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Volume 3, Number 2, February 2003

The Smithsonian Enola Gay Controversy Revisited Online

To mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II in 1995, The Smithsonian Air & Space Museum attempted to mount an exhibit featuring the Enola Gay--the bomber that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima; however, this attempt eventually broke down in a firestorm of controversy.

The major event in 1945 carries with it a double-edged sword: on one hand it successfully ended World War II, and it provided a blessing for many US soldiers in fear of being sent overseas to fight in the ongoing war; on the other hand, it inflicted horrible carnage on the civilian population of Japan, and it can be argued that it caused the beginning of the Cold War. Therefore, in 1995 the controversy of how to present history ensued.

The decision for the exhibit involved many stakeholders: Smithsonian officials, military organizations, members of the United States Congress, academic historians, military historians, the news media, officials of other museums, and even the Japanese.

Many questions arose as to how should it come across to the visitors in the National Air and Space Museum:

  • Should the function of a museum be to celebrate the past or examine it? To memorialize or to educate?
  • Should history record the past or mold the future? Inform or "heroify"?
  • Should the exhibit be politically correct or historically accurate?

The "history" of this attempt to represent history can tell us much about the function of history in our culture and why history matters.

Thus, the website link that follows enables users to experience the evolution of the Enola Gay controversy -- in some sense to relive it -- by reading through a chronological list of documents divided into five "rounds." It was originally intended for a Lehigh University course, but it is now open to the general public.

The Enola Gay Controversy

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Page last updated 11/27/2005

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Supported by a FIPSE grant from the US Department of Education
and seed money from the Hewlett Foundation-funded CRInfo project.

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Campus Conflict Resolution Resources Project
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