When is a fuselage not just a fuselage? To many World War II veterans, the Enola Gay-the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima-is an icon of their deliverance. The bomb, they feel, was the only alternative to a bloody, massive invasion of Japan. For many others, the Enola Gay is the symbol of the unleashing of a terrifying, sinister, world-changing force; the start of the nuclear age.
On January 30, the Smithsonian Institution announced that, beginning in May, the front 56 feet of the Enola Gay's fuselage will be displayed alone in the Air and Space Museum, accompanied only by a video of recollections from its flight crew. The exhibit that was planned to accompany the plane, "The Last Act: The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II," has been cancelled after more than a year of controversy.
Veterans' groups, who said the exhibit was too sympathetic to Japan and waged a public campaign to get it changed, count themselves as winners in the debate. But on closer examination, it's hard to see who can truly benefit when truth is tossed out the window (excluding the bit of political mileage gained by congressional representatives who took up the veterans' cause).
The exhibit script had already bounced around for several months before the cancellation. Pressure from the American Legion and others led the museum to announce in September substantial revisions that supported the assertion that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary to end the war and save American lives.
In January, it was announced that one of these figures-the number of anticipated casualties for a U.S. invasion of Japan-was being lowered to reflect a more accurate interpretation of documents from the time. Angered that numbers supporting the "necessity" of the bomb would be tampered with, the American Legion demanded that the exhibit be cancelled.