Editor in Chief
July 12, 1994
The attached document is the complete, verbatim text of a statement, dated April
16, 1994, and circulated by Dr. Martin Harwit, director of the Air and Space
Museum. I received copies of the original document from three different sources.
It has been transcribed to eliminate any markings on the originals.
At the time of Dr. Harwit’s commentary, the exhibition title was “The
Crossroads: The End of World War II, the Atomic Bomb, and the Origins of the
Cold War.” It has since been retitled, “The Last Act: The Atomic Bomb and
the End of the World War II.”
Martin Harwit: Comments on Crossroads – April 16, 1994
All of us associated with the exhibition have always known that the most
difficult task before us would be to achieve accuracy and balance.
Though I carefully read the script a month ago, I evidently paid greater
attention to accuracy than to balance. Accuracy is somewhat easier to check, at
least for the aspects of the exhibition that are familiar. Balance is more
difficult to assess, since it requires an overview that allows one to see the
script as a whole. One reading apparently was not enough to afford me that
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. Most strikingly:
- We talk about
Hitler’s vow not to bomb civilians, (100-29) but dwell on the corpses in
Dresden (100-29, 200-13) due to Allied bombing without showing in similar
detail the prior bombings of Nanking, Warsaw, Antwerp, Nottingham, and other
cities that had earlier been heavily bombed by the Axis powers. We talk of
the heavy bombing of Tokyo (100-32,33), show great empathy for Japanese
mothers (100-34), but are strangely quiet about similar losses to American s
and among our own allies in Europe and Asia.
- We show terrible
pictures of human suffering in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in section 400,
without earlier, in section 100, showing pictures of the suffering the
Japanese had inflicted in China, in the camps they set up for the Dutch and
British civilians and military, and U.S. prisoners of war. We mention
internment camps for U.S. citizens of Japanese extraction (100-41) but go
into nowhere near as much detail into the internment of Koreans and other
non-Japanese in Japan (100-49) providing statistics alone, but no pictures.
Nor do we show pictures of Japanese racism against Americans. We do not note
that conditions in the American internment camps were far more favorable
than in Japanese interment camps, where slave labor conditions prevailed.
- We show virtually
no pictures of Allied dead or wounded either in sections 100 or 300. Section
300 is almost clinically military in its tone, when contrasted to section
400 which speaks about the action on the ground entirely in human terms.
Section 400 has nay number of heart-wrenching, tragic stories of suffering
on the ground. Where are the corresponding tragedies in section 100 in
China, in the Philippines, in Singapore, in the former Dutch possessions? We
go into American racism against Japanese (100-43) but show nothing
equivalent on the Japanese side.
- The alternatives
to the atomic bomb are stated more as ‘probabilities’ than as
‘speculations’, and are dwelled on more than they should be.
- Section 400 has
far too many explicit, horrible pictures.
I suggest the
- Take out all but about
one third of the explicit pictures of death and suffering in section 400.
Add to section 400 pictures of prisoners just released form Japanese
internment camps. (Lin Ezell has a wonderful letter from a woman who had
been released as a young girl and might have pictures, too).
- Put in an equal number of
pictures of death and suffering in section 200 for soldiers on both sides.
This will document the enormous casualties that preceded the atomic bombing.
- Put in more
pictures of allied cities that were destroyed before we ever reached Japan
or started bombing Germany with effect. Show Japanese bombing in their Asian
campaigns. (See e.g. the film in the World War I gallery.)
- Contrast the
hardships of war in Japan with hardships the allies in Europe and in the
Pacific were suffering. America, with its great wealth, was entirely
exceptional. Not doing that makes it look as though the allies had no reason
to complain. In the U.S., show a copy of a telegram received by a family
announcing their son’s death. Show gold star mothers, yellow ribbons, etc.
- Reduce much of
the speculative material about what might have been possible without the
atomic bomb. I have made some specific suggestions on the relevant pages,
but further deletions might be useful as well.
If we make these changes, I think we will have a
better exhibition. I do not think that these changes would be difficult to
implement, since most of them require deletion of material rather than addition,
except where pictures of allied suffering are involved, and those should be
to the Chronology of Controvery