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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 335

Edited by Edward T. Linenthal and Tom Engelhardt, History Wars is a nonfiction work consisting of eight related articles about “battles for the American past.” The interrelated articles explore a controversial museum exhibition at the US National Air and Space Museum (NASM) in the early 1990s. Concerned with the US dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945, the exhibition was planned to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary and to feature the Enola Gay, the airplane from which the bomb was released.

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The authors relate the conflicts that arose between the planning committee and other people who had a vested interest in the exhibition’s content and message but were not originally included on that committee. The articles present multiple ways that the differing interpretations from academic perspectives, especially those based in the New Historicism, clashed with those of military veterans and others who opposed what they saw as erroneous revisionism. History Wars follows the story from the planning through the changes in the finished exhibition, and explains how these controversies led to the resignation of the NASM’s director, Martin Harwit.

In planning the exhibition, the curators and other planning team members wanted to ensure that marking the anniversary did not appear to celebrate dropping the atomic bomb. In addition, the overall context for the exhibition was intended to explain the birth of our current “nuclear age” and to show how the people of Hiroshima became the first victims. However, they underestimated the depth of feeling and pride that many Americans felt in the role that the mission played in ending the war. Among others, Paul Tibbetts, the Enola Gay’s pilot, strenuously objected to the perceived negative perception that the exhibition would promote. Further objections concerned the projected portrayal of Japan, which critics believed underreported its military aggression before World War II and the brutal military actions during the war. Ultimately, the planned exhibition was scaled way back; it presented part of the airplane with a video but not explanatory text.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1821

Suddenly, in the fall of 1993, a major conflict erupted between ambitious historians and American veterans who had actually participated in the events the historians sought to scrutinize. As recounted in a series of eight related articles that compose History Wars: The Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past, the historians had been working on a controversial exhibit featuring the display of the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

Under the leadership of its forceful new director, Martin Harwit, the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., planned to display the restored Enola Gay as centerpiece of an exhibition scheduled for 1995, coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II in the Pacific. As originally planned, co-editor Edward T. Linenthal explains in the introductory chapter of History Wars, the historians working with Harwit went to great length “to ensure that the exhibit not be celebratory.”

Instead, the clear focus and “didactic objective” of the exhibition was to present the Japanese of Hiroshima “as the first victims of the nuclear age.” To deliver its “essentially antiwar and antinuclear” message, however, the historians had chosen an event in history which, to many people, also carried a very different message. The clash over the exact meaning of Hiroshima, and what should be remembered and displayed about it, is what History Wars sets out to analyze.

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