History Wars

by Edward Linenthal, Tom Engelhardt

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History Wars Themes

The main themes in History Wars are the causes and consequences of war, the ethics of combat, and public knowledge of war.

  • The causes and consequences of war: The text examines the historical analysis of the lead-up to and aftermath of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.
  • The ethics of combat: The antiwar, antinuclear stance of the original Enola Gay exhibit sparked controversy about the ethics of the atomic bombings.
  • Public knowledge of war: History Wars questions the idea of censorship in museum exhibits and other presentations of historical information to the public.


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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 280

The Causes and Consequences of War

The most prominent theme of the collection is the historical analysis of the events leading up to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as the actual historical event, its aftermath, and other major battles in American history. Arguably the central thesis of the exhibit and the collection of articles is that the Japanese people were the first victims of the nuclear bomb and that the military and technological milestone of creating nuclear weapons should not be celebrated. In essence, the exhibit was originally intended to showcase the dangers of nuclear power.

The Ethics of Combat

One theme of the text is the examination of war in general, regardless of the presence of nuclear weapons. This aspect of the Enola Gay exhibit drew ire from American veterans who countered that it was the Japanese Imperial forces that initiated the war with the United States during World War II by bombing Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The antiwar stance of the exhibit came from a humanistic viewpoint that evoked questions about morality, warfare ethics, and codes governing combat engagement. Essentially, the historians who contributed to the exhibit posited that using nuclear weapons to end a war is not justified, regardless of who started the engagement of warfare.

Public Knowledge of War

A major theme of the work is the question of what the American public should know when analyzing past wars. The exhibit’s subtext was antiwar and antinuclear, but the veterans believed that the viewpoint of the exhibit was one-dimensional. The book ponders the concept of information itself and whether that information should be censored in museums and other institutions where historical information is exhibited.

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Chapter Summaries