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History Wars The Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past

Edward T. Linethal ☆ 9 READ

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. Two narratives merged in the abortive display proposed by the Smithsonian of the Enola Gay the bomber that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima the successful ending to a long and devastating war and the devastation of two Japanese cities History is all about stories what the tell us and what they reveal about us The text accompanying the display originally was characteristic of what Hoffer describes as the new History which portrayed the United States in a nuanced manner and with less rah rah often seeing events from different points of view The content which portrayed the horror wrecked upon the Japanese pissed off many including Senator Dole who had been seriously injured in WWII and who was then running for president The text then was politicized attacked by the right as un American promoted by the left as accurate and representing a multicultural perspective Historians are typically ill prepared and powerless to defend themselves against these kinds of polemical attacks This book was an attempt by the essayists to address the issues raised by their detractorsLinenthal had been involved in the 1993 Little Big Horn display controversy and frankly should have know better than to get entangled in the Enola Gay disputation While the desire to represent multiple points of view may be laudable they should have expected a backlash Ironically protests against use of the bomb was not a recent phenomenon in fact protests from the right including Henry Luce had been voiced in 1945 They argued the war could have been ended without use of the bomb which according to Luce challenged the Christian conscienceIt was the post Vietnam War executive director and board members who were the most anxious to create an Enola Gay exhibit The military representatives saw little purpose After all the mission had been a milk run and was simply a continuation of the strategic bombing policy developed by General Curtis LeMay to firebomb Japanese cities part of the morale campaign that had originated in Europe The mission of the Smithsonian as chartered was celebratory in nature and intended to be a repository for euipment and devices that represent advances in aviation Some uestioned whether the Enola Gay and the dropping of the bombs met that mission The museum with the help of the aviation industry and military had become a showcase of American triump and ingenuity The displays themselves had little historical context So the Enola Gay exhibit would be a departure from that original intentBy 1994 positions had hardened between those who accused the Smithsonian of being anti American and wanting to revise history and those at the Smithsonian who were trying to rewrite the script and avoid a public relations disaster They were being accused of saying things even after the passages had been excised from the script The controversy said perhaps about 1990's United States culture than about the exhibit itself which had become a lightning rod for the American shift to the right The Senate had passed a resolution making explicit the federal law that reuired the Smithsonian to commemorate the valor and sacrificial service of America's armed services This ironically was very similar to the conservative Japanese refusal to express and remorse or apology for Japan's aggression Both represent a veneration for the dead that permits only a celebratory response to the historical recordThe Smithsonian was unable or unwilling to mount any coherent counterattack and soon their opponents had enlisted members of Congress etc etc and other groups many of whom had clearly not even read the entire script let alone the massive revisions The only conclusion one could draw was that the Air Force was very worried that any portrayal of its use of nuclear weapons and their conseuences might redound to the detriment of air power as a strategic weaponas the fiasco of the Enola Gay exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution showed American recollections of the war reveal a powerful emotional and ideological impulse to strip the historical record of all its ambiguity all contradiction all moral complexity and simply wrap it in the flag

SUMMARY History Wars The Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past

Onsider 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 Walla. This essay collection provides a variety of perspectives regarding the 1995 incident when the National Air and Space Museum NASM proposed an exhibit about the Enola Gay aircraft that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima The exhibit came under fire and plans for the exhibit were eventually scrapped The essays here cover a wide range of material Some essays are general narratives of the event some delve deep into the historical literature about atomic weapons and the decision to drop the bomb in the first place In that sense this book can serve as a useful primer to the voluminous literature on the subject exploring not only the US reasoning for the bombing but the context of firebombing and the Japanese decision to surrender Other essays cover broader subjects such as Michael Sherry’s contribution which traces the rise of the “patriotic orthodoxy” a rigid cultural conservatism rooted in a patriotic reading of the past in the last half of the twentieth century His essay and other trace and explore the “culture wars” that seemed to become so heated in the 90s and still remain divisive today The book consistently explores issues of collective memory particularly of WW2 as “the good war” and Vietnam as creating a “syndrome” that America has not been able to overcomeIn terms of public history the book has much to offer The uestions looming behind all of the contributions have to do with the role of museums in society particularly military museums Almost every essay in this collection makes reference to a uote from one of the museum’s planners who expressed that the exhibit could either ask tough historical uestions or celebrate veterans to make them “feel good” but the exhibit cannot do both This tension between museums as celebration or commemoration and education or sources for introducing scholarship andor uestioning cultural narratives is a tension that plagues military museums perhaps so than other types of museums The role of the museum in creating reinforcing or challenging these narratives is a constant theme throughout the contributions here and these issues seem volatile in a military context since as many of the writers point out veterans and their families often adhere to these narratives to give meaning to their sacrifice When museums challenge these narratives the very identity of the people who made such heavy sacrifices is at stake In many ways the identity of the nation is at stake and many of these authors also point out that America has tended to define itself through its warsMike Wallace’s essay considers several practical options for museums in dealing with these issues mostly having to do with clearly defined goals and missions interaction with scholars and predicting sources of dissent He also considers the creation of a sort of board charged with evaluating controversial exhibits that can act as a self regulatory committee and a defense if good exhibits become under attack Ultimately the book is a wonderful exploration of the myriad of issues at play in military museums and how they can cause intense controversy Although the book provides no hard answers it certainly raises many important uestions that go far beyond the Enola Gay controversy itself exploring issues of society history and how Americans view themselves

SUMMARY ✓ E-book, or Kindle E-pub ☆ Edward T. Linethal

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 c. A bit repetative after a while but certainly very interesting for historical professionals who work in museums or make exhibits How to exhibit war What effects can certain object have How difficult can discussions be where actual particants in a conflict voice their opinion And what value must those voices haveAll subjects treated in this book and a must read for directors or curators in war or war related museums

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