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

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  231 Ratings  ·  29 Reviews
From the "taming of the West" to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the portrayal of the past has become a battleground at the heart of American politics. What kind of history Americans should read, see, or fund is no longer merely a matter of professional interest to teachers, historians, and museum curators. Everywhere now, history is increasingly being held h ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published August 15th 1996 by Holt Paperbacks (first published August 1st 1996)
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Mar 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
Two narratives merged in the abortive display proposed by the Smithsonian of the Enola Gay, the bomber that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima: the successful ending to a long and devastating war and the devastation of two Japanese cities. History is all about stories, what the tell us and what they reveal about us. The text accompanying the display originally was characteristic of what Hoffer describes as the "new History," which portrayed the United States in a more nuanced manner and with l ...more
A collection of essays by various historians responding to the 1994 controversy surrounding a planned exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum that was to be centered around the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The exhibit planned to place the plane as a transitional piece between two eras, the end of WWII, and the beginning of the Cold War. It also wanted to, most contentiously, offer the visitors a look into scholarly debate on the decision to drop t ...more
Aug 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-general
History Wars is a collection of essays centered around the failed 1995 Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's exhibit of the Enola Gay, which intended to examine intersection the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War beginning with the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The exhibit floundered when pressure from conservative politicians and veterans groups denounced it and Congress threatened to cut the museums funding.

Some of the contributing authors were c
Craig Werner
May 30, 2015 rated it liked it
It's a bit hard to judge this useful collection of essays as a result of the changes that have taken place in the world since it was published pre-9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Focusing on the furor over the proposed Smithsonian (NASM) exhibition organized around the Enola Gay (the plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima), the essays delve into the reasons the exhibit failed to take place in anything resembling the historically serious form the curators intended. The central concer ...more
Jul 09, 2009 rated it liked it
An account of the abortive Smithsonian effort to present an exhibition featuring the B-29 'Enola Gay' for the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. The exhibition itself became part of the 'culture wars' of the 1990s--- torpedoed by a combination of conservative politicians and veterans' groups. The accusation was that the proposed exhibition, by featuring photos of the human devastation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and discussing the debates over whether the bombings were necessary to end ...more
Bas Kreuger
Mar 02, 2012 rated it liked it
A bit repetative after a while, but certainly very interesting for historical professionals who work in museums or make exhibits. How to exhibit war? What effects can certain object have? How difficult can discussions be where actual particants in a conflict voice their opinion? And what value must those voices have?
All subjects treated in this book and a must read for directors or curators in war or war related museums.
Todd Martin
Dec 10, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
“Historians become controversial when they do not perpetuate myths, when they do not transmit the received and conventional wisdom, when they challenge the comforting presence of a stabilized past.”
― Edward Linethal, History Wars

On August 6, 1945 the U.S. detonated an atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later another nuclear bomb was dropped and Nagasaki was destroyed. Several hundred thousand civilians were killed outright, with many more dying from the side effects of r
Mike Hankins
Jun 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: public-history
This essay collection provides a variety of perspectives regarding the 1995 incident when the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) proposed an exhibit about the Enola Gay aircraft that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The exhibit came under fire and plans for the exhibit were eventually scrapped. The essays here cover a wide range of material. Some essays are general narratives of the event, some delve deep into the historical literature about atomic weapons and the decision to drop the bom ...more
Sarah Crawford
Jan 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book centers around a very interesting topic, and that is how the past is viewed by the participants in a war between each other. In this case, the issue is a planned Smithsonian exhibit of the Enola Gay, the plan that dropped the first atomic bomb ever used. The book goes into details about the various scripts and arguments, the problems ranging from one approach that more or less painted the Hiroshima and its people as the victims of the war to the other extreme, basically that they-got- ...more
Kristi Thielen
Jul 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
In 1993, the National Air and Space Museum announced it would mount an exhibit of the Enola Gay, the plane which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Museum Director Martin Harwit and staff envisioned an exhibit which would reflect on the decision to use the bomb on Japan and how it opened the world to the atomic age.

It wasn't long before all hell broke loose.WW2 veteran organizations, branches of the military and politicians grew increasingly disapproving about the exhibit focus, which they f
Apr 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
I finally finished this, now that the semester is over.

I already knew about the controversy over the Enola Gay exhibit from a class in undergrad, but the professor of that class suggested that, if I were interested, I could read this book. As I find the conflict between history and memory profoundly fascinating, I did (eventually) pick this up. The editors did make a concerted effort to collect articles that saw the conflict from both sides, but I think this following quote summarizes the primar
May 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is so interesting, and intensely frustrating at the same time. Basically all the chapters are different historians discussing the Enola Gay exhibit controversy at the Smithsonian in the 90s. 16 year old me must have not been paying much attention, because I don't remember this at all, but apparently it was a really big story, with congressional hearings and everything. Long story short, Congress decided that the job of the Air and Space Museum is to promote patriotism and happy thoughts abo ...more
John Kaufmann
Dec 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Possibly a 3.5 I read this some ten or twelve years ago (well before Goodreads), and I remember liking it. Nominally it is about the display of the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian's Nation Air and Space Museum to mark the 50th anniversary of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. But at a deeper level it is about the struggle over the meaning of the bomb, whether it should or should not have been dropped, whether it should be 'celebrated' or 'criticized.' Do we relate what was thought at the time, or do we ...more
Nov 20, 2013 rated it liked it
Read this for a grad class.
I really struggled with picking a number of stars to give this one. This is a very very important book. However, it could be about half as long - since it's a compilation of essays, it gets quite repetitive after a while.
Anyway. The fact that this happened frustrates the hell out of me, and I will force the first chapter or two of this book on anyone who gives me half a chance.
Oct 20, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I skimmed this in college when it was assigned for a seminar I took, and I thought the subject was interesting enough to save it for a more thorough read later. It's about 8 years later and it doesn't make for very good non-class reading. It also feels very dated since it was written before 9/11, and the commemoration of that event is a more prevalent discussion topic these days.
Dec 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
The essays in this book flow logically and are beautifully written. Put together Pre-9/11, the dangers of blinding jingoism and naive moralism seem like tame warnings now. These days, to question the heroic narrative of the US is to be un-American and these 8 historians make it clear just how stupid it is to support conservative historical amnesia. Highly recommended reading.
James Erwin
Jul 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
This collection of essays on the 50th anniversary of the atomic bomb, and the fight to control the interpretation of its history, is excellent but uneven. Some contributors are thoughtful and even-handed while others descend to insulting rhetoric. On the balance, a vital case study for anyone interested in history as a profession and practice.
Jun 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book should be required reading for anyone in Museum Studies or interested in Public History. A look at the controversy surrounding the Smithsonian’s attempts to have an exhibit on the 50th anniversary of the WWII Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Raises many questions about museum’s obligations to the public and preserving history that cannot be easily answered.
Jay Sandlin
Nov 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
When the cultural wars enter the academic arena, which version of history will win out?

The collection of essays details the conflicting factions in the display of the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian in the 90s.

Everyone has their own idea of what the display should be, but where does the truth fall? Did the United States make the best choice in dropping the bomb on Japan?

Daniel Conner
Mar 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
For a person wanting a career in public history, it was very interesting reading the challenges faced by historians and in the field, trying to balance historic facts and the memories of those involved.
Mark Singer
Feb 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Mark by: no one
A great collection of essays about the controversial 1994 Enola Gay exhibit at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. The Enola Gay was the American B-29 bomber that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, in August 1945, and its front half was to be put on display.
Jun 17, 2007 marked it as to-read
Shelves: american-history
rec: linenthal's essay first sparked my interest in historiography, prof. kaye.
Sep 03, 2007 marked it as to-read
Mariel & Kelly make this book sound cool and they are smart historian types.
Dec 09, 2012 rated it liked it
I didn't love it. I felt the narrative was really bogged down in an excess of detail.
Dec 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great information

As a graduate student, this book was useful in providing information about the use of public history in society. It was also a very interesting read.
Sean Phillips
Nov 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
A great book on the Enola Gay Controversy, and gives the reader an idea of how hard politically it was to ever do an exhibition on the 50th anniversary of the use of the Atomic Bomb
Meihan Liu
Sep 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The very existence of such a thought-provoking debate between the function of a national museum inspires awe and respect for this very society producing it.
May 09, 2011 rated it it was ok
Very repetitive and argumentative between essays. And us historians sometimes wonder why people don't like us.
Repetitive. And redundant. Displays of Power addresses the same topic more thoroughly, and in fewer pages.
Scott Karl M.
rated it it was amazing
Mar 24, 2016
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“you love this country so much you’re willing to die for it, maybe you do belong to a ‘special interest,’ but that special interest used to be called the people of the United States of America.” 0 likes
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