http://www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/7484990.htmWASHINGTON - The Enola Gay, the simple plaque tells us, was the most sophisticated bomber of World War II. The two paragraphs of text compress its momentous impact on the world to one spare sentence:
"On Aug. 6, 1945, this Martin-built B-29-45-MO dropped the first atomic weapon used in combat on Hiroshima, Japan."
The unmistakable icon of the nuclear age, the fully restored Enola Gay goes on public display for the first time Monday in the Smithsonian's new, cavernous Air and Space Museum in suburban Virginia.
But there is no mention of the 140,000 people killed by that bombing. Nor is there mention of the claims that the bombing was necessary to force Japan's surrender or of the wider controversy about using weapons that could destroy humanity.
The unveiling of the Enola Gay and its presentation are touching off a debate about how a museum deals with the pride and pain surrounding one of history's great turning points: President Truman's decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan.
John Dailey, the director of the museum, recently described the B-29 Superfortress as a "magnificent technological achievement," one of the crown jewels in a vast space that contains some of aviation's most notable craft.
Terumi Tanaka, who was 13 when the atomic bomb fell on his city, killing five of his family members, sees the plane differently: "To the survivors, it is a symbol of evil in the world. I am surprised, angry and sad that it is on display."
Tanaka and four other Hiroshima survivors, called hibakusha in Japan, came to Washington this weekend with petitions and plans for a protest Monday when the museum opens. They seek recognition of the human cost of the atomic bomb attack.
About 400 historians, scientists and activists signed a petition urging the Smithsonian to "rethink its exhibit to include a balanced discussion of the atomic bombings and of current U.S. nuclear policy."
"This plane began the era of ultimate destruction," said Peter Kuznick, who heads the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University. "It's just unconscionable for this country to display the Enola Gay in the national museum while whitewashing its role in history."
Smithsonian officials rejected the petition, saying the simple plaque identifying the plane "does not glorify or vilify" its role in history. The labeling is "precisely the same kind used" for the other 81 military and civilian craft in the museum.
Dailey, a retired Marine general, said the bombing helped prevent later use of nuclear weapons during the Cold War because "it showed what can happen."
"But we don't tell people what to think about it," he added.
That did not satisfy the mayor of Hiroshima, Tadatoshi Akiba, who wrote recently to Dailey that the plane is not "simply another exciting step in the technology of flight. … I urge you to convey the horrifying tragedy of nuclear weapons."
Summarizing the controversy over dropping the bomb isn't easy, many historians concede. Some of Truman's advisers, research shows, wanted to use the bomb quickly to intimidate the Soviets, who had just entered the war against Japan.
Military leaders were divided over whether the atomic bomb was necessary. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and Gen. Douglas MacArthur doubted it was needed, believing Japan was on the verge of collapse.
But the specter of high U.S. casualties in an invasion of Japan haunted many leaders and soldiers. More than 12,000 Americans died on Okinawa, as Japanese soldiers fought to the last man.
"It's very important to understand the context of wartime attitudes in 1945," Boyer said.
Some of the Hiroshima survivors agreed that the debate over dropping the atomic bomb should not obscure Japan's aggression and atrocities over many years, from Asia to Pearl Harbor.
"It's only fair that all sides of the story be told, and especially important for the younger generations," said Tanaka, 71. Some survivors have lobbied to make sure Japanese textbooks include information about Japanese atrocities.
Many American veterans see the atomic bomb as a godsend that may have saved their lives. Pulwers, whose new book "Press of Battle" recounts the work of GI reporters during the war, said that was the sentiment in his unit.
Truman expressed that certitude many times. Pulwers, who worked for WABC News in New York, once interviewed Truman and told him how his infantry battalion was about to ship out for the Pacific when they heard about the atomic bomb.
Pulwers said: "I'll always remember what Truman told me: `I saved your ass, son.' "
For more information about the new museum, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, and the Enola Gay, check this Smithsonian Web site: www.nasm.si.edu
(Here is the complete text of the plaque in the exhibit of the Enola Gay:
Boeing's B-29 Superfortress was the most sophisticated propeller-driven bomber of World War II, and the first bomber to house its crew in pressurized compartments. Although designed to fight in the European theater, the B-29 found its niche on the other side of the globe. In the Pacific, B-29s delivered a variety of aerial weapons: conventional bombs, incendiary bombs, mines and two nuclear weapons.
On Aug. 6, 1945, this Martin-built B-29-45-MO dropped the first atomic weapon used in combat on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, Bockscar (on display at the U.S. Air Force Museum near Dayton, Ohio) dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. Enola Gay flew as the advance weather reconnaissance aircraft that day. A third B-29, The Great Artiste, flew as an observation aircraft on both missions.)