Air and Space Museum Hit by Academic Backlash
Under fire from the Air Force Association and other
veterans' groups, the Smithsonian Institution and the
National Air and Space Museum were moving to correct
blatant political biases and imbalances in the museum's
plan to exhibit the Enola Gay, the B-29 that
dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. On November 16,
however, forty-eight "historians and scholars" delivered
a letter of protest to Smithsonian Secretary I. Michael
Heyman demanding that the imbalances and biases be
The scholars charge that by giving in to the Air
Force Association "and other special interest groups,"
the Smithsonian has subjected its exhibition, scheduled
to open in May 1995, to "historical cleansing."
(Illustrative of the material "historically cleansed"
out of the museum's original script was a preposterous
assertion that "for most Americans, it was a war of
vengeance," whereas "for most Japanese, it was a war to
defend their unique culture against Western
imperialism." The initial script had forty-nine photos
of Japanese casualties compared to only three of
American casualties. In effect, it portrayed the
Japanese as victims rather than aggressors in World War
The letter to Secretary Heyman was distributed at a
press conference held November 17 by eight scholars who
had presented an even stronger protest statement to Dr.
Martin O. Harwit, director of the Air and Space Museum.
The group of eight wants the exhibit to speculate
further about whether the use of the atomic bomb was
necessary and to declare that Japan was "near defeat"
when the bomb was dropped. The scholars call on the
Smithsonian to revise the impression that Hiroshima was
"a legitimate and primarily military target."
It should also be made clear, the scholars say, that
estimates of American casualties in the event of an
invasion of Japan are inflated and that "military
planning documents at the time showed no more than
46,000 expected US deaths." (It is not known whether the
protesters know about Medical Plan Olympic, dated July
31, 1945, which was based on the assumption of 394,859
casualties in the first 120 days of an invasion. The
requirement for whole blood was set at 149,000 pints.
Anyway, even if 46,000 "expected US deaths" had been the
worst-case estimate, that is hardly a prospect to
The scholars also want the museum to restore the
deleted parts of the "Ground Zero: Hiroshima and
Nagasaki" section, which was designed as the "emotional
center" of the exhibition. This section originally had
more than 100 visual elements including life-size
pictures of the dead and dozens of personal artifacts,
including a schoolgirl's lunch box with remains of peas
and rice reduced to carbon. The museum director said the
emphasis on women, children, and mutilated religious
objects was "happenstance," not a deliberate ideological
"The Institution is now being criticized from both
ends of the spectrum--from those who consider the
exhibition as a 'revisionist' product critical of the
United States to those who accuse us of staging an
exhibition which glorifies the decision of the United
States to use atomic weapons," Secretary Heyman said.
"This indicates to me that we are probably squarely in
the middle, which, as a national institution, is not a
bad place to be."
--John T. Correll