3. Museums/Enola Gay

I was struck by the conclusion of the Enola Gay and the Smithsonian chronology written by the Air Force Association (AFA) – it states, at the end: “Air & Space Museum puts the forward fuselage of the Enola Gay and other items on display as part of a straightforward historical exhibition. Within a year, it draws more than a million visitors–making it, by far, the most popular special exhibition in the history of the Air & Space Museum. (When the exhibition finally closed in May 1998, it had drawn almost four million visitors.)” I feel like it implies that the exhibit was so successful because the original idea was dropped. I’m not sure that’s a correct statement/assumption. On one hand, it seems like some of the content of the exhibit was skewed towards the Japanese; for example, there were 49 photos of Japanese casualties vs. 3 photos of American casualties, 5 photos of Japanese military members in military role vs. 65 photos of American military members in military role, etc. That does paint Americans as aggressive, and also, to imply that Americans soldiers attacked for “vengeance” dishonors those who faithfully served for their country. However, is it “wrong” to show that the US harmed Japan? It may be an “ugly” depiction, but it happened. You can justify why the atomic bomb was dropped, but you can’t deny the results of what happened. Later, when the exhibit re-opened in 2003, the Committee for a National Discussion of Nuclear History and Current Policy pointed out that the exhibit was “devoid not only of historical context and discussion of the ongoing controversy surrounding the bombings, but even of basic information regarding the number of casualties.”

The controversy of the Enola Gay exhibit is a clash of official stories – the museum wanted to tell one story and the AFA disagreed with that story and wanted another one to be told. I’ve always thought that museums present facts, that they aim to be objective. The Enola Gay exhibit controversy brought home that while museums/museum exhibits are factual/informative, how they present the facts affect the story they tell.