August 17, 1994
FOR THE RECORD: Meeting on Enola Gay
John T. Correll
Thomas S. Moorman, Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, hosted a 90-minute
meeting in his office yesterday to discuss the exhibit, “The Last Act: the
Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II,” planned by the National Air and
Space Museum. The Museum director, Dr. Martin Harwit, was there as were
historians for the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. Steve Aubin and I
attended for the Air Force Association.
big news, revealed by Dr. Harwit, is that the museum now plans to revise the
exhibit script substantially. This was a surprise, since on June 21, the museum
had declared the previous script to be final, “minor wording changes
aside.”) Dr. Harwit said that those attending yesterday’s meeting will
receive review copies of the new script by September 1. Among the changes
A new section at the
beginning of the exhibition to provide historical content for the war in the
Pacific. Material on the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” in the
1930s, President Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” speech material on Tojo, etc.
Details on this “context” section however, will not be ready in time for the
September 1 script revision.
Speculation about US motives
will be removed. This will include such material as the series of “Historical
Controversies,” which the Air Force Association (among others) had
characterized as anti-American.
The exhibit will strongly
affirm that the United States employed the atomic bomb to shorten the war and
save lives. This is an important change, but we have a concern here. The
exhibition curator, Dr. Michael Neufeld, does not personally accept this
rationale for the use of the bomb. Can the exhibit credibly affirm a key point
if the curator doesn’t believe it? (A related problem, as Air Force Historian
Dick Hallion said yesterday, is that the other curator – Dr. Tom Crouch – is
on record disagreeing with the objective of the exhibit as stated by Dr. Harwit
in the August/September issue of the museum’s Air and Space Magazine.)
The curator’s have “taken
out adjectives and neutralized language” as well as removing “a number of
redundant graphic images” in areas where exception has been taken.
Theatrical lighting effects have been removed from the “Ground Zero: Hiroshima and Nagasaki” section of the exhibit.
meeting was marked by a number of hostile exchanges between Dr. Harwit and me.
He said AFA does not believe the museum will make changes unless forced to do so
by external pressure. With that, I agreed completely. I pointed out that on June
21, the museum had declared the exhibit plan final and disparaged as
irresponsible AFA’s complaint that it lacked balance, context, and fairness.
Now, a month later, the museum has reversed its direction and says it agrees
that major changes are needed for balance, context and fairness. What
caused the museum to change its mind? The obvious answer is that over the past
month, AFA’s public criticism generated more public opinion pressure than the
museum was able to withstand.
Harwit and I differed on the right of the public to see the museum’s emerging
exhibit plan. He believes that only a handful of people should have access to
the plan, and that any comments they have should be conveyed privately to the
museum staff. Our position – which I restated – is that this is a
controversial program, to be held in a public museum and funded by public money,
and that the public has a right to know what’s going on and to comment on it.
Dr. Harwit finds it “inappropriate” that he has received thousands of
strongly worded letters objecting to his plan. Both Herman Wolk (Center for Air
Force History) and I made the point that this is the way things work in a free
society and there’s nothing “inappropriate about it.
a similar exchange, Dr. Harwit said that AFA has been very effective in
mobilizing public opinion, but that affairs are reaching the point where “you
won’t be able to control it.” I told Dr. Harwit emphatically that we had no
thought of trying to “control” public opinion. If a manipulation model
exists here, it’s in his mind, not ours.)
will have to wait and see, obviously, what this new script revision brings.
Further modifications – especially in areas that we had identified as problems
but where the museum was dug in before – will be a welcome improvement. Even
so – we’re left with several questions:
Is this a genuine, good-faith
action or a ploy to buy time? Frequently in the past, the museum’s standard
reaction to criticism has been to claim that new suggestions are under review
and will be reflected later in a modified product. In the meantime, trust us.
When the immediate uproar subsides, the curators revert to their original
course. That may not be the case here, but we should be watchful and wary.
Assuming the effort is
genuine, is it possible for marginal revision to transform this into an honest
How can curators do justice
to an exhibit that – if Dr. Harwit’s latest assurances are to be believed
– are fundamentally at odds with their personal beliefs?
John Correll (signature)
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