Linenthal (Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America's Holocaust Museum, 1995, etc.), Engelhardt, and six other...


HISTORY WARS: The Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past

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 antiwar, 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.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 1996

ISBN: 080504387X

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996