Children of the Manhattan Project
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by: Charles Krauthammer
|Washington Post; August 21, 1994|
August is the traditional month for reflecting on the atomic bomb. Next August (August, 1995), the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, will be the occasion for even greater reflection. In commemoration, the National Air and Space Museum in Washington is preparing an exhibit. On display will be more than the Enola Gay, the B-29 that delivered the bomb. The walls of text and choice of exhibits will display also the degree to which elite American museums, like universities, have fallen to the forces of political correctness and historical revisionism.
The original script for the "The Last Act: The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II" drew fierce criticism from veterans, most notably the Air Force Association. Air and Space was forced by that criticism to set up an internal review team that issued a report severely critical of the tone and the content of the original script.
Some of the review team's recommended changes have been made, but the original script betrays the ideology and intention of the curators. It said of the Pacific War endgame, for example, that "for most Americans... it was a war of vengeance. For most Japanese, it was a war to defend their unique culture against Western imperialism." The quote was later cleaned up, but you can imagine the prejudices of those who would write such a thing and the kind of exhibit they would put on.
It is an exhibit that underplays Japanese savagery in the conduct of World War II (and against the rest of Asia in the 10 years of depredation that preceded Pearl Harbor) and devotes much attention to American racism. It even quotes Hitler declaring, "I want no war against women and children. I have given the Luftwaffe instructions to attack only military objectives," then two script pages later quotes George Marshall saying, "There won't be any hesitation about bombing civilians - it will be all out."
It is an exhibit with dozens of wrenching photos and touching artifacts from Hiroshima, heavily weighted toward those from women and children. "Missing from this exhibit," noted the review team, "are other representative artifacts belonging to soldiers, factory workers, government officials, etc." This is a museum that sports a German V-2 rocket display accompanied by 13 photographs, exactly one of which shows any victims.
It is an exhibit, in short, that subtly and not so subtly casts the Japanese as victims, the kamikaze pilots as heroes, and the Americans as the vengeful heavy.
Under the heading "Historical Controversies" the exhibit asks "Would the bomb have been dropped on the Germans?" It begins its answer thus: "Some have argued that the United States would never have dropped the bomb on the Germans, because Americans were more reluctant to bomb "White people" than Asians.
Allied reluctance to bomb "White people" will certainly come as news to the survivors of Dresden (Kurt Vonnegut among them). The fact is the A-bomb was built to be used against Germany. "Some have argued"? Some have argued that the earth is flat. Some have argued that the Holocaust never happened. We don't give wall space in our national museums to such "controversies."
The essential if undeclared judgment of the authors of this commemoration is that we should never have dropped the bomb. Not just because of the amply displayed horror but because other measures - "some combination of blockade, firebombing, an Emperor guarantee, and a Soviet declaration of war" - "would probably have forced a Japanese surrender." ("Would probably" is now changed to "might.")
These kinds of cozy, easy judgments made at a safe distance of 50 years and 7,000 miles have earned the deserved contempt of those like Paul Fussell, author of classic studies of World War I and World War II, who were there. Writing on the 36th anniversary of Hiroshima, in a piece subtitled (quoting William Manchester) "Thank God for the Atomic Bomb," he pointed out the horror and cost of the alternative to the bomb, the planned invasion of Japan.
On Okinawa, only weeks before Hiroshima, 123,000 Japanese and Americans killed each other." Moreover, "invasion was not just a hypothetical threat... It was genuinely in train, as I know because I was to be in it." Fussell was a second lieutenant leading a rifle platoon in Europe, preparing to be shipped to the Pacific for the invasion of Honshu. The bomb meant "we were going to live, we were going to grow up to adulthood after all" - and so would hundreds of thousands of others, American and Japanese.
What to do? General Paul Tibbets, the man who commanded the 509th Composite Group and flew the Enola Gay, has the right idea: Hang the plane in the museum without commentary or slanted context. Display it like Lindbergh's plane, with silent reverence and a few lines explaining what it did and when.
Or, forget the whole enterprise and let the Japanese commemorate the catastrophe they brought on themselves.
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Web Master's Note: In the end, the entire project was cancelled by the Smithsonian. The Enola Gay now is back, in pieces, in a hangar in Maryland. Chalk another one up for the despicable revisionists.