Books by Edward T. Linenthal

Released: Oct. 1, 2001

"Readers searching for a dense analysis of what Americans thought about the Oklahoma City bombing will find it here. Otherwise, eminently skippable."
Readers looking for the story of Timothy McVeigh or a true-crime narrative in general should look elsewhere: this is exclusively a sociological study. Linenthal (Religion and American Culture/Univ. of Wisconsin; History Wars, 1996, etc.) devotes nothing to the background of the bombing and little on the events themselves. His goal is to describe the intellectual fallout that resulted. And so the author asks: Was the bombing a meaningless act by fringe fanatics? Or was it merely another example of the murderous violence that distinguishes American culture? He collects answers from all over, assembling page after page of quotes. After summarizing their opinions, the author doesn't add his own but moves on to even more questions. Does the "new threat of domestic terrorism" demand laws that narrow freedom of speech? How did Oklahomans and their religious leaders view God's responsibility for this disaster? Some in this devout, conservative city blamed Satan or a government that kept the Bible out of public schools. Controversy over a proper memorial for the victims persisted until its dedication five years after the blast. Ideas and drawings poured in from across the world. The author apparently feels this is the crux of his study, since half of it he devotes to the debate itself. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 5, 1996

Linenthal (Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America's Holocaust Museum, 1995, etc.), Engelhardt, and six other historians use a bitter controversy to consider America's attitudes toward its past. The curators of the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum planned an ambitious exhibit centered on the Enola Gay, the airplane used to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. The exhibit, marking the event's 50th anniversary, would have described the intense desire to end the war that led to the bombing, but also the way the bombing's nightmarish effects infected the world with fear of nuclear annihilation. Conservatives claimed the exhibit would be anti-nuclear and anti-war, throwing into question the decision to drop the bomb, and would transform the Enola Gay's crew from heroes to terrorists. Under relentless attack, the museum backed down and its director resigned. The Enola Gay is now displayed virtually out of context. These essays take the controversy as the starting point for ruminations on American attitudes toward war, the nuclear age, and, with exceptional insight, history itself. The writers are not uniformly supportive of the planned exhibit: Former air force chief historian Richard H. Kohn concludes, for instance, that it wasn't a balanced presentation; New York University history professor Marilyn B. Young says that it was. But there is unanimous regret among the essayists that an opportunity was lost, as Kohn writes, ``to inform the American people . . . about warfare, airpower, World War II and a turning point in world history.'' The Enola Gay conflict, writes University of Wisconsin history professor Paul Boyer, was about ``the disparity between the mythic past inscribed in popular memory and the past that is the raw material of historical scholarship.'' This round of history wars, conclude the writers in this excellent collection, was won by the myth-makers. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1995

An intriguing record of the contested, anxious decisions behind every brick of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Linenthal (Religion and American Culture/Univ. of Wisconsin, Oshkosh) has written about other American memorials (Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields, 1991), but not even the commemorative efforts at Pearl Harbor or Little Big Horn were charged with this much ethnic and political sensitivity. Would a Holocaust museum in the heart of Washington, D.C., be too Jewish or not Jewish enough? This question was bandied about by committee members before the first brick was laid, resulting in the architect's decision to keep the exterior of the building consistent with its neighbors' (such as that of the Treasury building), yet to disallow any view of the Washington Mall from within. Linenthal documents how gypsies, the handicapped, homosexuals, blacks, and political prisoners of various European nations all tried to ``get into the act'' as represented genocide victims. As if the inter-ethnic politics were not sticky enough, the sponsor's foreign policies were also under the gun. Washington had been wary of the project ever since committee-member Elie Wiesel embarrassed President Reagan by publicly asking him not to go to Bitburg to honor the German war dead. At the museum's dedication ceremony the Nobel laureate continued his gadfly activities, pressing a reluctant President Clinton to intervene in the Bosnian genocide—``Something, anything must be done,'' challenged Wiesel, to make Holocaust memory truly relevant. Some Christian groups objected that the memorial perpetuated an anti- Christian sense of not forgiving one's enemies. Even decor decisions about the exhibits were charged: How should Nazi propaganda or quotes from Hitler be presented so as to show their inherent evil? Occasionally bogged down in unnecessary detail, but a fascinating ``making of'' account that adds much to our appreciation of the museum and our understanding of what and how humankind chooses to remember. Read full book review >