|ISSUE 62 AUTUMN 2010
British Charge D'Affaires, David Fitton said: ‘I am very honoured to be the very first British representative to attend the commemoration ceremonies’
The dropping of the atom bombs on Japan remains controversial in the US. Applauded by many as having saved the lives of thousands of American soldiers (and who cares about the Japanese civilians), but seen as wholly unnecessary, motivated by issues unconnected with securing the defeat of the Japanese military and a war crime by others.
A planned exhibition at the Smithsonian in Washington DC to mark the 50th anniversary of the bombing, focused on the restored cockpit of the Enola Gay (the bomber that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and was named after the pilot’s mother) together with interpretative text by the museum’s staff. The text was heavily criticised for being too concerned with the victims and brought to a wider public the controversial nature of the bombing. No compromises could be reached on the text and the exhibition closed. The cockpit remains on display but without any interpretative text. It is now surrounded by security monitors to prevent any further dousing in blood, paint and ash.
The fundamentalist aspect of the issue surfaced again earlier this year when James Cameron, following the success of Avatar, bought the rights to the bestseller The Last Train from Hiroshima which a reviewer said ‘puts flesh on the skeletons’ of the bombing and is based on interviews of various survivors including US airmen. The veracity of one of the airmen (now dead) who claimed to have taken part in the bombing as a replacement for the originally intended engineer who became sick was questioned. ‘We're so distraught. Thank God he's not alive. He was so proud,’ said his widow of the maligned engineer.
Back in Britain in the Bomber Hall at the RAF museum in Hendon Britain’s Vulcan bomber that would have dropped atomic bombs on Russia is surrounded by a neat display of bombs and has a large video screen ‘imaginatively’ placed in its vast bomb bay showing the bomber going through its paces. Several dozen Air Cadets were cruising around when I visited and seemed fairly uninterested – perhaps it was the girl cadets amongst them that caused the lack of focus. Here there is no controversy about dropping atom bombs on Japan and the ‘interpretative’ panels are entirely conventional – the bombs were dropped to save the lives …. etc. Britain’s own controversy is not on display. The mass bombing of Germany is portrayed by an ancient mock up of what purports to be a factory; no focus on dead civilians here either.
Museums, like other unproductive institutions, need to renew themselves, devise a new purpose for their existence to make sure that the ‘footfall’, as they would say, increases. Military museums are particularly prone to this and while museums should be free to do by and large what they want, military museums have an apparently inescapable tendency of justifying war as an institution, if not necessarily any particular war, though they are quite keen on the Second World War. The most obscene iteration of this emanates from the RAF Museum which is trying to raise funds for what it calls the ‘Battle of Britain beacon’ – a 350 foot ‘iconic landmark’ a ‘gateway to London’ visible for miles around with a ‘unique mission’….