director of the National Air and Space
Museum has written a book about the Enola
The Revelations of Martin Harwit
Dr. Martin O. Harwit, formerly a
professor of astronomy at Cornell
University, became director of the National
Air and Space Museum in 1987. He says he was
chosen, contrary to the recommendation of
the museum staff, by Robert McCormick Adams,
secretary of the Smithsonian Institution,
who had a reputation for wanting "to change
the Smithsonian into a university."
Under Dr. Harwit's stewardship, the
museum branched out from its charter to
collect, preserve, and display aircraft,
spacecraft, and other artifacts and drifted
deep into ideological controversy. He
resigned in May 1995, under fire from
Congress, the news media, and veterans
groups for his handling of plans to display
the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that
dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan in
Among the revelations in his recently
published book (An Exhibit Denied:
Lobbying the History of Enola Gay,
Copernicus, 1996, 477 pages, $27.50) is that
he did not step down willingly. The new
Smithsonian secretary, I. Michael Heyman,
asked for his resignation and gave him only
four days to turn it in.
Dr. Harwit lays the primary blame for his
troubles on the Air Force Association and
Air Force Magazine, whose reports
from March 1994 onward brought to public
attention the museum's plans to use the
Enola Gay as a prop in a political
horror show. Early in the fray, AFA told Dr.
Harwit that the exhibition plan "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."
Dr. Harwit acknowledges he wrote an
internal memo--which was acquired and
published by AFA--admitting "that we do have
a lack of balance and that much of the
criticism that has been levied against us is
understandable." What he does not explain is
why he then continued publicly to denounce
Air Force Magazine's reports as
inaccurate, unfair, and misleading.
The museum's regular tactics with
veterans over the years had been to listen
to their complaints but ignore what they had
to say. Thus, it came as something of a
surprise that "the Air Force Association had
not been content just to offer advice; they
insisted on seeing their wishes carried
"First Casualty of AFA"
The book depicts AFA as a mighty force,
sweeping Congress, reporters, and public
opinion along at will. "The first casualty
of the AFA" is identified as Lt. Gen. C. M.
Kicklighter, USA (Ret.), executive director
of the Fiftieth Anniversary of World War II
Commemoration Committee, who turned
"tentative" and "cautious" toward the
exhibit plan after seeing AFA's analysis of
it. Commenting on a letter to the
Smithsonian signed by two dozen members of
Congress, Dr. Harwit says, "The hand of the
Air Force Association could not have been
clearer if this letter had been written on
He reports a bizarre scheme in which the
Smithsonian decided to seek support from the
American Legion on an assumption that "the
AFA, whose membership was only about
180,000, would have to defer to such giants
as the American Legion, with its 3.1 million
members." This notion seems to have
persisted, even though museum officials soon
discovered that the Legion had already
drafted a resolution condemning the exhibit.
Why the curators thought AFA had to "defer"
to the Legion is not explained.
By late 1994, Dr. Harwit says, "the
pressure on the American Legion leadership
was mounting. They could not stay entirely
aloof from their own membership, which had
long been stirred up by the AFA's and even
the Legion's own earlier propaganda." Having
interpreted the Legion's position in this
strange manner, Dr. Harwit was taken aback
in January 1995 when the final straw before
cancellation of the exhibit was a strong
blast from the American Legion.
Criticism from AFA was seen as unwelcome
interference, but activism from the left was
a different matter. Dr. Harwit describes as
"fairly accurate" reports that when eight
representatives of peace and environmental
groups came to see him, he said, "Where have
you been? You are too late. Why haven't you
been in before? Why haven't you talked to
Covering the Trail
The book traces Dr. Harwit's continuous
concern about the opinion of Japanese
officials, from whom the museum hoped to
borrow artifacts for the "emotional center"
of the exhibition.
"I knew that the AFA's ideas about an
exhibition would be totally unacceptable to
Japan and would precipitate an international
incident if followed through," he says. He
wrote in a letter that "I am most seriously
concerned that the changes in the exhibition
demanded by the Air Force Association would,
if accepted, cause an uproar in Japan when
the exhibition opens."
Worried that the Japanese might "back
away from working with us" on the
exhibition, Dr. Harwit felt a need in August
1994 to visit Japan "to reassure the mayors
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in person."
He and his colleagues "all agreed that I
could not go to Japan now, and that we could
not afford to have the Japanese come either.
But we could not put this in writing. The
furor such a letter would raise would top
everything. Heyman adamantly wanted to avoid
a 'paper trail.' Whatever we did needed to
be done verbally to leave no trace."
Later on, he says, "Heyman and I were
driven to the Japanese embassy. . . . I
introduced Heyman to the ambassador and
began apprising him of the situation, namely
that we could not publicly confer with
Hiroshima and Nagasaki representatives
without risking the entire shutdown of the
exhibition by Congress." Of another visit to
the Japanese embassy, he says, "The
important thing was not to leave a paper
trail that might be leaked."
Outrage and Alienation
Dr. Harwit is also consistent in his
sensitivity to the academic world. In early
1995, the exhibition plan had been through
four revisions and was still catching flak.
Secretary Heyman began to consider closing
it down in favor of a straightforward
display of the Enola Gay. Dr.
Harwit recalls, "I was aghast. . . . We
would have lost our last hope of support
from like-minded people who also stood for
education as an important national goal. I
said I understood his fears, but our
supporters, and particularly the academic
community, would be outraged and accuse us
of capitulating. In the long term, these
were the groups on whom we would need to
rely for help."
Veterans groups had been assured by the
Smithsonian that Dr. Harwit would not be
allowed to make unilateral changes to the
exhibition script. He says he was unaware of
that promise. On the basis of academic
advice, he marked down from 250,000 to
63,000 the number of US casualties expected
had an invasion of the Japanese homeland
been necessary in 1945.
The reaction rocked the Smithsonian.
Eighty-one members of Congress called for
Dr. Harwit's resignation or removal. The
Washington Post said planning for
the exhibit had been "incredibly
propagandistic and intellectually shabby."
Rep. Gerald B. H. Solomon (R-N. Y.),
chairman of the House Rules Committee, said
that unless the exhibit was straightened
out, "I will personally take measures this
year to zero out the Smithsonian's
Congressional appropriation. You can count
on that." Dr. Harwit's reaction, incredibly,
was to wonder, "What about the people from
his district who had elected Solomon? Would
they all want the Smithsonian's budget
Feeling a need at that point for "some
dispassionate advice," Dr. Harwit began
placing telephone calls to members of the
Smithsonian Board of Regents. Furious that
Dr. Harwit had gone around him, Secretary
Heyman had the under secretary, Constance
Newman, deliver the cease-and-desist order.
On January 25, Secretary Heyman canceled the
Dr. Harwit managed to hang on for a few
more months, but he was clearly alienated
from the Smithsonian's top officials. It had
been "disheartening" that Secretary Heyman
had said, upon taking office, that early
exhibition scripts were "deficient." The day
after cancellation of the exhibit, Dr.
Harwit says, the secretary cast a "pall" on
museum morale by making the same statement
to the assembled staff that he had made to
the public. Secretary Heyman and Under
Secretary Newman, he says, "were totally
consumed with the issue of Congressional
funding," and that "with money the highest
priority of the Institution, academic
integrity began to take second place."
Of all Dr. Harwit's grievances against
the Air Force Association--and the book is
loaded with them--the one that seems to
gravel him most is that we made copies of
his plans and circulated them. The curators
routinely sent review copies to their
colleagues in Japan but fought hard to keep
them away from critical eyes in the United
In this regard, there is one last
surprise for Dr. Harwit.
He harps repeatedly on his belief that
AFA, against his wishes, gave the news media
and Congress copies of an exhibit script he
sent to the executive director on January
31, 1994. For the record, if it matters,
what we actually duplicated and distributed
was a copy of the script that had come to
Air Force Magazine from other
sources two weeks previously. As Martin
Harwit's boss made a habit of reminding him,
museum operations in the Harwit era leaked
like a sieve.
--John T. Correll, Editor in Chief