Don't mention the war: Smithsonian exhibits plane that bombed Hiroshima

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The Independent US

Damned if you do ... and damned if you don't. Such must be the mood of weary resignation of the organisers of the latest attempt to exhibit the Enola Gay - the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan just over 58 years ago - in Washington.

Damned if you do ... and damned if you don't. Such must be the mood of weary resignation of the organisers of the latest attempt to exhibit the Enola Gay - the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan just over 58 years ago - in Washington.

Back in the mid-1990s, the first display of one of the most significant aircraft in history fell foul of a bitter dispute about the venerable Smithsonian Institute's version of the events which led to the Enola Gay's fateful mission over Hiroshima on 6 August 1945.

Veterans' groups and conservative politicians were outraged at the absence of any mention of the attack on Pearl Harbor and of Japan's record of aggression and cruelty across Asia. Adding insult to injury, only a small portion of the fuselage went on view in 1995 - a slight due to shortage of space at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum on the Washington Mall.

This time the whole of the Enola Gay will be on show at its new home, a museum near Dulles Airport, 25 miles west of Washington, which will also house a recently-retired Air France Concorde. But, once again, a furore has erupted over the account of the Enola Gay's place in history - or rather the lack of such an account.

The explanatory placard runs to just two paragraphs, noting merely that the B-29 Superfortress was "the largest and most technologically advanced aeroplane for its time." No mention of the war in the Pacific, or of the Enola Gay's role as vehicle of the nuclear age.

"This is a lie of omission," said E L Doctorow, the novelist and one of a group of 100 activists, scholars and writers who have signed a petition calling for a full account of the Enola Gay's place in history.

"To present this plane as a technological marvel with no reference to the number of people killed ignores what happened," he said.

David Nasaw, a cultural historian at the City University of New York, likened the description to "displaying a slave ship solely as a model of technological advancement." The Smithsonian refused to comment.

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