Air and Space Museum Director Resigns
By John T. Correll, Editor in Chief
Air Force Magazine - June 1995, Pg. 13
Dr. Martin O. Harwit, embattled director of the
National Air and Space Museum, resigned May 2, declaring
that "nothing less than my stepping down from the
directorship will satisfy the museum's critics and allow
the museum to move forward with important new projects."
Dr. Harwit had been under fire for more than a year
because of museum plans to exhibit the Enola Gay,
the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, as a
prop in a politically charged program. The Air Force
Association and other groups said the exhibition was
severely lacking in balance and context and that it came
close to depicting Japan as the victim rather than the
aggressor in World War II.
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said that Dr. Harwit's
resignation would not change his plans to hold hearings
by the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which
he chairs, to answer such questions as how plans were
allowed to "get so far off track" by the museum and its
parent organization, the Smithsonian Institution. The
hearings are scheduled for July 11 and 18.
In January, after eighty-one members of Congress had
called for Dr. Harwit's resignation or replacement, the
exhibition was cancelled by Smithsonian Secretary I.
Michael Heyman. In his resignation letter, Dr. Harwit
noted that the controversy had not subsided despite the
Secretary Heyman had asked for time to conduct an
internal review of the problem and to put together a
simple, straightforward display of the front section of
the Enola Gay, presenting the aircraft without a
political message. The controversy flared again in April
when, unbeknown to Secretary Heyman, Dr. Harwit laid on
a breakfast reception to honor the curators and staff
"for all their work on the original exhibition," the one
that Secretary Heyman had cancelled in January. As soon
as Smithsonian Under Secretary Constance B.Newman
learned about the reception -- from a Washington
Times reporter who called up for comment -- she gave
orders to cancel it.
Dr. Harwit had been director of the Air and Space
Museum since 1987. Previously, he was a professor of
astronomy at Cornell University. Early in his tenure at
the museum, he talked about an exhibit that would be a
"counterpoint" to presentations of heroism because "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."
When the Enola Gay controversy broke loose
following publication of "War Stories at Air and Space"
in the April 1994 issue of Air Force Magazine, Dr.
Harwit gave conflicting signals with his statements.
Publicly, he insisted that the exhibition plan was sound
and that the criticism was misleading and unfair. The
curators did not need prodding to make whatever
modifications were indicated. In an internal memo to the
museum staff in April 1994, however, Dr. Harwit
acknowledged that "we do have a lack of balance" and
that "much of the criticism that has been levied against
us is understandable." In August, he told an Air Force
historian that the curators had "failed to follow
through" and that promised modifications "had fallen
through the cracks." Even so, Dr. Harwit resumed his
complaints about the Air Force Association in the
August-September issue of Air & Space Magazine.
Dr. Harwit's public statements had been less frequent
since September 1994, when Mr. Heyman became secretary
of the Smithsonian and imposed tighter controls on
statements and actions by the Air and Space Museum
Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Tex.), a member of the
Smithsonian's Board of Regents, said that Dr. Harwit's
resignation "is the first in a long line of management
changes that I expect to see at the institution."
In other developments related to the Enola Gay
* The American University in Washington, D.C., plans
to display, in cooperation with the city of Hiroshima,
the "ground zero" artifacts from Japan originally
designated for the exhibition at the Air and Space
Museum. The university particularly wants to show a
schoolgirl's lunch box with remains of peas and rice
reduced to carbon by the atomic bomb. The organizer,
Prof. Peter Kuznick, was among those who signed a
"historical cleansing" protest letter in November.
* On April 24, Mayor Hitoshi Motoshima of Nagasaki --
who had declared the use of atomic bombs against Japan
to have been a war crime on a par with Germany's program
of genocide against the Jews -- was defeated in his bid
for reelection by a vote of 106,000 to 61,000.
* At a symposium at the University of Michigan April
19, Dr. Tom D. Crouch, head of the Air and Space
Museum's aeronautics department, defended the original
Enola Gay exhibit concept and depicted the
problem as a clash between scholarly truth and
commemorative myth. "We behaved," he said, "as if there
were only one question to be answered: 'Is this script
an honest, accurate telling of the story?' We didn't
pause to ask a second question: 'Are there factors at
work here that might make an honest and accurate account
o the events in question unacceptable to museum
stakeholders or to the public?'"
* The academicians who held a press conference last
November to denounce the Smithsonian for yielding to
demands for "historical cleansing" have now organized
themselves as the "Historians' Committee for Open Debate
on Hiroshima" and are promoting a "National Teach-In on
Hiroshima" at colleges and universities across the
United States. The committee said in April that
teach-ins had been scheduled at Massachusetts Institute
of Technology, Towson State University near Baltimore,
three campuses of the University of California (Irvine,
Los Angeles, and Berkeley), Northwestern University,
Central Washington University, City College of New York,
Southwest State University in Marshall, Minn., and The
* Prior to his resignation, Dr. Harwit reinstated
Frank Rabbitt, a volunteer docent he had dismissed in
June 1994 for talking to the press about the Enola
Gay program and "undermining the exhibition." Dr.
Harwit has been held up to ridicule for "firing" a
volunteer who disagreed with him; adding to the
awkwardness of the situation, some of Mr. Rabbitt's
fellow docents took to wearing "Free Frank Rabbitt"
signs as they conducted tours at the museum's Garber
facility in Suitland, Md.
* In early May, the Air and Space Museum announced a
"Flight Time Barble" exhibit. A spokesman explained that
this display -- featuring aviation-and space-related
Barbie dolls provided by Mattel, Inc. -- is not a major
exhibit and is intended as a light and temporary
gap-filler while a regular museum gallery is closed
during preparation of an upcoming exhibit. Museum
officials said they hoped the Barbie display would
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