that the use of atomic weapons would be "interpreted impartially without praise or blame ... . Doubtless," he added, "the airplane would be a grim reminder of the destructive potentialities of this new power, but we hope to emphasize in contrast to it the medical and other constructive gains which atomic energy makes possible." The hope, said Tolsonclearly interested in portraying the "sunny side" of atomic energywas that atomic power would in the future be used only for "peaceful ends." While the War Department soon agreed to transfer the Enola Gay to the National Park Service's care, Hatch's plan was never carried out, partly because the Atomic Energy Commission objected to it.3
On July 3, 1949, Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., the pilot for the Hiroshima mission, flew the Enola Gay to Park Ridge, Illinoisa facility that would eventually become O'Hare International Airportwhere it was put under the jurisdiction of the Smithsonian's National Air Museum (the word Space would be added to its name in 1966). At the acceptance ceremony, a Smithsonian representative, delivering a speech written by head curator Paul Garber, called attention to the plane's "majesty." When the aircraft had "laid its egg, the Atomic Age was born." It would now rest in the nation's "Valhalla of the Air."4
On December 2, 1953, the plane moved to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where it sat outside for seven years. In 1956, a journalist lamented that vandals had damaged the aircraft, and that "today, the once bright aluminum exterior is dull. The propellers are rusting, windows have been broken out, instruments smashed and the control surface fabric torn." Between August 10,1960, and July 21, 1961, the Enola Gay was disassembled and its components moved to the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration and Storage Facility for the Smithsonian's National Air Museum in Suitland, Maryland.
The Enola Gay was not entirely forgotten, however. Beginning in 1961, visitors could make appointments to see the plane's components, and in 1971, these became part of the Garber facility's daily tours. Still, a Washington Post reporter noted in 1979 that compared with the proud display of so many aircraft at the National Air and Space Museum on the Washington Mall, the Enola Gay sat "disassembled and virtually forgotten ... in a suburban Maryland warehouse," for all practical purposes, hidden from sight. "Out of sight, out of mind" suited some members of the museum's staff, who in 1960 thought the plane would be "out of place alongside objects intended to engender pride." The matter seemed moot when budgetary concerns forced the Smithsonian to drastically scale back the size of the museum's new buildingwhich would finally open on July 1, 1976a decision that "effectively excluded the 'Enola Gay.'"5
Uneasiness with any future relocation of the Enola Gay was evident in congressional hearings on the Smithsonian in 1970. Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, an air force enthusiast who had been an Army Air Forces pilot during World War II, stated that "what we are interested in here [for the museum] is the truly historic aircraft. I wouldn't consider the one that dropped the bomb on Japan as belonging to that category." Congressman Frank Thompson agreed: "I don't think we should be proud of [the use of atomic weapons] as a nation. At least it would offend me to see it exhibited in the museum." The museum's acting director, Frank Taylor, defended the possible display of the Enola Gay only by claiming it would be of interest to "students in the future."6
During the early 1980s, a few B-29 veterans urged the museum to restore and display the Enola Gay. Others believed that the only solution was to move the aircraft to a different museum. In 1981, Ohio state auditor Thomas A. Ferguson led a move to bringthe Enola Gay to the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. The Smithsonian, he thought, had buried an essential American artifact. "To me, storing the Enola Gay for thirty-four years is akin to mothballing the Statue of Liberty or the first space capsule that landed on the moon."7
Sensitive to such criticism, the Smithsonian finally did begin restoration work on the Enola Gay on December 5, 1984. "Components were returned to their original colors and appearance, decals were replaced and the instrument panels and throttle area were restored ... . Plans are to retain only those markings that were on the airplane in August 1945." Although restoration only exacerbated the museum's ambivalence about the plane's eventual display, there would be a new drive to exhibit it in some fashion when Martin Harwit, a distinguished Cornell astrophysicist, became the museum's new director in 1987. His predecessor, Walter Boyne, a retired career air force officer, had opposed plans to display the Enola Gay because, he felt, the public did not have an "adequate understanding with which to view it." Even before accepting the job, however, Harwit had indicated to Smithsonian secretary Robert McCormick Adams that he was in favor of displaying the plane.8
Born in Czechoslovakia, Harwit brought with him vivid personal memories of the horrors of World War II. "There is just no question that this had a very big impact on the family. My father was counting up recently how many people had died in concentration camps. I think on his side of the family alone there were twelve." His fatherdismissed from the German university in Prague in 1938took the family to Istanbul, where he was a professor on the medical faculty at the University of Istanbul. Harwit remembered vividly the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "I think everybody was glad the war was over within a few days ... . I don't think at the time there was really much of a feeling of outrage. Don't forget that people had been worried about their kids getting killed off in the war. Lots of them had boys over there, and everybody was relieved that was over with."9
Harwitwho became an American citizen in 1953wasdrafted into the army and eventually went to the Pacific atolls of Eniwetok and Bikini to monitor nuclear tests. "The most impressive time I remember was when there was a hydrogen bomb blast very close to where we had put out the neutron monitors on a little island in the atoll chain. There was lush vegetation, a Japanese Betty plane was there, left over from World War II ... . We went back afterwards by helicopter. There was a huge hole in the bottom of the atoll. Part of the island was missing, about half of it, no vegetation, just rubble, no Betty, no neutron counters."10
Under his leadership, he hoped that the museum could take up questions "that are under public debate." He wondered, for example, whether the museum could explore the controversy over Ronald Reagan's proposed Strategic Defense Initiative by considering "what we can expect technically from it ... . What the investment in terms of dollars would be, and how long it would take to do, and whether the cost of constructing a [space] shield [against ballistic missiles] could be undermined by an adversary trying to circumvent it." He also believed that the public needed to be reminded of the dangers of warfare in the nuclear age. NASM could become a kind of public conscience. "I think we just can't afford to make war a heroic event where people could prove their manliness and then come home to woo the fair damsel."11
During Harwit's first year as director, veterans, who had formed the Committee for the Restoration and Proud Display of the Enola Gay to help raise funds for the restoration, accused the museum of delaying exhibition plans for fear of offending the Japanese. Responding in part to such accusations, museum staff members began to consider displaying the restored fuselage at the Garber facility, along with a film about the aircraft, its role in the bombing, its postwar history, and the process of its restoration. In July 1988, Secretary Adams envisioned an exhibit that contained "some account of what happened at Hiroshimathen and afterward. Probably the somewhat doubtful overall effectiveness of earlier and subsequent non-nuclear bombingin Germany during World War II, and in Vietnamalso should be looked at, to provide a comparative perspective." Adams thought such a showwould "cause us to reflect on how much of the extraordinary human achievement of ascending so far, and so abruptly, from the Earth has been funded and energized by the general scramble for superiority in ways of killing one another." The next month, writing in the museum's magazine Air and Space, Harwit remarked on the strong emotions engendered by the aircraft, adding that "the Enola Gay will be displayed in a setting that will recall the history of strategic bombing in World War II."12
Harwit had created the Research Advisory Committee, and the question of the Enola Gay's display arose at one of its meetings in late October 1988. A majority of the committee members endorsed the museum's idea. While the act was "repugnant in retrospect," they declared, it was of "great importance." The sight of the aircraft would "emphasize the horrible devastation wrought by even so comparatively primitive a bombing capability." It would be displayed, they thought, at a proposed new NASM facility at Dulles Airport, for it must not have a "disproportionate presence on the Mall." The exhibit's message would be that "strategic bombing with nuclear weapons is too horrible an escalation of past warfare for any civilized society to contemplate."13
Admiral Noel Gayler, U.S. Navy (retired), who had been commander in chief of the Pacific Command, was, however, one committee member "staunch in his opposition" to the idea. There was nothing of unusual aeronautical interest about the Enola Gay, he thought, and the attack, "however much it may be justified in the aftermath as military necessityincorrectlywas nonetheless genocide." He worried that no matter how sober the exhibit, "the impression cannot be avoided that we are celebrating the first and so far the only use of nuclear weapons against human beings." "Compared to the heroism of the bomber crews who went back again and again into flak," Gayler said, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki missions were "milk runs." Some committee members objected to Gayler's use of the term genocide; one offered a reminder that the goal of the attack was to bring the war to an end, and that "subsequent U.S. contributions to Japan's postwar recovery have led to a remarkable era of prosperity." The committee then decidedto proceed with "great caution" and agreed that a symposium on strategic bombing would be a good way to begin exploring the history of strategic bombing.14
It was already clear, however, that the celebratory nature of the museum would be challenged by an exhibit on strategic bombing that, according to Steven Soter, special assistant to the director, was to "deal honestly and forthrightly with what might be called the dark side of aviation." With the fully restored Enola Gay as its centerpiece, the exhibit would call attention to the controversial nature of strategic bombing in World War II, when "the deliberate targeting of civilian populations became an acceptable practice, culminating in the atomic bombing of Japan, and opening the way to postwar strategic nuclear arsenals and deterrence by threat of mutual assured destruction." The Enola Gay, explained Soter, would not be displayed in the Mall museum, largely because the "appropriate mood to be evoked by the strategic bombing exhibit surrounding this airplane would clash with the predominantly soaring spirit of aviation which dominates the large open spaces of the main galleries." The main museum would only have some artifacts from the aircraft, including the bomb rack and casing.15
In 1990, as planning began in earnest, Tom Crouch, chairman of the museum's Aeronautics Department, reported to Martin Harwit that the planning group had discounted a special structure on the Mailan option reportedly favored by Harwitbecause of its cost (up to six million dollars) and potentially heavy security demands. The group preferred to display the Enola Gay at the Garber facility in the context of a special exhibit commemorating the end of World War II. Parts of this exhibit could then be incorporated into a traveling Smithsonian show that would "draw national and international attention to our museum and would avoid the impression that we are only 'celebrating' Hiroshima and Nagasakia very real possibility if the Enola Gay becomes the centerpiece of an exhibition on the Mall."16
The Enola Gay was to play an important part in the museum's ongoing investigation of what Secretary Adams called "the interrelationshipbetween aerospace technology and modern warfare." So, too, would a new exhibit the museum opened in November 1991, "Legend, Memory, and the Great War in the Air." According to Tom Crouch, its purpose was to contrast the "myths and misconceptions that have grown up around [World War I] with the reality of life and death in the air, 1914-1918." Soon after, Martin Harwit informed Secretary Adams that historian Michael Neufelda curator at the museumwould direct a follow-up exhibit on airpower in World War II, and that its "final installment" would be the exhibition of the Enola Gay. Yet the plane's location within early exhibit plans was still in question. Some of the museum's staff were fearful that too much visual emphasis on the gleaming technological marvel that was the B-29 would, inevitably, lead to uncritical adulation and undermine the purpose of the exhibit. Neufeld had already suggested to both Harwit and Crouch that while the aircraft should be the "centerpiece" of the exhibit, great pains should be taken to ensure that the exhibit not be celebratory. "Through the use of proper lighting, sound insulation, black-and-white photographs, artifacts from the mission and Hiroshima, and a restrained text, a quiet and contemplative mood will be established in the exhibit. The morality of the bombing will be addressed in particular in the section on the decision to drop the bomb. The exhibit will not attempt to impose any particular point of view, but will give visitors enough information to form their own views of a decision that to this day remains controversial." Only after moving through the exhibit would visitors come to the aircraft, which would be surrounded by "giant black and white photographs of Hiroshima after the attack."17
Throughout this period, Harwit was certainly aware of the exhibit's potential for controversy. It needed to be prepared, he wrote, with the "greatest care and the forging of a strong consensus." He spoke encouragingly of support already received from B-29 veterans for the restoration process, of the assistance of the liberal John T. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation in funding the strategic bombing symposium, and of positive discussions held with museum officials in Hiroshima about the possible loanof artifacts. He hoped as well that the Boeing Corporation, which had designed the B-29, would offer support. In a letter to former senator Mike Mansfield, special adviser to the Japan Foundation and former ambassador to Japan, Harwit expressed his hopes that the exhibit could offer a partial resolution of the "unarticulated issues" that had long haunted Japanese-American relations, and that it could make August 6traditionary a day of "protest and recrimination"into a day for reflection. "Without the most careful preparations," he said, "the display of the Enola Gay would arouse widespread anger among many groups." Harwit called attention to the potentially "serious problem" of seeming to stage a "U.S. celebration," and said that the museum had tried to "allay fears, by seeking to mount an exhibition sponsored both by the Japanese and the United States."18
At a December 1991 meeting of the Air and Space advisory board, members noted their uneasiness about the exhibit. They urged the museum to avoid discussion of the controversy about the decision to drop the bomb, and wondered whether an armed services museum might be a more appropriate place for the exhibit. They were, however, "unanimous in agreeing that the Enola Gay is an artifact of pivotal significance and that it should be exhibited."19
Over the next year, the show's focus shifted from strategic bombing to the use of atomic weapons and the opening of the nuclear age. By early 1993, a number of titles that reflected this change in emphasis were being considered: "Whirlwind: The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II," "The Long Shadow," "Ground Zero," "Little Boy and Fat Man," among others. Eventually selected was "The Crossroads: The End of World War II, the Atomic Bomb, and the Origins of the Cold War."
Well before public controversy about the exhibit erupted, some B-29 veterans were privately expressing anger over the possibility that the Enola Gay would be part of an exhibit examining the controversy over the use of atomic weapons. In a letter to Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, ex officio chairman of the Smithsonian Board of Regents, B-29 veteran W. BurrBennett, Jr., complained about the exhibit proposal, the museum's failure to care properly for the aircraft, and the strategic bombing symposium. He informed Rehnquist that he and four other veterans had collected eight thousand signatures calling for the "proper display of the Enola Gay." It was "an insult to every soldier, sailor, marine and airman who fought in the war against Japan, or who were on their way to the invasion, to defame this famous plane by using it as the center piece of a negative exhibit on strategic bombing." Bennett made what would soon become a popular argument, stating that the museum was not living up to its mission, as set forth in Smithsonian legislation originally written for a proposed National Armed Forces Museum, but applying, in his view, to the National Air and Space Museum as well. According to this statute, "The valor and sacrificial service of the men and women of the Armed Forces shall be portrayed [by the museum] as an inspiration to the present and future generations of America."20
Even in 1993, it was evident that any exhibit that included the Enola Gay faced daunting interpretive issues unless it simply displayed the aircraft with minimal commentary. For several reasons, NASM did not choose to do that. Ironically, the motivation to display the Enola Gayand to do so in an elaborate exhibitcame not from the Smithsonian's top managers or congressional leaders, those men of the World War II generation who might have seemed the most likely candidates to push for the display of the aircraft often credited with bringing the war to an end. As a group, they continued to show no great desire to display the aircraft. Rather, the impetus came from Martin Harwit and a new group of museum curatorsmainly members of the postwar generationwho understood the power of the plane and the diverse stories connected with it. Sensitive to criticism that for too long their museum had merely been a showcase for aircraft, they now wanted to place their artifacts in historical context.
Artifacts like the Enola Gay, however, tend to establish a "commemorative membrane" around exhibit space within which the language of commemorative respect is often expected to dominate.For many NASM visitors, the Enola Gay could not help but transform exhibit space into commemorative space, where unambiguous narratives recalling the sacrifices of Americans at war could be expected to prevail, especially on the fiftieth anniversary of the war's end. Consequently, when it was decided that the proposed exhibit would focus on the difficult story of the bomb as both savior and destroyer, some people saw this as an offense to the heroic memory of the war and reacted as follows: they insisted that any ambiguous feelings about the mission of the Enola Gay were rooted in the subversive cultural impulses of the post-Vietnam leftlocated mainly in academia and among museum curators; they wanted to remove the aircraft lest it be symbolically soiled; they wished to punish those responsible both for the exhibit and for altering the celebratory nature of the National Air and Space Museum; and they desired to expunge the exhibit script of anything that might faintly offend American commemorative sensibilities.21
NASM: Temple, Forum, Tribunal
On August 12, 1946, President Harry Truman signed Public Law 722, creating the National Air Museum, whose purpose was "to memorialize the national development of aviation; collect, preserve, and display aeronautical equipment of historical interest and significance; serve as repository for scientific equipment and data pertaining to the development of aviation; and provide educational material for the historical study of aviation." The museum was born out of the desire of both the commanding general of the U.S. Army Air Forces, Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, and Congressman Jennings Randolph to create one central air museum to display "pioneering aircraft." Its most important objectsthe Wright Flyer and the Spirit of St. Louis, for examplewere initially housed in the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries Building. Head curator Paul Garber and a small staff ran the new museum.By 1962, over two million people a year were flocking to see its aircraft, especially its latest addition, the Mercury space capsule Freedom 7, in which American astronaut John Glenn orbited the earth. The next year Congress began deliberations on a new building to house the museum.22
Besides being an aeronautical showcase, the new museum became a showcase for the aerospace industry and the military. When the navy and NASA wanted to get their stories on the Mallthrough exhibits on the Navy Vanguard and the NASA Scout, for example"they would do the exhibits and we would be the passive receptacle for them," recalled one NASM curator. The story of flight told in the museum was one of progress, of human achievement, of awe in the face of the remarkableand often beautifultechnology that had allowed humankind to reach into space. The museum was a place designed to fire the imagination of visitors, to instill pride in the unmistakable triumph of American technology. Stanford historian of technology Joseph J. Corn noted that its "Milestones of Flight" gallery suggested that the "history of flying machines is simply a path, always headed in the same direction, along which clear milestones of progress may be discerned." Without any context, the artifacts became, according to Corn, "veritable icons" that the museum unabashedly celebrated "without raising any historical questions about their significance, let alone about the many antecedent failures and successes that made them possible."23
By the time Martin Harwit became director, a number of museums at the Smithsonian Institution had become places that did more than simply showcase curiosities or display beautiful artifacts. Many of their curators had become convinced that museums could "play a role in reflecting and mediating the claims of various groups, and perhaps help construct a new idea of ourselves as a nation." They had also been inspired by a heightened commitment among history museums around the nation to offer alternative readings of American history and to give voice to groups that had been silenced, or forgotten by traditional museum exhibitions. As a result, some Smithsonian museums began to organizeprovocative and controversial exhibits: in the National Museum of American Art, "The West as America: Reinterpreting Images of the Frontier, 1820-1920" called into question the heroic myth of the American frontier and raised questions about the relationship between art and politics; in the National Museum of American History, "A More Perfect Union" dealt with the internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II; "From Field to Factory," with African-American migration to the North; and "Science in American Life," with the promise and perils of science.24
In this atmosphere, NASM curators became ever more acutely aware of the need to change their institution from a temple to a forum where new and timely exhibits would seek to engage visitors in serious matterslike strategic bombingin order to enrich civic culture. Martin Harwit saw some of the museum's provocative new exhibits as "trial balloons" for such a shift, and their success convinced him that the public was, in fact, ready to engage an exhibit that dealt with the dropping of the bomb and the end of the war. He took heart from the lack of opposition to the new interpretive labels and photographs for "Hitler's weapon," the museum's V-2 rocket, three thousand of which were launched against Britain, Belgium, and France in 1944 and 1945. Curator and historian David DeVorkin had long planned to build a "V-2 science mini-exhibit" that would focus as well on the Viking and the WAC Corporal, "American substitutes for the V-2" in the postwar U.S. rocket program In 1990, Harwit approved a smaller version of DeVorkin's project, focusing only on the V-2 itself.25
The old exhibit had been a "temple" exhibit, ignoring the deaths of concentration camp inmates forced by the Nazis to build the rockets and of Allied civilians killed in V-2 attacks. The new V-2 labels and photographs provided a strikingly different interpretive framework. They spoke of the thousands of deaths among forced laborers and informed viewers that the attacks had killed approximately seven thousand people "and terrorized millions." Such sobering numbers were accompanied by a photographof a dead civilian in Antwerp, "the first body shown in the museum," noted Martin Harwit, and a discomfiting photograph of Wernher von Braunthe creator of the V-2 and subsequently an important figure in the U.S. space programchatting with Wehrmacht officers. The new exhibit was widely praised. The Washington Post hailed it as a "rare breakthrough" in "truth in labeling."26
Another successful "trial balloon" was the 1991 "Legends, Memory, and the Great War in the Air" exhibit. This, too, was greeted with admiration in the Washington Post"a dose of reality such as has never before been seen in the Smithsonian's geewhiz high-tech museum." The old World War I gallery, as Tom Crouch put it, had expressed the "spirit of romance that surrounds our memories of World War I aviation ... one that reinforced the fantasy vision that many visitors brought with them of World War I in the air as a series of single combats fought mano-a-mano, high above the squalor of the trenches." Visitors to that show had seen a re-creation of part of an American airfield in France, with "sandbags, duckboards, and simulated mud providing a sense of time and place." Parked nearby was a German Fokker D.VII, and "visitors could overhear the conversation inside as U.S. intelligence officers interrogated the defecting German pilot." Hung overhead were several aircraft, including a SPAD XIII. Visitors then viewed exhibit cases "containing the uniforms and memorabilia of the great aces, whose names and faces were continually flashed on a screen at the exit." The old exhibit was, Crouch said, "a visual triumph ... a jewel box, a stage setting in which the principal artifactsthe airplanescould be displayed to best advantage."27
The new exhibit was designed to speak to visitors on a number of other levels as well. Crouch noted that although a "welldesigned jewel box may help visitors appreciate the beauty of the Hope Diamond, it is not a very satisfactory way to communicate the meaning and importance of a complex social and technological artifact like a World War I airplane." In the new exhibit, airplane aficionados could find more aircraft than in the old one,an introduction to the wartime evolution of flight technology, and an examination of how the romantic mythology of air war could "cloud the reality of the historical experience in a remarkably short time."28
Harwit considered the fifteen-month-long strategic bombing symposium a success as well and was impressed with the fact that there was no public controversy over a four-minute video program set up at the entrance to the museum's permanent World War II exhibit that talked about the Enola Gay restoration program and included vivid evidence of the destructive power of the Hiroshima attack.
But there were undercurrents of discomfort with the National Air and Space Museum as forum, and some negative reactions to the World War I exhibit. When the Enola Gay controversy finally burst into the public arena, these feelings rose to the surface as well. For instance, John T. Correll, editor of Air Force Magazine, then described the exhibit as a "strident attack on airpower in World War I," with military aircraft characterized as an "instrument of death." In a letter to Tom Crouch on April 15, 1994, he argued that "in deploring the 'long shadow' that you say airpower has cast on the world for 75 years, you overlook the many contributions of military aviation to the defense of the nation and its interests. Your concept has little room for airpower's role in the deterrence of war and aggression." The editors of the Wall Street Journal characterized the exhibit as a "sneering look at aerial combat in World War I" and claimed that a weak Smithsonian administration allowed "revisionist social scientists," who had "overrun many university humanities programs," to work as Smithsonian curators.29
Long before any such criticism became public, before a draft script for an Enola Gay show even existed, some of the future critics of the National Air and Space Museum were already beginning to dream of a time when the museum would return to a style of exhibition making in which "facts" would be promoted instead of "interpretation." In the past, exhibits had supposedly allowed artifacts to "speak for themselves," and museum labels, wrote theSmithsonian's director of American studies, Wilcomb E. Washburn, "identified particular objects and their use, without engaging in extensive interpretation or speculation about their larger meaning."30
The notion that once upon a time there were "neutral" museum exhibits or artifacts that "spoke for themselves" is, of course, illusory. "Agendas" and "points of view" have always been embedded in exhibits, even those that appeared authoritatively neutral and "objective." As museum critic Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett has argued, every exhibit takes a position, has a "point of view," which becomes evident when one asks, "Why are some objects in museums of natural history and other objects in art museums and art galleries? ... How are the exhibitions arranged? ... The fact of the matter is those old style exhibitions were not randomthey were not simply filled with lovely things to look at ... . They were full of points of view, full of messagesfull of interpretation."31
NASM's old V-2 exhibit was full of not just "facts"information about rocket technology and its place in the evolution of rocketrybut choices, for it ignored information that would have given viewers a fuller but less upbeat "biography" of the rocket. The installation of new labels and photographs meant a change of interpretive perspective, not a change from a fact-filled exhibit to one with an agenda. The museum had simply decided that the human cost associated with building the V-2, its role as a weapon of terror, the thousands of deaths it caused, and the ease with which Nazi scientists later became American heroes were more important facts than those related to the rocket's technological development, although these by no means disappeared. What, after all, would a museum curator have said to a survivor of a camp that produced the V-2, or a descendant of someone who died in one of the camps, about the facts if the old labels had endured? Clearly, this artifact did not "speak for itself": there were many ways of telling the story of the V-2. NASM consciously jettisoned the technologically celebratory, believing that a more important story was being ignored.
The new World War I show also had a "point of view." It did indeed portray the evolution of war in the air from its genesis in World War I into the nuclear age as a shadow growing ever longer and darker. The exhibit catalog informed readers that "the atomic bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended World War II, marked the dawning of the nuclear age, and represented the maturation of the strategic bomber as a weapon of total war." The exhibit certainly expressed a view of strategic bombing at odds with that of several important museum constituencies: the United States Air Force, the lobbying group the Air Force Association, and the aerospace industry. But what critics from these constituencies had refused to see, argued Richard H. Kohn, former chief of air force history and chair of the museum's advisory committee on research and collections management, was that the World War I exhibit was not hostile to airpower but presented the war "realistically" and explained "aviation's role in it." Airplanes, Kohn pointed out, had indeed been "instruments of death" in the war, and to ignore that fact was to "forfeit the opportunity to present balanced and realistic history." Kohn noted that by implication, critics advocated "a certain political use of the museum: to downplay war's reality and to glorify military aviation."32
Like "The Great War in the Air," "Crossroads" would soon be criticized as an exhibit that moved beyond the museum-as-forum to the museum-as-tribunal, where airpower, far from being celebrated, was "on trial" as a threat to human existence. "Crossroads" would question the decision to drop the bomb and call into question both the wisdom of and the necessity of its use, partially by focusing in graphic detail on Japanese victims of the bomb. The exhibit script would become a lightning rod in a bitter contest over the relationship between memory and history, as well as between celebratory and critical stances toward the American experience generally.
Script: Irreconcilable Narratives
"There are," University of Chicago historian Peter Novick informed a National Public Radio audience in January 1995, "all sorts of different, alternative, and legitimate ways of framing the story of Hiroshima. You can frame it as the veterans appear to want, as the culmination of America's response to unprovoked Japanese aggression. You can frame it as a chapter in the history of white atrocities against nonwhites, as an episode in the escalating barbarization of warfare in the twentieth century. You could talk about it as the opening of the terrifying age of potential nuclear devastation." There is, Novick argued, no one "truth" about Hiroshima. While truth may apply to straightforward matters of factPaul Tibbets flew the Enola Gay, the city of Hiroshima was destroyed by an atomic bombhistorical accounts are always, in Novick's words, "radically selective narrativizations of events."33
The curators who wrote the museum's first script chose to emphasize the darker narrative of atomic destruction and fear. This meant that atomic weapons had to be placed in the context of the evolution of a war in which racial hatred on both sides had reached a feverish pitch. In this narrative, the Pacific war was largely a backdrop for the "freezing" of an epochal, horrific event, which the museum considered worthy of intense examination (much as the nearby United States Holocaust Memorial Museum had "frozen" the Holocaust against the backdrop of war in Europe). In their proposed exhibit, the war was but prelude to the use of the bomb, which drew back a curtain on a new age, revealing Japanese who were not so much the last civilian victims of World War II as the first victims of the nuclear age. The commemorative message of this narrative was, in the words of a July 1993 exhibition planning document, embodied in "one common wish: that nuclear weapons never be used in anger again."34
Organizing the script in this manner was anathema to those who expected that the exhibition would linger on the barbarism of Japan at war as well as on the bloody road to victory as an appropriateway to pay respects to America's war dead in the fiftieth anniversary year. For them, the exhibit's "emotional center" should have been the suffering of U.S. troops inexorably fighting their way across the Pacific until the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought the war that had begun at Pearl Harbor to a merciful end. The commemorative message of the narrative, then, should have been "remember what we did and the sacrifices that were made."
The museum's script, more than three hundred pages of text and illustrations divided into five sections, was completed on January 12, 1994. Its first section, "A Fight to the Finish," began with photos of cheering crowds in London, Paris, Moscow, and New York and of recently liberated prisoners from Dachau celebrating the end of the war in Europe, and of American soldiers shaking hands with their Russian allies at the Elbe River. The Allies had "won total victory in a just cause," the text read, "but the war was not over. In the Pacific, the battle with Japan was becoming increasingly bitter. Allied losses continued to mount. It seemed quite possible that the fighting could go on into 1946." Early on, the script also noted that "to this day, controversy has raged about whether dropping [the atomic bomb] on Japan was necessary to end the war quickly."
The opening text also informed readers that "Japanese expansionism was marked by naked aggression and extreme brutality. The slaughter of tens of thousands of Chinese in Nanking in 1937 shocked the world. Atrocities by Japanese troops included brutal mistreatment of civilians, forced laborers and prisoners of war, and biological experiments on human victims." Immediately following were words that would be used as weapons by exhibit critics long after they had been removed from subsequent drafts of the script: "For most Americans, this war was fundamentally different than the one waged against Germany and Italyit was a war of vengeance. For most Japanese, it was a war to defend their unique culture against Western imperialism." What followed was a sober statement about the tenacity of Japanese resistance in the last bloody months of war; they kept fighting out of fear that "unconditionalsurrender would mean the annihilation of their culture." For the Allies, the script noted, "the suicidal resistance of the Japanese military justified the harshest possible measures. The appalling casualties suffered by both sides seemed to foreshadow what could be expected during an invasion of Japan. Allied victory was assured, but its final cost in lives remained disturbingly uncertain."
The script's first section then set the context for the story of the dropping of the bomb. It spoke of the horror of island fighting on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, of kamikaze attacksdramatized by the display of a Japanese Okha piloted bombof the firebombing of Japanese cities, and of the racial antipathy that had produced "virulent hatred on both sides."
The second section of the script, "The Decision to Drop the Bomb," detailed the history of the building of the bomb, including a display of Albert Einstein's famous letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Dated August 2, 1939, the letter warned of the potential for using "chain reactions for the construction of extremely powerful bombs" and urged that "some contact be established between the Administration and the group of physicists who are working on the subject."
The text then turned to the factors involved in the decision to use the weapon, declaringall too definitively for somethat "alternatives for ending the Pacific War other than an invasion or atomic-bombing were available, but are more obvious in hindsight than they were at the time." The script also raised a series of questions, each of which encapsulated long-standing historical controversy: "Would the bomb have been dropped on the Germans?" ("President Roosevelt would have used the bomb on Germany if such an attack would have been useful in the European war.") Did the United States ignore Japanese peace initiatives? ("The United States should have paid closer attention to these signals from Japan ... . This matter will remain forever speculative and controversial.") Would the war have ended sooner "if the United States had guaranteed the Emperor's position?" (In this there might have been a "lost opportunity.") Significant spacewas also devoted to a discussion of the "Soviet factor." Most scholars "believe that Truman and his advisers saw the bomb first and foremost as a way to shorten the war ... . Still, virtually all now agree that the bomb's usefulness for 'atomic diplomacy' against the Soviets provided one more reason for Truman not to halt the dropping of the bomb."
Postwar objections to the use of the bomb by military figures like General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Admiral William D. Leahy were highlighted. The text asked whether a warning or demonstration of the bomb's power might have led to surrender and whether an invasion [of Japan] would have been "inevitable if the atomic bomb had not been dropped." The popularly held belief that an invasion would have resulted in half a million casualties or more was ruled improbable.
The script's third and largest section was entitled "Delivering the Bomb." Here, visitors were to encounter the Enola Gay itself, as well as a casing from a uranium atomic bomb, and learn about the creation of the B-29 "Superfortress," its role in the war, and the organizational genius of Colonel Paul Tibbets, the man put in charge of creating and commanding the almost two-thousandman 509th Composite Group for the atomic missions. Tibbets offered "more than his stellar service record ... . An innovator, he took on a project with an underdeveloped airplane and an undeveloped bomb and successfully executed it." Many individual and unit photographs of the men of the 509th were to be included, and their training from Wendover air base in Utah to Tinian Island carefully detailed. The postwar history of the Enola Gay and the Smithsonian's restoration process were noted, and a detailed examination of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki from the perspective of the pilots and crews of the 509th was offered. Tibbets was described as receiving a "Hero's Return" from his mission and shown being awarded a Distinguished Service Cross from General Carl Spaatz after he landed.
The fourth section, "Ground Zero," was meant to jar visitors out of the cockpits of American B-29s and into the horror of the bombing itself. The museum hoped to use numerous artifacts inthis section to personalize and dramatize the story on the ground: the dial of a wristwatch retrieved from the Motoyasu River in Hiroshima marking the exact time of the explosion, a schoolchild's uniform, coins and bottles fused from the heat, a halfdestroyed image of the Buddha, a fused rosary from Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki, hairpins, infant garments, and the lunch box of a schoolgirl. There were horrific photographs of the dead, dying, wounded, and those still suffering from radiation sickness. The text allowed A-bomb survivors to offer their own graphic depictions of the horror and misery that engulfed them.
The final section, "The Legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki," used only twenty-four pages to deal with the role of the bombings in the eventual surrender of Japan, reminding readers that "even the news of the Nagasaki bombing did not change the situation" for hard-liners in the Japanese military ready to fight on. The script then touched on the beginning of the Cold War and the nuclear arms race, the failure to establish international atomic controls, the rise of an antinuclear movement, the creation of the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), and the enduring dilemmas of nuclear waste, nuclear proliferation, and nuclear terrorism. It concluded: "A half century after the arrival of nuclear weapons in the world and their employment on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the nuclear dilemma has not gone away. Some feel that the only solution is to ban all nuclear weapons. Others think that this idea is unrealistic and that nuclear deterrenceat a much lower levelis the only way that major war can be prevented. One thing is clear, the nuclear 'genie' is out of the bottle and, for the foreseeable future, the human race will not be able to eliminate the knowledge of how to build nuclear weapons. The dilemma is not about to disappear."
As plans for the script first took shape in early 1993a year before a first draft was completedMartin Harwit believed the museum was adequately informing various constituencies about the exhibit's evolution. The planners felt they were taking "great pains" to acquaint various interested parties with the developing project: General Merrill A. McPeak, the air force chief of staff; Lieutenant General Claude M. Kicklighter (retired), the executive director of the Department of Defense's 50th Anniversary of World War II Commemoration Committee; members of several veterans' organizations; the crews of the Enola Gay and Bock's Car (the plane that dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki); museum directors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and the Japanese ambassador to the United States. "With few exceptions," an early planning document stated, "we have been able to address and dispel concerns that the exhibition might present revisionist views on the history of World War II, or moralize on the bombings, or unfairly portray those who fought bravely and risked their lives to defend their country."
In April 1993, Martin Harwit and Tom Crouch spent ten days in Japan trying to obtain on loan a number of iconic artifacts from Japanese museums"objects that tell touching human stories of death and suffering in the wake of the atomic bomb explosion." Harwit met with Takashi Hiraoka, the mayor of Hiroshima, who, according to Harwit, "voiced the strong sentiments of his city that all atomic weapons must be eliminated, and wanted to assure himself that our exhibition would not convey a message contrary to that spirit. I told the mayor that the museum was not in a position to make political statements, so that advocacy of the abolition of all nuclear weapons was not a message we would be presenting." Harwit was, however, willing to consider having the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki contribute videotaped messages that might appear with others at the end of the exhibit. The mayor told him, Harwit recalled, that "he felt Japan owed the U.S.an apology for Pearl Harbor, and that we owed one to Japan for the atomic bombings. Would our exhibit do that? I said that apologies were not as important as trying to learn lessons." Harwit informed the mayor that many of his family had been killed in the Holocaust, and said that "it made more sense to try to see how the holocaust had come about, rather than expecting an apology." Harwit agreed that the script would be sent to the mayor, who would then decide whether to loan the artifacts. Harwit and Crouch also met with Hitoshi Motoshima, mayor of Nagasaki, as well as with Japanese scholars and museum officials. Harwit hoped that since American veterans and the Japanese were reading the same script, the museum would soon reach a point where all constituencies "would be willing to trust us with their support"35
By the summer of 1993, when exhibit proposal drafts were first being written, the curators' greatest frustrations seemed to be coming not from their dealings with angry veterans but from the mixed messages they were receiving from Smithsonian secretary Adams and from Harwit. Adams wrote Harwit, for instance, "I cannot accept, that this will be 'an exhibit about the wartime development of the atomic bomb, the decision to use it against Japan and the aftermath of the bombings.'" It should instead commemorate the end of the war, calling attention to the crucial role of atomic weapons in the Pacific, and their decisive role in "decades of strategic and political thinking and action that followed." The introductory section, he argued, had to mentionin addition to the suffering of bomb victims"prospective American losses if there were to be an invasion." He offered words of praise for the rest of the proposal, although he declared himself "uneasy" that later sections did not present in "adequate depth what were perceived as the horrors experienced by the Americans during all of the island invasions culminating with Okinawa."36
The curators, however, were not convinced that their show had serious problems of balance and context. Crouch complained to Harwit that Adams was "not consistent" in claiming that the planning document was both in "very good shape" and also a "riskto the Smithsonian." Crouch believed that Adams's unhappiness was simply due to the potentially volatile nature of the exhibit. "Any morally responsible exhibition on the atomic bombing of Japan has to include a treatment of the experience of the victims, [which would] certainly upset a lot of visitors." After arguing that various cosmetic changes sought by Adams would transform a "good, powerful, and honest exhibition into a mass of confused messages," Crouch wrote the following words, which would later be quoted repeatedly: "Do you want to do an exhibition intended to make veterans feel good, or do you want an exhibition that will lead our visitors to think about the consequences of the atomic bombing of Japan? Frankly, I don't think we can do both."37
The influential Air Force Association (AFA) first made known its displeasure with the planning document in 1993. A former AFA member, currently an NASM curator, described the group as an "effective lobbying organization representing the views of the Air Force to Congress, other members of the military coalition in the capital, and to the general public." The AFA would deftly organize and lead the battle against the exhibition, bringing the show's plans to its members in the pages of Air Force Magazine, edited by John T. Correll. Its executive director, Monroe W. Hatch, Jr. (U.S. Air Force, retired), wrote Harwit on September 12, 1993, that the planning document "treats Japan and the United States ... as if their participation in the war were morally equivalent. If anything, incredibly, it gives the benefit of opinion to Japan, which was the aggressor ... . Japanese aggression and atrocities seem to have no significant place in this account. Artifacts seem to have been selected for emotional value ... in hammering home a rather hard-line point of view." That November, Hatch and Correll met with Harwit, Crouch, and Neufeld, but there was simply no way to reconcile the exhibit the museum was committed to and the one that the AFA thought appropriate. As Harwit and the curators saw the problem, the Air Force Association, representing an extreme position, sought to ignore the fiftyyear history of controversy surrounding the decision to drop the bomb, to sanitize what had happened under the mushroom cloud,to defend strategic bombing against criticism, and, above all, to protect the heroic image of the air force. From the AFA's perspective, museum representatives seemed to be saying one thingthat they were open to criticism and suggestion, that the exhibit would honor American servicemenwhile doing anotherbasically ignoring their criticisms.38
Certainly, Martin Harwit underestimated the formidable power and determination of the AFA. Two days before Christmas, still optimistic about achieving a rough consensus on the exhibit, he wrote Adams and Undersecretary Constance Newman that "veterans of the Enola Gay's crew ... and Bocks Car's crew ... have come forward with offers of memorabilia, and the two cities' [Hiroshima and Nagasaki] mayors have promised us the loans of artifacts from their respective museums." Furthermore, the air force chief of staff, General McPeak, "seems to be satisfied that we are going in the right direction." Several days later, however, McPeak wrote Harwit that he was concerned about lack of "balance" in the planned show. The script, he said, "should reflect the total context of the war and explain the potential American casualties Truman anticipated if an invasion were required. We're particularly concerned about portraying the American campaign as 'brutal' and highlighting only Japanese suffering."39
The nine-member exhibit advisory committee (of which I was a member), made up of academic and service historians and one combat veteran of the Pacific war, met on February 7, 1994, to discuss and critique the script. Historian Martin Sherwin, author of A World Destroyed: The Atomic Bomb and the Grand Alliance, raised fears that the exhibit might still prove too celebratory in nature. Ways to enliven the section on the decision to drop the bomb were also discussed, but no substantive objections to the structure or tone of the script were made. "The advisory committee did not serve us well," Harwit commented later. "It focused so much on the decision section that it did not help us identify other problem areas." The initial reaction of advisory committee member Edwin C. Bearss, former chief historian of the National Park Service, was typical of the moment. "As a World War II Pacificcombat veteran," he wrote Tom Crouch, "I commend you and your colleagues who have dared to go that extra mile to address an emotionally charged and internationally significant event in an exhibit that, besides enlightening, will challenge its viewers ... . The superior quality of the label texts and of the objects and illustrations identified by the exhibit designers and researchers set a pattern of excellence that all aspire to, but few achieve."40
Seemingly also comfortable with the script was Richard Hallion, chief of the air force historical program and a member of the advisory committee. Though he voiced no substantive objections during the daylong meeting, he and a colleague, Herman Wolk, submitted a three-page critique of the script to NASM. "Overall," they said, "this is a most impressive piece of work, comprehensive and dramatic, obviously based upon a great deal of sound research, primary and secondary." They were concerned, however, that "through sheer repetition, the script gives the impression that the Truman administration was more concerned with the atomic bomb as a diplomatic weapon against the Soviet Union than as a route to shorten the war and avoid heavy casualties," They also believed that the script did not clearly enough identify the Japanese as the aggressors in the Pacific, did not put sufficient emphasis on Truman's concerns with "potential American casualties," and did not do justice to "Japanese brutality to subject peoples." (Only "four or five sentences take us from 1931 to 1941.") At the bottom of the critique Hallion added a handwritten note to curator Michael Neufeld. "Again, an impressive job! A bit of 'tweaking' along the lines discussed here should do the job." In a personal note to Neufeld during the meeting, Hallion wrote, "Mikechin upyou've got a great script, and nobodyexcept Marty [Sherwin]is out to emasculate it."41
Harvard historian and advisory committee member Akira Iriye, who was unable to attend the meeting, wrote Neufeld that the script was "carefully written and reflects the authors' obvious intention to present as judicious interpretations of controversial events as possible." In late April, Iriye once again wrote Neufeld that as someone who was "fighting against political correctness inthe academic disciplines ... I do not see what is politically correct about the exhibit. My role as an advisor has been to assure the scholarly standards of the written material, and I believe the statements that go with the exhibit are accurate, well-balanced, and reflective of the most recent scholarship."42
A growing legion of military and veterans' group insiders felt differently. They believed that the proposed show did not appropriately attend to the commemorative voice, a failure that registered for them as an act dishonoring American veterans, even though the Air Force Association's John Correll admitted that the first script actually treated the men of the 509th Composite Group "extensively, and with respect."43
When Tom Crouch argued that the script could not both make veterans "feel good" and discuss the consequences of the use of atomic weapons, he pointed out the great gulf between the two narratives and worried that even though they were part of one story, no museum exhibit could bridge such a gulf. Harwit, on the other hand, continued to believethrough all the increasingly bitter public debates of 1994that the exhibit could honor both narratives. In an August 7 editorial in the Washington Post, he wrote, "We want to honor the veterans who risked their lives and those who made the ultimate sacrifice ... . But we also must address the broader questions that concern subsequent generationsnot with a view to criticizing or apologizing or displaying undue compassion for those on the ground that day, as some may fear, but to deliver an accurate portrayal that conveys the reality of atomic war and its consequences." In the pages of the museum's Air and Space magazine, he commented that "the honor and bravery of our servicemen, their willingness to offer their lives in the fight against a ferocious aggressor, the heartbreak suffered by families who lost fathers, sons, and brothers, the strength of the nation's leadership in successfully fighting and concluding a war the United States had not sought, and the justice of the cause for which we were fightingall will be featured in our exhibition." Harwit felt, in particular, that the films and videotapes in the showespecially the final moving video interviewswith Enola Gay crew memberswould honor commemorative expectations.44
In the increasingly angry atmosphere of the moment, many critics of the NASM exhibit questioned the motives or the sincerity of the museum's curators or of Martin Harwit himself. But in retrospect, it is easy enough to see how the very structure of the exhibition rather than any personal duplicity made the fulfillment of Harwit's double commitment an impossibility. After all, the plans called for the exhibit's "intellectual heart" to be the painstaking examination of the various controversies that now surround the decision to drop the bomb (a unit written by Michael Neufeld), and its "emotional heart" to be the horror of what the bomb did to the Japanese (written by Tom Crouch).45
In an internal review of the exhibit planning process, Preble Stolz, professor emeritus at the University of California School of Law at Berkeley, noted that while people at NASM knew how strongly veterans believed that the bomb had saved their lives, "no one thought about it or articulated very clearly the emotional significance of that set of ideas ... . It is probably asking too much of people who have thought for fifty years that they owed their life to President Truman's decision to drop the bomb to reflect objectively about whether his decision was morally justified. At its core that asks people to consider the possibility that their life was not worth living." Similarly, Hubert R. Dagley II, internal affairs director of the American Legion, commented that it was easy for many veterans to believe the curators and historians were being condescending at best, contemptuous at worst, in dealing with the veterans' experiences. "As the press interpreted the script, vets felt that it said their lives had been purchased through racism and treachery, that their last fifty years were counterfeit, and they blamed the museum for this."46
In January 1994, draft copies of the script were sent to the Air Force Association. Martin Harwit expected that discussions on the script's further development would then continue in private. AFA representatives, however, had grown frustrated with what they believed was the museum's unwillingness to take their criticismsseriously, and decided to continue the argument very publicly in the pages of Air Force Magazine. John Correll's essay "War Stories at Air and Space," a slashing attack on every aspect of the proposed exhibit and its creators, appeared as the lead article in the April issue. Correll wrote that "US conduct of the war was depicted as brutal, vindictive, and racially motivated." He characterized the sentences about an American war of vengeance and a Japanese fight to preserve their way of life as a "curious call." Kamikaze pilots, he wrote, "are seen as valiant defenders of the homeland." Correll informed readers that Harwit had asked if "veterans really suspect that the National Air and Space Museum is an unpatriotic institution or would opt for an apologetic exhibition?" and responded, "the blunt answer is yes." The script's problems were due to "politically correct curating," which had "swept the Smithsonian complex" during the tenure of Secretary Adams, and "Crossroads" was an outgrowth of the same negative attitude toward airpower present in the World War I exhibit.47
Correll's essay was, in effect, a declaration of war, the first salvo in what would become a sustained campaign against the exhibition. For Martin Harwit, it seemed like nothing short of a surprise sneak attack, and he later said as much, if more politely. The Air Force Association, as he put it, had broken a trust with the museum by "going public." The AFA, on the other hand, maintained that going public was the only way to force a recalcitrant group of museum curators and managers to establish appropriate balance and context in the script. There was, Correll said, "a huge difference in impact between a few words in the script [about Japanese atrocities, for example] and an emotion-grabbing artifact like a little girl's burned lunch box ... . We made an issue of the emotional impact of the school child's lunch box and pointed out that there was nothing on the other side for balance."48
There was also an enduring anger and sense of betrayal among many people at the museum over what appeared to be an almost immediate "about-face" by air force historian and advisory committee member Richard Hallion. Soon after the advisory committee meeting in February 1994, Hallion became a visible andinfluential critic of the script and characterized the use of the bomb as a "morally unambiguous act." Writing to Crouch in August in his own defense, he said that he and Wolk raised issues of "accuracy, context, fairness, and balance in our very first discussions ... . Unfortunately, we believe that our commentsand those of our fellow military historianshave not been taken to heart." Their encouraging comments were meant as "polite ... encouragement." Hallion was clearly uncomfortable with the widespread speculation that he had simply shifted his position given the intense opposition to the exhibit by veterans' groups and the military. He characterized as "downright insulting" the "implication" that he and Wolk had been "muscled by the Air Force leadership" into changing their position. "A friendly 'bridge-building' note I passed to Mike Neufeld during our meeting in early February in an effort to maintain a useful dialogue has even been cited out of context." Crouch responded that Hallion's supportive written remarks were "simple and straight-forward," and that there had been "no warnings ... no 'red flags' in these comments ... . If you are telling me that you simply wanted to be polite, I can only respond that we were looking for an honest readingnot polite chit-chat. If you really saw a problem, you should have indicated it. We might not be in this situation today." Hallion responded, "We trusted you, and believed that you would take our comments seriously. Since you did not, 'big trouble' naturally resulted."49
After the AFA publicly blasted the exhibition and the first angry media attacks followed, Harwit realized, belatedly, that there were serious problems ahead and did in fact turn to military historians. On April 13, 1994, the museum's exhibition team met with a number of military historians who had read the script: Edward Drea, chief, Research and Analysis Division, U.S. Army Center for Military History; Wayne Dzwonchyk, History Office, Joint Chiefs of Staff; Mark Jacobson, Marine Corps Command and Staff College; and Kathleen Lloyd, Naval Historical Center. It was a contentious meeting, as once again Harwit and the curators heard bitter complaints about the "balance" and "context" oftheir show, but what happened in the meeting was nothing compared with the political intrigue going on elsewhere.
On April 25, Commander Luanne Smith (U.S. Navy, retired), who was coordinating a series of discussions between military historians and the museum for the Pentagon's World War II Commemoration Committee, wrote a lengthy memorandum for the committee's executive director. "Behind the scenes," she reported, "Dr. Hallion has been orchestrating the various Service historical offices to not wait to see what changes the Air and Space Museum is prepared to make and to go on the record that they cannot support the exhibit. He knew about the April 13 meeting and was invited to attend, but chose instead to write a memo prior to the meeting to the Air Force Chief of Staff, attacking the Smithsonian and declaring that the Museum would not make any significant changes to its exhibit. The timing of the memo seems to demonstrate that he was bent on undermining any good will the Smithsonian would have received from holding the meeting ... . Given Dr. Hallion's efforts to date in opposition to the exhibit and his personal predilections, it is unlikely that he will ever support the Smithsonian's exhibit, whatever major changes are made."50
The increasingly dangerous political situation moved Martin Harwit to reconsider his own favorable reaction to the script. Three days after meeting with the military historians, Harwit informed the curators, "Though I carefully read the exhibition script a month ago, I evidently paid greater attention to accuracy than balance ... . A second reading shows that we do have a lack of balance and that much of the criticism that has been levied against us is understandable." Harwit soon appointed a second review group, the "Tiger Team," made up of Brigadier General William Constantine (U.S. Air Force, retired), a former executive officer to the chief of staff of the air force, and an NASM docent; Colonel Thomas Alison (U.S. Air Force, retired), a curator in charge of military aviation at NASM; historian Gregg Herken, chairman of NASM's Department of Space History; Colonel Donald Lopez (U.S. Air Force, retired), a fighter ace with the FlyingTigers in World War II, former deputy director of NASM, and senior adviser emeritus; Kenneth Robert, an NASM volunteer docent; and Steven Soter, special assistant to the NASM director. The Tiger Team reviewed the script individually and then together for five nights, four hours each night. In their report, they found the script "too sympathetic to Japanese, too harsh on Americans," and judged the text on historical controversies "too speculative." They felt it "could lead the viewing public to conclude that the decision to drop the A-Bomb was questionable (perhaps unjustified?) rather than debatable (still open to question)." "Deletions" were suggested in the "redundant, horribly graphic close-up photographs of survivors as well as similarly redundant graphic quotations. Substitute mid-distance photographs which, in most cases, will adequately convey the devastation and the dazed, often helpless survivors." In conclusion, Constantine wrote, "however well-intentioned, the 'Crossroads' exhibit will not satisfy everyone, nor can it be all things to all people."51
A revised May 1994 script incorporated some of the changes sought by military historians and the Tiger Team. There was a new introductory section, "War in Asia and the Pacific: 1937-1945," which included photographs of Pearl Harbor and the Bataan Death March. After a description of the kamikaze raids, the script now pointed out in detail the heavy American losses they had caused (28 ships sunk, 176 damaged, 5,000 sailors killed) and said, "To the ships' crews, the experience seemed to confirm Japanese fanaticism and offer a grim foreboding of what they would face in future operations." The American home front was presented in a more sober manner, and a sentence from the first script that spoke of Americans yearning for the "realization of their deferred dreams of material prosperity" was deleted. The new text emphasized that "for all with loved ones in the Pacific, the cost of victory in American lives was devastating." Also included were a photograph of a mother who lost three sons, a telegram informing a family about their loss, a military letter of consolation, and a flag used in burial services. There was nowmore emphasis on the heavy losses expected in the event of an invasion of Japan, and on Japanese use of slave labor and misuse of prisoners of war, while the text in the historical controversy panels was even more cautious than before.
The museum's managers and curators reeled through the summer, facing attacks on various frontsfrom journalists and media commentators, from Congress, from outraged veterans and citizens angered by news accounts. The script became an embattled text, attacked, defended, and endlessly revised in an increasingly embittered atmosphere that revealed more about American cultural politics in the 1990s than about the mission of the Enola Gay and the decision to drop the bomb. What emerged was not only a vitriolic conflict over a museum exhibition but a public relations disaster for the Smithsonian and a real threat to its budget, most of which came from congressionally appropriated funds. For many critics, the few sentences in the first script about why the two sides fought "proved" that the museum was, indeed, trying to rewrite history, by suggesting that Japan was the aggrieved party in World War II. Months after the passage had been excised from the script, it still appeared regularly in journalistic attacks. In an unreleased "draft statement for the media," the museum considered defending itself by pointing out that "this was obviously a clumsy and inaccurate attempt to portray how the American and Japanese people themselves saw the war after Pearl Harbor, not how the authors of the script saw it." Based on recommendations from the Tiger Team and others, Michael Neufeld rewrote the passage to read, "For most Americans, this war was different from the one waged against Germany and Italy: it was a war to defeat a vicious aggressor, but also a war to punish Japan for Pearl Harbor and for the brutal treatment of Allied prisoners. For most Japanese, what had begun as a war of imperial conquest had become a battle to save their nation from destruction. As the war approached its end in 1945, it appeared to both sides that it was a fight to the finish."52
Ironically, as attackers continued to blast away at the first script, the revision process went on. By August, for example, thirtyof the forty-two Tiger Team recommendations had been fully implemented, seven had been implemented in part, and only five had not been addressed. Some military historians now thought the revised scripts acceptable. For instance, Brigadier General David A. Armstrong (U.S. Army, retired), the director for joint history, Office of the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote Alfred Goldberg, historian at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, that "some attempt has been made to address virtually every criticism raised at the April 13 meeting ... although in some cases, the fixes have been minor ... . Revisionist interpretations no longer dominate discussion of the political and diplomatic issues surrounding the use of the Atomic Bomb ... . The script no longer reads as a blanket indictment of the US casting the Japanese as helpless victims ... . We will have to consider carefully how much farther the Smithsonian can be made to move before the law of diminishing returns takes over." On July 12, historian Edward Drea, a specialist on the Pacific war, wrote the World War II Commemoration Committee, "I find the script more balanced than its predecessor. I still have reservations about an imbalance of so many photographs of suffering Japanese women and children. Are there no photographs of Japanese males?" Alfred Goldberg proceeded to write Michael Neufeld that "the first three sections of this draft should dispose of most of the negative criticism ... . The issues of racism, strategic bombing policy, decision to drop the bomb, and invasion casualties are handled with acceptable objectivity ... . The section on the effects of the atomic bombs will no doubt continue to draw critical comment as being too long, too detailed, and too sympathetic to the Japanese, but the exhibit would be incomplete and much less meaningful without it." (Goldberg, however, suggested it be cut another 25 percent.) Also satisfied was historian Wayne Dzwonchyk. In conversation with Commander Luanne Smith, Dzwonchyk called the script "very good." It represented, he thought, a "total capitulation" by the museum to air force wishes. "He said," Smith reported, "he can find very little to complain about and that the script has gone a long way in addressing the complaints of thecritics ... . He said that his assessment of six months ago has been proven correct that some people will never accept the exhibit no matter the improvements made to it."53
Press reports consistently misinformed readers that the Smithsonian was ignoring its critics. The Washington Post's Eugene Meyer informed readers that many of the Tiger Team's recommendations were not accepted, and a Post editorial stated that the museum had promised "extensive revisions, but it hasn't come through, and the conceptual gap between the museum and its critics remains wide." In one example of the enduring arrogance and ignorance of the many congresspeople who became involved in this controversy, twenty-four members of the House of Representatives wrote Secretary Adams that after review "we have found the revised script is still lacking in context, and therefore unacceptable. It seems that the planners of this exhibit ignored many of the constructive criticisms provided." They, too, claimed that few Tiger Team suggestions were "incorporated into the revised edition," and that Americans needed an "objective account ... rather than the historically narrow, revisionist view contained in the revised script."54
Commander Luanne Smith directly contradicted such accusations In August 1994 she observed that "the Air and Space Museum has been extremely accommodating to making changes to their script, contrary to what is being claimed by exhibit opponents. The NASM's opponents have gone out of their way to misrepresent the Museum's intentions, and to mobilize veteran opposition based on the first script, which has been greatly modified The opposition is intent on canceling the exhibit as currently planned, and want to merely display the Enola Gay with a statement indicating that it was the aircraft that ended World War II." Smith was particularly sharp in her criticism of the Air Force Association. "I remain convinced that the Air Force Association's objections to the script had a good deal to do with Air Force fears of showing the horror of the use of nuclear weapons, which could revive strong anti-nuclear feelings among the public. The Air Force and the AFA wants the message to he 'the Air Force won thewar.' Given the exhibit they wanted, I don't think any script would have met with their approval."55
In the ongoing campaign against the exhibition, Air Force Magazine published new articles almost monthly dissecting each new script revision. They called attention, for example, to the many photographs of Japanese victims and the few depicting the suffering of Americans and their allies at the hands of the Japanese, and argued that the scripts continued to be "soft" on the Japanese, failing to dramatize, for example, Japanese barbarism in China, the Bataan Death March, and related atrocities. They also called attention to internal NASM disagreements and contradictory statements about the purpose of the exhibition, which, they claimed, revealed the duplicity of the museum's staff.
The curators, of course, did not believe that their choice of photographs was unjustified, given that their show was not meant to be a history of the war in the Pacific, but rather to "freeze" a transformative moment in the twentieth century. Michael Neufeld also wondered why critics wanted the script to suggest that the United States "dropped the A-bombs as revenge for Pearl Harbor, Bataan, the Rape of Nanking? That is the equivalent of saying that one atrocity/war crime deserves another ... . It is also bad history, because there is very little evidence that Truman, et a!., made the bomb decision to get back at the Japanese. The primary motivations were casualties and [to] end the war early ... . Trying to produce a 'balance' in the number of pictures therefore has the ironic effect of making the argument that the bombings were just the Truman administration's revenge on Japan."56
By mid-1994, other groups were also beginning to hold the museum's feet to the fire. As early as May 1994, the American Legion, for instance, went on record in opposition to the exhibit, and in a letter to President Bill Clinton, the legion's national commander, William M. Detweiler, said, "it prompts the unmistakable conclusion that America's enemy in the latter days of World War II was defeated and demoralized, ultimately the victim of racism and revenge, rather than a ruthless aggressor whoseexpansionist aims and war fervor yielded more than a decade of horror and deaths for millions of the world's people." At the legion's national convention in September, however, the legion agreed to withhold final judgment since the museum proved willing to "include representatives of the American Legion in all future script and exhibit reviews prior to release or final approval of the script, and ... provide to the American Legion for its inspection and review copies of all material related to the exhibit, including but not limited to scripts, articles, videotapes, museum catalogues, translations and promotional materials."57
The Air Force Association also expended considerable energies in mobilizing Congress, other veterans' groups, and journalists, all of whom in turn shaped the public's perception of the nature and meaning of the exhibit. From the beginning, the Smithsonian's public response was virtually nonexistent, a fatal error. Jack Giese, chief of media relations at AFA, recalled, "There were certainly times when the museum could have mounted a defense, but they never did. At first we asked ourselves, 'what will they do?' After a while, we stopped worrying about it. They weren't going to do anything,."58
In the spring, there had been scattered editorials in newspapers supporting the museum's attempt to show the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But after the AFA put its clout behind a campaign against the exhibit, with the exception of several sympathetic editorials in the New York Times, influential editorial comment almost uniformly attacked the museum. Clearly, few of those writing about the exhibit had read the first script in its entirety, not to mention the following drafts; consequently, there was no serious attempt to help the public engage in thoughtful debate about the strengths and weaknesses of the evolving exhibit. Attack journalism simply fanned the flames. Calling the curators "politically correct pinheads," R. Emmett Tyrell, Jr., editor in chief of the American Spectator, wrote in the Washington Times of the casualties that would have resulted from an invasion and said that such casualties would have left "some of the present pinheads at the Smithsonian fatherless or even, oh bliss, unborn."The Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby called the curators and historians involved in the exhibit people "who would warp history ... slander the United States and merit the ridicule of honest mem." Time's Lance Morrow characterized the first script as an attempt "to transport a righteous '60s moral stance on Viet Nam ... back in time to portray the Japanese as more or less innocent victims of American beastliness and lust for revenge." The Wall Street Journal insisted that the "scriptwriters disdain any belief that the decision to drop the bomb could have been inspired by something other than racism or blood lust." Time's Charles Krauthammer called the exhibit a "disgrace" and demanded that "heads, and agencies, roll." The Washington Times's Rowan Scarborough thought it important to inform his readers that curator Michael Neufeld was a "Canadian who is a former college professor" and said that curator Tom Crouch, who had been in charge of the Japanese-American internment exhibition at the National Museum of American History, was "enamored" of Japanese culture, which explained why the Enola Gay show "originally was sympathetic to Japan." Smaller newspapers inflamed public opinion as well. For example, an editor in North Carolina, also trying to prove that NASM was too sympathetic to the Japanese, misinformed his readers that "one Smithsonian exhibit is Japan's Hiroshima Memorial Peace Museum."59
Perhaps the most egregious examples of journalistic irresponsibility occurred at the Wall Street Journa/ and the Washington Post. The Journal attacked the "oozing romanticism with which the Enola show's writers describe the kamikaze pilots ... . These were, the script elegiacally relates, 'youths, their bodies overflowing with life.' Of the youths and life of the Americans who fought and bled in the Pacific there is no mention." For this, the Journal editors took part of a quote from a kamikaze pilot that appeared in the script and attributed it to the curators. They also left out the sobering end of his statement, "and they were waiting their turn to die. It was no longer possible to refuse to go. It was impossible to escape." Ken Ringle of the Washington Post repeated the misattributed quote for his readers. (In both editorials and reporters'accounts, the Post was unsparing in its criticism of the exhibit and the motives of the curators.) In its unreleased "draft statement for the media," the museum noted that the quote was in the script "to show how the kamikazes saw themselves, to provide insight into their suicidal fanaticism, which many Americans would otherwise find incomprehensible. In any case, the quotation was later deleted."60
The media also almost uniformly ignoredor were ignorant ofthe half-century-long controversy over the decision to drop the bomb. Since they had no idea of the rich and complex history of that controversy, they had no way of knowing that what struck them as unpatriotic, if not anti-American, criticism of Truman's decision had certainly not been construed that way in the late 1940s. If journalists had any sense of historical context, they might have wondered why it was easier shortly after World War II to talk openly about doubts connected with the decision to drop the bomb than it was fifty years later. Tony Capaccio, editor of Defense Week, and Uday Mohan, in a strong critique of the media for their Enola Gay coverage, concluded that "journalists did not do enough research and failed to hold the veterans' version of history to the same exacting standard they used in judging the curators' version. The initial exhibit had flaws of context and historical perspectivebut not as serious and certainly not as illinformed as the media coverage led the public to believe."61
By the time another revised scriptnow called "The Last Act"was released in October, I. Michael Heyman, former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, had been installed as Smithsonian secretary. In a desperate attempt to save the exhibition, he invited representatives of the American Legion to meet with the exhibition team to review the script. The October script deleted the historical controversy panels, greatly expanded the introductory unit "War in Asia and the Pacific," reduced yet again the remaining photographs of Japanese victims, and shrank the section on the legacy of the bomb to just over a page. In a letter to an increasingly displeased Akira Iriye, Martin Harwit tried to explain these wrenching changes, including the removal of any seriousmention of controversy regarding the decision to drop the bomb. That cut was justified, Harwit wrote, because while "postwar diplomacy and suspicion of Stalin's tactics played a role, it seemed to me, at least, that the evidence was equally clear on Truman's desire to end the war quickly to stop the killing and 'bring the boys' home." In a letter to the mayor of Hiroshima, Harwit justified the removal of many of the Japanese artifacts on the grounds that as the exhibit was originally planned, "we were giving the appearance that we were deliberately emphasizing the killing of children and the destruction of religious icons."62
Only in the latter months of 1994 did groups of scholars react angrily to what they perceived as the Smithsonian's caving in to various pressures. Informing Martin Harwit of his decision to resign from the advisory committee, historian of science Stanley Goldberg wrote that he was troubled the museum was willing to "cast aside fifty years of solid, hard-headed scholarship which clearly calls into question the immediate, post-war euphoric, selfserving judgement that the atomic bomb ended the war and saved hundred[s] of thousands of lives on both sides ... . I simply cannot be a party to the exhibit which has now emerged from the Air Force Association's crusade."63
On November 17, a group of well-known scholars and writersincluding Barton Bernstein, Gar Alperovitz, Kai Bird, and Robert Jay Lifton, whose writing challenged the official story of the decision to drop the bombmet at the museum to argue for restoration of elements they thought inappropriately removed from the script. These included the statement that "the decision to drop the bomb will remain forever controversial," comments critical of the use of atomic weapons made by Admiral Leahy and President Eisenhower, and photographs of Japanese victims. They wanted "documentation of religious, moral, and political protest over the dropping of the bomb" and recognition that the "post-war nuclear arms race, five decades of nuclear weapons production and testing, radiation effects on both military personnel and civilians, [and] consequent environmental destruction" were important legacies of the bomb. They believed that the exhibit should alsodepict the "US and international disarmament movement, the post-war peace movement in Japan, and international commitments to the abolition of nuclear weapons."64
On November 16, forty historians signed a letter to Secretary Heyman objecting to what they characterized as the "historical cleansing" of the script. "It is unconscionable," the letter stated, "first, that as a result of pressures from outside the museum, the exhibit will no longer attempt to present a balanced range of the historical scholarship on the issue; second, that a large body of important archival evidence on the Hiroshima decision will not even be mentioned; and third, that the exhibit will contain assertions of fact which have long been challenged by careful historical scholarship." It urged Heyman to resist pressure from "what is perceived at the moment as 'patriotically correct' history."65
Compared with the tremendous political clout of veterans' groups, congresspeople, and the media, the historians' objections carried little weight, for the museum gained nothing politically by responding to their concerns. Yet despite the massive changes that prompted such angry responses from some historians, the revised scripts still did not satisfy the Air Force Association, the American Legion, or other veterans' organizations. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, for example, notified Harwit that even the October script "does not fairly commemorate and display the contributions made by American military forces in the Pacific theater of operations nor does it go far enough to cite the valor and sacrifice of individual Americans in combat." Some members of Congress wrote Heyman that there is "no excuse for an exhibit which addresses one of the most morally unambiguous events of the 20th century to need five revisions." William S. Anderson, a former POW of the Japanese, a retired chairman of the board of NCR Corporation, and a member of the Smithsonian national board, wrote Heyman in November that there was still overemphasis "on the suffering of the Japanese ... including references to how they suffered long after the war ... . I have already told you that many of the POW's from my camp never regained their eyesight, their ability to walk, work or lead a normal life, because of extrememalnutrition over three and ¾ years ... . I don't think the Smithsonian realizes how much antagonism and anger has been generated by this controversy."66
The exhibit now had been subjected, in the words of one NASM curator, to "death by a thousand cuts." Negotiations with the American Legion were Heyman's desperate attempt to salvage some shred of the former exhibit, satisfactory to veterans' groups and angry funders in Congress. Clearly, the Smithsonian's managers entered into deliberations with the legion because of threats of budget cuts unless they came up with a more "acceptable" script. For his part, the legion's Hubert Dagley felt his group's purpose in the meetings was "to achieve an exhibit that was historically accurate, with sufficient context in which the use of atomic weapons could be evaluated from all perspectives, including those who believed it saved their lives." However, argued Michael Neufeld, in the October script there was already little evidence of "all perspectives," and "the political pressure to have an exhibit that celebrated the dropping of the bomb was overwhelming." Perhaps, as Dagley would claim, the legion exercised no censorship over the exhibit, but whether or not the exhibit "lived" rested on its acceptance of the final product. The endgame demonstrated clearly just how fragileindeed, illusorywas Martin Harwit's hope that seemingly endless compromise with powerful critics would result in a historically responsible and politically acceptable exhibit.67
The American Legion's national commander, William M. Detweiler, declared in November, "More than anything else, our disagreements center on the estimate of numbers of lives saved by the use of atomic weapons in 1945 ... . Does it matter? To the museum and historians, it seems to be of great importance in determining the morality of President Truman's decision. To theAmerican Legion, it matters less, if at all." In truth, to all concerned, it mattered a great deal.68
In their postwar memoirs, both President Truman and Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson had spoken of horrendously high numbershundreds of thousands, even one million casualtiesin any invasion of Japan. Yet as military historian John Ray Skates notes in his book The Invasion of Japan: Alternative to the Bomb, "the source of the large numbers used after the war by Truman, Stimson, and Churchill to justify the use of the atomic bomb has yet to be discovered. Nor is there any record that Truman, [or] Stimson, or Churchill used such large casualty estimates in the weeks before or following the use of the bombs against Japan. The large estimates first appeared in their postwar memoirs." These numbers, howeverparticularly the one million figuretook on iconic significance over the years, much like the six million figure for the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust. Any attempt to question these numbers came to be construed as an attempt to belittle the horrendous reality that an invasion of Japan might have been, just as any attempt to adjust downward the six million of the Holocausteven by several hundred thousandwas perceived as a murder of memory, akin to Holocaust denial.69
High projected casualty figures were useful for those who argued, as the American Legion did, that President Truman was concerned solely about American lives, and that the use of atomic weapons saved many of them. On any scale of suffering, these high numbers meant that the potential dead far outweighed the actual dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, thus justifying the use of the weapons. On the other hand, historians who called into question the numbers, on the grounds that they were not the ones Truman and his advisers operated from, believed lower numbers would provide additional support for the idea that atomic weapons were used for reasons other than, or in addition to, the desire to save lives. The museum's exhibit waded into these perilous waters from the beginning.
Under the label "Half a Million American Dead?" a text in the first script read: "After the war, estimates of the number of casualtiesto be expected in an invasion of Japan were as high as half a million or more American dead ... . In fact, military staff studies in the spring of 1945 estimated thirty to fifty thousand casualtiesdead and woundedin 'Olympic,' the invasion of Kyushu. Based on the Okinawa campaign, that would have meant perhaps ten thousand American dead. Military planners made no firm estimates for 'Coronet,' the second invasion, but losses would clearly have been higher ... . Early U.S. studies ... underestimated Japanese defenses ... . On June 18, 1945, Admiral Leahy pointed out that, if the 'Olympic' invasion force took casualties at the same rate as Okinawa [about 35 percent] that could mean 268,000 casualties (about 50,000 dead) on Kyushu. It nonetheless appears likely that post-war estimates of a half million American deaths were too high, but many tens of thousands of dead were a real possibility." The May 1994 revised script added information that a "June 1945 Joint Chiefs of Staff study also estimated about 40,000 American dead for the invasions of both Kyushu and Honshu," and added that tens of thousands of deaths were not only a real but a "frightening possibility." In a letter to Wayne Dzwonchyk of the History Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael Neufeld said that he "looked for ways to ... underline that casualties and a quicker end to the war were central to Truman's thinking ... . I think that Truman would have been justified in making the same decision if he was confronted with 50,000 dead instead of 500,000 dead as his only alternative."70
The August 1994 revised script offered a new label, "Invasion of JapanAt What Cost?" and tried to balance lower and higher estimates ("from 30,000 to 500,000"). It noted that 40,000 Americans were killed during the Normandy invasion, and that the total killed in the Pacific theater was"about 90,000." It raised the figure of dead in the Leahy estimate from 50,000 to 67,000 and characterized estimates of expected American deaths as"horrendous." It said that"Japanese deaths, military and civilian, would have been many times greater, as they had been throughout the war." The October revised script reflected the results of the negotiated settlement with the American Legion. While it still notedthat estimates "varied greatly," it said that casualties"conceivably could have risen to as many as a million (including up to a quarter of a million deaths)." The script declared that the Japanese would have suffered "five times" as many casualties. (In this formula, American and Japanese casualties came to six million, suggesting, perhaps, an unconscious reaching for an invasion-of-Japan "Holocaust.") The exhibit now endorsedsomewhat conditionallythe "worst case" casualty figures, and the labels had been written by the public relations director and an exhibit editor, not the curators.
After hearing complaints by historian Barton Bernstein and other critics of the museum's script revisions in November, Martin Harwit asked Michael Neufeld if there were factual criticisms that the museum could respond to. Neufeld replied that Bernstein had discovered the following sentence in Admiral Leahy's diary: "[Army chief of staff George] Marshall is of the opinion that such an effort [Operation Olympic] will not cost us in casualties more than 63,000 of the 190,000 troops estimated as necessary for the operation." Bernstein made the argument that when Leahy used the 35 percent casualty figure based on Okinawa casualty rates, it was not from the whole invasion force but from the combat force. Aware that lowering the figures was politically dangerous, Neufeld recommended a modest change in the label: "Admiral Leahy pointed out that the huge invasion force could sustain losses proportional to those on Okinawaabout 35 percentwhich would make the operation much more costly than Marshall estimated."71
In mid-December, Neufeld was "stunned" to learn that Martin Harwit and Steven Soter had once again changed the second half of the invasion casualties text. "Although Martin later denied it," Neufeld said, "I remember him explicitly saying that we had to get away from us endorsing a potential worse-case scenario of a million American and five million Japanese dead ... and put the responsibility back on Truman ... . Martin later claimed that the 63,000 number had undermined his faith in the ultimate high numbers. I pushed him a little ... by pointing out to him how politically dangerous this label was and I asked him whetherhe needed to clear this with the A.L. [American Legion] or others first. He said no." Neufeld later told colleagues, "This is suicidal." 72
On January 9, 1995, Harwit wrote the legion's Hubert Dagley, informing him that as a result of the new interpretation of the Leahy diary entry, he had come to realize that the earlier text was based on a "misapprehension." Harwit enclosed the new text, which, he said, "does not alter the figures Truman cited after the war, but gives a different interpretation of what he might have had in mind." The label no longer was to say that Leahy estimated a "quarter of a million casualties," and "at least 50,000 dead," nor did it mention "perhaps five million" Japanese casualties. Rather it said, "Japan would also have lost many additional lives." It pointed out that Truman's high figures were made "after the war," and that "the origins of these figures is uncertain." Backing away from explicit endorsement of worst-case casualty figures, the text ended with an orthodox reading of Truman's motivation for using atomic weapons. "For Truman, even the lowest of the casualty estimates was unacceptable. To prevent an invasion and to save as many lives as possible, he chose to use the atomic bomb." Harwit asked Dagley to send any "concerns or comments."73
The legion reacted angrily. For them, Harwit's letter not only once again revised iconic numbers but reinforced a suspicion that, according to Dagley, "we could not rely on the assurances of either Smithsonian or [NASM] officials; in other words, we had no certainty that the exhibit to which we might attach our agreement would be the same exhibit finally mounted in May 1995."74
Harwit read the endgame differently, arguing that well before his letter to Dagley, the legion was looking for a way out of their relationship. Indeed, on January 4, 1995, five days before Harwit's letter to Dagley, National Commander William M. Detweiler informed his advisory committee that he believed the legion should "actively oppose" the exhibit, that Congress should investigate the museum's "role and intent in the controversy," and that the "Enola Gay ... be immediately re-assembled and loaned, orownership transferred, to an entity willing and able to display it without controversy." Detweiler specified the form of opposition, including meetings with members of Congress, a press conference in Washington, and "continued maximum exposure of the Legion's position in the public media,"75
Given the evident importance of the politics of numbers, there was simply no way for the museum to satisfy all concerned parties except through the vaguest of formulations Wilcomb Washburn, the director of American studies at the Smithsonian, wondered, in retrospect, if the curators could have indicated the "uncertainty" of casualties by plastering a wall "with such numbers, each with a question mark after it." Former chief of air force history Richard Kohn presented an even more commonsense solution and cautionary note to Martin Harwit in June 1994. "I've always thought," he wrote, "the casualty argument ... simple-minded and lacking in context. The real issue was the campaign, not just the invasion. With Japan prepared to fight all-out indefinitely, and having stockpiled 9,000 aircraft, most for kamikaze use, the casualties would have been just tremendous on both sides, and everybody at the time knew it. That should be explained; planners put in numbers because that is necessary for logistical and other reasons, but to argue about them is utterly to miss the point, and that is what scholars have done. The controversy over numbers trivializes the business. If one were to project Iwo Jima and Okinawa onto Japan, the numbers are horrendousand this whole dispute is in my judgment an embarrassment to the historical profession."76
Even before Heyman announced on January 30, 1995, that the exhibit would be canceled and replaced by a drastically scaled-back one, members of Congress had called for Harwit's resignation, and the AFA had joined with the American Legion in calling for a congressional investigation. Harwit, resigned on May 2, writing Heyman, "I believe that nothing less than my stepping down from the directorship will satisfy the Museum's critics and allow the Museum to move forward."77
A Controversy for All Purposes
In the end, everyone believed that memory and history had been abused, and the controversy over the Enola Gay exhibit became a useful symbol for all sides in the history wars going on in America. For U.S. News & World Report's John Leo, the proposed exhibit had been part of the "same dark vision of America as arrogant, oppressive, racist and destructive [that] increasingly runs through the Smithsonian complex." For presidential hopeful Patrick Buchanan, the conspiracy was wider than a "dark vision" at the Smithsonian. It was the result of a "sleepless campaign to inculcate in American youth a revulsion toward America's past. The Left's long march through our institutions is now complete. They are now serving up, in our museums and colleges, a constant diet of the same poison of anti-Americanism upon which they themselves were fed." For Representative Sam Johnson, a Republican from Texas and air force veteran who was appointed to the Smithsonian Board of Regents by new Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, the outpouring of anger at the Smithsonian indicated that "people" were taking back their history from elites. "We've got to get patriotism back into the Smithsonian," he declared. "We want the Smithsonian to reflect real America and not something that a historian dreamed up)."78
For others, the opposition to and cancellation of the exhibition pointed to a poisonous reactionary populism, the heavy hand of governmental censorship, and a future in which controversial historical issues could not be addressed in public museums. Alfred F. Young, senior research fellow at the Newberry Library and a member of the executive board of the Organization of American Historians, warned that the "museum horrors of the previous few years raise questions that go to the heart of the enterprise of historical museums in the United States; their function in American society; the role of historians in museums; the role of interpretation and authorial responsibility in exhibits; scholarly peer review; and how museums should deal with those who have astake in their exhibits and with public controversy in generalin short the entire decision making process." Young was not convinced that "balance" solved the problem. It could be a "recipe for blandnessthe alleged professorial 'on the one hand' and 'on the other hand.' Curators should be free to take alternative paths to confront controversy ... to question myths ... to stir a passion for justice ... to create empathy ... or to challenge sacred cows." Many museum professionals both deplored the political pressures that led to the cancellation and spoke of a renewed conviction that historians involved in museum projects needed a much greater appreciation of the difference between an exhibit and a book. "Not everything you can write in a book is fair game for a museum exhibition," one Smithsonian curator told me. "The reality is, we must pay attention to those with political power as we plan exhibits. I'm not sure that Martin Harwit appreciated this enough with regard to this exhibition, nor do I think that the historians involved in the project appreciated enough what the political cost would be, given that they were so familiar and comfortable with these arguments."79
Historian and advisory board member Martin Sherwin thought that as a result of the controversy, Santayana's famous aphorism "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" would have to be restated as, "Those who insist only on their memories of the past are condemning the rest of us to avoid it." Michael Kammen, president of the Organization of American Historians and a member of the Smithsonian Council, called attention to a "vindictive partisanship that prompts elected officials to punish (or threaten to punish) their foes by withholding public funds ... . Historians become controversial when they do not perpetuate myths, when they do not transmit the received and conventional wisdom, when they challenge the comforting presence of a stabilized past. Members of a society, and its politicians in particular, prefer that historians be quietly irenic rather than polemical, conservators rather than innovators."80
It is also true, however, that certain volatile stories can be told in some cultural moments and not others. In the early 1980s, aperiod of high nuclear anxiety, it was possible to turn to Hiroshima and Nagasaki for cautionary lessons. In 1980, for example, Republican senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon helped bring an exhibition of artifacts and graphic photographs from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to the rotunda of the Old Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. Hatfield had been in Hiroshima a month after it was destroyed and recalled, "The bomb saved my life ... . But to see the indiscriminate devastation and to think that now the world has one million times the nuclear explosive power of that one bomb-maybe this exhibit will give us pause." In this period, remembering the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki played a crucial role in the antinuclear fervor of the time. For increasing numbers of Americans in those years, this was the chosen narrative.81
The cultural climate of the 1990s, however, proved far less amenable to the telling of this darker narrative about atomic weaponry, especially in the "temple" of the National Air and Space Museum. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, as fears about global nuclear war eased, other kinds of fearsabout the nature of America and its global role in a world without a superenemyrose to the surface. In the overwhelming bitterness expressed toward the curators and historians involved in the Smithsonian show and in the invective that so often accompanied it, there were anxieties that could not be accounted for by any argument over the nature of the Enola Gay's mission, how to portray Japanese civilian victims, or what casualty figures to settle on in a projected invasion of Japan.
That darker narrativeparticularly when applied to the "Good War"seemed to tap into deeper fears about whether or not the United States was a righteous and innocent nation. For many, even to allow mention of the ambiguities and darknesses in our country's history appeared a dangerous activity. Representative Peter Blute of Massachusetts, one of the leading congressional opponents of the Enola Gay show, struck this note in declaring, "I don't want 16-year-olds walking out of [that museum] thinking badly about the U.S." Testifying before the Senate Committee onRules and Administration, the American Legion's Herman G. Harrington intoned this new mantra of anxiety. "We believe," he said, "in passing a sense of America's unique role in world history, and a sense of its greatness, on to future generations. And we believe that the National Air and Space Museum consciously and intentionally violated every one of those principles by setting out to alter our citizens' views of themselves." Telling an "alien" story, the museum, in Harrington's eyes, "cease[d] to be an American museum and bec[ame] something else entirely."82
Embedded in such fear of the power of historians' words to shake the confidence of Americans was a sense that the whole nation was now in need of a dose of patriotic therapy; that history's purpose must be to bolster the self-esteem of a country of increasingly needy and vulnerable citizens. The irony that Americans have so harshly criticized other nationsnotably Japanfor being unable to confront the complexities and ambiguities of their history was largely lost on those who opposed the Smithsonian and its exhibition. Also lost was the possibility that an American audience might be ready, willing, and able to face the complex past that the Enola Gay embodies.
Visitors to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum just down the Mall from the National Air and Space Museum have, since 1993, had exactly that opportunity. There, they learn that Americans encountered and liberated the camps and that many Holocaust survivors found a home in the United States. They also learn, however, about official American anti-Semitism that kept thousands of European Jews from legally emigrating to this country. They find out that the SS St. Louis was turned away from American shores in 1939, resulting in the deaths of many passengers in the Holocaust. At that museum, visitors are judged to be mature enough to be able to confront a complex story. Sadly, they were not given a similar opportunity to engage the story of the end of the war and the use of the atomic bomb (as well as its various legacies) at the National Air and Space Museum.
Copyright ©1996 by Edward T. Linenthal and Tom Engelhardt
Meet the Author
Edward T. Linenthal is Edward M. Penson Professor of Religion and American Culture at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh. He is the author of Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields and Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America's Holocaust Museum.
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