Celebrating nuclear terror with amnesia and techno-lust

The Smith­son­ian Muse­um in Wash­ing­ton has “reassem­bled the eno­la Gay, the plane that dropped the atom­ic bomb on the Japan­ese city of Hiroshi­ma in 1945”:www.nytimes.com/2003/08/19/national/19MUSe.html. Try­ing to avoid the con­tro­ver­sy that accom­pa­nied a 1995 exhi­bi­tion, the cur­rent muse­um direc­tor says this exhib­it will:
bq. “focus on the tech­no­log­i­cal achieve­ments, because we are a tech­no­log­i­cal muse­um… This plane was the largest and most tech­no­log­i­cal­ly advanced air­plane for its time.”
This con­tin­ues the moral blind­ness that cre­at­ed the blood­i­est cen­tu­ry in human his­to­ry. Instead of look­ing at how pol­i­tics, war and tech­nol­o­gy inter­sect­ed in an event that instant­ly killed 80,000 peo­ple, we shine up the met­al and blab­ber on about tech­nol­o­gy. The bombing’s death count far over­shad­ows the 3,000 deaths at the World Trade Cen­ter two years ago. If the sight of the tow­ers col­laps­ing is a hor­ror we can nev­er for­get or min­i­mize, then so too is Hiroshima’s mush­room cloud.
The only way mil­i­tarism and nation­al­ism sur­vives is by abstract­ing war and ignor­ing the very real death, blood and tragedy. The Japan­ese peo­ple caught up in their country’s lust for war were vic­tims as soon as the fight­ing start­ed. Their par­tic­i­pat­ing in their country’s war was a result of pro­pa­gan­da and nation­al­is­tic fer­vor, the same mix that led so many Amer­i­cans to sup­port the war in Iraq.
The over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of peo­ple killed on August 8, 1945 were peo­ple who nev­er fired a gun. They were sim­ply try­ing to stay alive in a world full of human-made ter­ror. They were ordi­nary peo­ple who watched as their country’s lead­ers plot­ted and warred. Most were afraid to say no to war, to unite with paci­fists around the world, or to denounce mil­i­tarism wher­ev­er it exist­ed and with what­ev­er excuse it gave for its horror.
The roots of World War II were oil and ter­ror: Japan­ese lead­ers attacked its neigh­bors to gain con­trol of the indus­tri­al resources the home islands didn’t have. Amer­i­can lead­ers (indus­tri­al and polit­i­cal) had waged war against Hawaii and the Philip­pines for con­trol of Pacif­ic ship­ping lanes. The plot­ting for war start­ed long before Pearl Har­bor and involved the lead­ers in both coun­tries. In a very real way, the war in Iraq is just the lat­est chap­ter in the century-long war over oil.
But his­to­ry, truth and moral­i­ty will all be stripped out of the Smithsonian’s new exhib­it, as spokes­peo­ple for the Amer­i­can Legion and Air Force have declared:
bq. “As long as the eno­la Gay is pre­sent­ed in the light that it was used — to end the war and save lives — that’s fine.”
bq. “We are sat­is­fied that it is in his­tor­i­cal con­text this time and does not make com­ments about U.S. aggres­sion in the Pacific.”
No, school­child­ren vis­it­ing Wash­ing­ton won’t learn the truth about the bomb­ing. Anoth­er gen­er­a­tion will be spoon-fed pro­pa­gan­da about its country’s great­ness and good­ness. Anoth­er gen­er­a­tion will not pause to con­sid­er its country’s old sins and trag­ic mis­takes. A typ­i­cal blog entry about the Smith­son­ian exhib­it that claims “no sin­gle plane did more to save lives in World War II”:http://www.hobbsonline.blogspot.com/2003_08_01_hobbsonline_archive.html#106130896137661056 . Abstract death and claim right­eous­ness to your coun­try, keep mil­i­tarism going and keep peace­ful peo­ple from unit­ing across nation­al boundaries.