History Wars: The Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past

Edward Tabor Linenthal, Editor, Tom Engelhardt, Editor, Tom Englehardt, Editor Metropolitan Books $30 (295p) ISBN 978-0-8050-4386-0
The gutting in 1995, because of political protest, of a planned Smithsonian exhibit about the atomic bombing of Japan serves as the launchpad for this intemperate polemic. In eight essays, historians including John W. Dower, Michael Sherry, Marilyn Young and the editors comment upon and often exacerbate the current struggle over how public history depicts the American past. According to the authors, on one side are scholars and intellectuals courageously seeking to establish open discourse on ambiguous elements of the U.S. experience. On the other stand the usual suspects: Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, the Air Force Association and similar right-wing forces committed to ""patriotic orthodoxy."" Common to most of the contributions here is a sense of outrage that the conclusions of respected scholars should be challenged by uncredentialed outsiders. The text and artifacts originally proposed for the exhibit did in fact present strong images of American perpetrators and Japanese victims. This reflects a revisionist position that argues that the nuking of Japan was based on questionable necessity and dubious morality. This interpretation is by no means generally accepted, however, even in the academic community. The Smithsonian could have fostered an appropriate national dialogue on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Instead, they lost a political contest seemingly caused, at least in part, by their own tendentiousness--a lesson that, judging by this book, has yet to be learned. First serial to Harper's. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/29/1996
Release date: 08/01/1996
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