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News ::
Activists Join Academics in Opposing Enola Gay Exhibit (english)
15 Nov 2003
DC activists are teaming up with prominent academics to oppose the Smithsonian's plans to exhibit the B-29 Enola Gay without referencing the human suffering caused by the atomic bomb this plane dropped on Hiroshima.
An impressive committee of leading intellectuals from around the world has joined forces with veterans, clergy, activists and students to challenge the Smithsonian's plans to exhibit the Enola Gay solely as a "magnificent technological achievement." The planned exhibit, set to open December 15 at the Air and Space Museum’s new Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles, is devoid of historical context and a discussion of the ongoing controversy surrounding the bombings, and lacks basic information regarding the number of casualties. The “Committee for a National Discussion of Nuclear History and Current Policy” has formulated a powerful statement of principles, which appears on their website: The statement has been circulating in the activist and academic communities here and abroad. The statement makes clear that the signatories, who number about 250 now, are not opposed to exhibiting the plane in a fair and responsible manner, but they fear that a “celebratory” exhibit both legitimizes what happened in 1945 and helps build support for the Bush administration's “dangerous new nuclear policies”, hence the linkage between past history and current policy. The signers, who include a who’s who of the American intellectual left, include Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, famed writers E.L. Doctorow and Kurt Vonnegut, activist Daniel Ellsberg, celebrity Martin Sheen and renowned folk singer Pete Seeger. A list of signers is available on the website.

The Smithsonian recently responded to the statement of principles,, and defended it’s decision to exhibit the plane by arguing that the text and plaque used to describe the B-29 is exactly the same kind used for other aircraft in the museum. The text of the exhibit follows:
Boeing’s B-29 Superfortress was the most sophisticated propeller-driven bomber of World War II, and the first bomber to house its crew in pressurized compartments. Although designed to fight in the European theater, the B-29 found its niche on the other side of the globe. In the Pacific, B-29s delivered a variety of aerial weapons: conventional bombs, incendiary bombs, mines, and two nuclear weapons.
On August 6, 1945, this Martin-built B-29-45-MO dropped the first atomic weapon used in combat on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, Bockscar (on display at the U.S. Air Force Museum near Dayton, Ohio) dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. Enola Gay flew as the advance weather reconnaissance aircraft that day. A third B-29, The Great Artiste, flew as an observation aircraft on both missions.
Transferred from the U.S. Air Force
Wingspan: 43 m (141 ft 3 in)
Length: 30.2 m (99 ft)
Height: 9 m (27 ft 9 in)
Weight, empty: 32,580 kg (71,826 lb)
Weight, gross: 63,504 kg (140,000 lb)
Top speed: 546 km/h (339 mph)
Engines: 4 Wright R-3350-57 Cyclone turbo-supercharged radials, 2,200 hp
Crew: 12 (Hiroshima mission)
Armament: two .50 caliber machine guns
Ordnance: “Little Boy” atomic bomb
Manufacturer: Martin Co., Omaha, Nebr., 1945A19500100000”

The Smithsonian’s response indicated that 300,000 man-hours were dedicated toward restoring the aged bomber. The museum notes, “In the end, the Enola Gay played a decisive role in World War II. It helped bring the war to an end in that after the bombing of Nagasaki, shortly after the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, surrendered unconditionally.” This kind of assertion galvanizes the academic opponents who are driven to dispel this deep-seated contention. In fact, military historians point to thousands of historical manuscripts, among them the memoirs of Admiral William D. Leahy, who was Truman’s Chief of Staff. Leahy wrote, “The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender. . . .In being the first to use it, we . . . adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.” Even the famed war hawk General Curtis Lemay, who commanded the Twenty-First Bomber Command, (as reported in THE NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE) said flatly that the atomic bomb "had nothing to do with the end of the war."

Many historical figures, including Eisenhower, Macarthur, Nimitz and Halsey were opposed to using the bomb and dispel its contribution toward ending the war. Opponents to the planned exhibit decry the “celebratory fashion” of the Enola Gay exhibit and point to the Air and Space Museum website that invites 4,000 aviation veterans on December 9, to a sneak preview of the hangar that will display 200 aircraft and 140 spacecraft. The controversial site displays a photo of the new complex about 25 miles west of Washington and a prominent photo of just one of it’s many exhibits, The glistening Enola Gay, parked beneath a huge American flag.

Committee members describe a kind of “arms-length” collaboration with the local Washington activist community. Links on the website describe “Related events sponsored by other organizations.”

In fact, several groups in the local activist community have been busy organizing events. Karen O’Keefe, a Washington attorney and volunteer with the D.C. Antiwar Network, says about 15 DAWN volunteers are working on opposing the Enola Gay exhibit in a creative, nonviolent fashion. “At this point we are sending emails to editorial writers nationwide, distributing flyers to members of Congress, advertising the website nationally and alerting the embassies to get out the word about this exhibit and to announce plans others are undertaking for a social event honoring the Hibakusha (A & H Bomb survivors), a conference, a liturgy service and demonstration”, explained the determined activist.

The D.C. Antiwar Network is working with the local chapter of the Gray Panthers to hold a social event honoring Hibakusha on Friday evening, December 12, in Washington. John Steinbach of the Gray Panthers has arranged for at least five delegations of Japanese survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bombing to come to Washington for a weekend of event, culminating in the demonstration at the Air and Space Museum’s complex in Dulles on Monday, Dec 15. The Hibakusha are working with Hidankyo, the Japan Confederation of A & H Bomb survivors.

Thousands of Japanese and people around the world have signed an angry petition demanding that General John Dailey, Director of the Air and Space Museum, rethink the exhibit. The petition states in part, “We cannot repress our deep astonishment and anger. What the Enola Gay wrought was the loss of well over 100,000 lives that were cruelly destroyed by the atomic bomb, and the deep wounds and radiation-induced handicaps that continue to afflict victims of the atomic bomb to this day. Of the 140,000 people estimated to have died in Hiroshima within that year, 65% were women, children and elderly people who had no connection to the war. To exalt this Enola Gay - which caused an unprecedented atrocity that violated all norms of morality and international law - as a testimony to "technological achievement" is completely unacceptable to the atomic bomb victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

On Saturday, December the 13th, Committee members are planning to hold a conference in Washington in Kay Chapel at American University. Several renowned scholars, including Paul Boyer, Herbert Bix, Sy Hersh, Larry Wittner, Gar Alperovitz, and Kai Bird, have indicated their willingness to participate. Organizers are deciding whether to hold an evening session featuring Daniel Ellsberg and Jonathan Schell who cannot attend the afternoon conference.

On Sunday, December 14, a special liturgy will be held at the historic New York Avenue Presbyterian Church near the White House.
The service will feature a film showing the devastation caused by the bomb dropped by the Enola Gay. Hibakusha from around the world will share their insight. The hibakusha are radiation victims who were terribly scarred and diseased sufferers of the first atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That is, they are atomic survivors who lived - but infected and sick for a time or for several years - from the effects of the bomb and, as such, are witnesses to its horror, pain and death. For a time they were shunned by their own Japanese compatriots because they reminded the public, through their disfigurement, of losing the war and the shame at their defeat. But after the Bikini Atol test of the Hydrogen bomb and the deaths of Japanese fishermen nearby, the Japanese people began to change that view and today view the hibakusha as respected witnesses of the continuing nuclear threat.

Rev. Phil Wheaton, who is organizing the special liturgy, prefers the opposition to the Enola Gay to focus on the hibakusha. Wheaton embraces the link between an analysis of history and a discussion of American nuclear policies. He explains, “There are thousands of new radiation victims around the world who have become sick from the fallout of other atomic bomb testings, including Americans known as "down-winders," from the fallout of radiation poisoning here in the US and overseas. They too, have come to be called hibakusha.” The Episcopal minister continues, “ This growing company of atomic radiation victims/sufferers/witnesses are reminders of the grave threat we are still facing.” Wheaton said the service will also address U.S. development of tactical nuclear weapons made of depleted uranium (DU). Many US soldiers returning from Iraq have developed serious diseases from that radiation.

The Committee’s Statement of Principles, the bantering back and forth with the Air and Space Museum, the social event honoring Hibakusha, along with the academic conference and the solemn liturgy, will lead to a demonstration being organized principally by members of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House in Washington. The Catholic Workers, an intense group of activists who merge the nonviolent teachings of Christ with cutting edge activist tactics, plan a solemn, respectful demonstration in front of the Enola Gay at 11:00 a.m. on the day of the museum’s opening, Monday, December 15. Kathy Boylan of the Catholic Worker House invoked the words of Roman Catholic Pope Paul VI who described the bombing as "a butchery of untold magnitude.” Ms Boylan said the purpose of the demonstration is “to express our outrage at the Enola Gay being displayed without reference to the human suffering inflicted.” Plans call for demonstrators to congregate near the plane. Demonstration planners say the Smithsonian won’t address the suffering unleashed by the Enola Gay - so they will.

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