History Wars

by Edward Linenthal, Tom Engelhardt

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History Wars Summary

History Wars is a compilation of eight articles exploring a controversial exhibit at the United States’ National Air and Space Museum in the 1990s.

  • The exhibit was to feature the Enola Gay, the plane from which the US military dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, during World War II.
  • Veterans and other conservative commentators took issue with the exhibit and what they saw as its antiwar, antinuclear slant, sparking a public controversy.
  • Ultimately, the museum removed the context they had intended to include with the exhibit, instead merely displaying the Enola Gay and footage of the explosion.


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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, 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 United States 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.

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 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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