History Wars: The Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past - Edward T. Linethal, Edward T. Linethal Two narratives merged in the abortive display proposed by the Smithsonian of the Enola Gay, the bomber that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima: the successful ending to a long and devastating war and the devastation of two Japanese cities. History is all about stories, what the tell us and what they reveal about us. The text accompanying the display originally was characteristic of what Hoffer describes as the "new History," which portrayed the United States in a more nuanced manner and with less rah-rah, often seeing events from different points of view.

The content, which portrayed the horror wrecked upon the Japanese pissed off many, including Senator Dole, who had been seriously injured in WWII and who was then running for president. The text then was politicized, attacked by the right as un-American, promoted by the left as accurate and representing a multicultural perspective. Historians are typically ill-prepared and powerless to defend themselves against these kinds of polemical attacks. This book was an attempt by the essayists to address the issues raised by their detractors.

Linenthal had been involved in the 1993 Little Big Horn display controversy, and frankly should have know better than to get entangled in the Enola Gay disputation. While the desire to represent multiple points of view may be laudable, they should have expected a backlash. Ironically, protests against use of the bomb, was not a recent phenomenon, in fact, protests from the right, including Henry Luce, had been voiced in 1945. They argued the war could have been ended without use of the bomb, which, according to Luce, challenged the "Christian conscience."

It was the post-Vietnam War executive director and board members who were the most anxious to create an Enola Gay exhibit. The military representatives saw little purpose. After all, the mission had been a milk run and was simply a continuation of the strategic bombing policy developed by General Curtis LeMay to firebomb Japanese cities, part of the "morale" campaign that had originated in Europe. The mission of the Smithsonian, as chartered, was celebratory in nature and intended to be a "repository" for equipment and devices that represent advances in aviation. Some questioned whether the Enola Gay and the dropping of the bombs met that mission. The museum, with the help of the aviation industry and military, had become a showcase of American triump and ingenuity. The displays themselves had little historical context. So the Enola Gay exhibit would be a departure from that original intent.

By 1994 positions had hardened between those who accused the Smithsonian of being anti-American and wanting to revise history, and those at the Smithsonian who were trying to rewrite the script and avoid a public relations disaster. They were being accused of saying things even after the passages had been excised from the script. The controversy said more perhaps about 1990's United States culture than about the exhibit itself which had become a lightning rod for the American shift to the right. The Senate had passed a resolution making explicit the federal law that required the Smithsonian to commemorate "the valor and sacrificial service" of America's armed services. This, ironically, was very similar to the conservative Japanese refusal to express and remorse or apology for Japan's aggression. Both represent a veneration for the dead that permits only a celebratory response to the historical record.

The Smithsonian was unable, or unwilling, to mount any coherent counterattack and soon their opponents had enlisted members of Congress, etc., etc. and other groups, many of whom had clearly not even read the entire script, let alone the massive revisions. The only conclusion one could draw was that the Air Force was very worried that any portrayal of its use of nuclear weapons and their consequences might redound to the detriment of air power as a strategic weapon.

". . .as the fiasco of the Enola Gay exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution showed, American recollections of the war reveal a powerful emotional and ideological impulse to strip the historical record of all its ambiguity, all contradiction, all moral complexity, and simply wrap it in the flag."