D-DAY's golden anniversary was a piece of cake. Now for...

August 15, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

D-DAY's golden anniversary was a piece of cake. Now for the hard part. By a year from this month, the U.S. has got to figure out a politically correct way to celebrate a more significant event: The 50th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

The aircraft that dropped the historic bomb has long been an object of scorn, hatred and shame for many people around the world, even many Americans. It symbolizes to its critics a warfare that needlessly chose civilians as victims. The Smithsonian Institution has kept that plane, the Enola Gay, a B-29, hidden away.

It has been planning a 50th anniversary exhibition with the plane on display in its Air and Space Museum in Washington. But what it has in mind -- whoa! It has proposed to feature not the plane nor the victory it produced, but the suffering the bomb caused in Japan.

What an outrage, many veterans complained. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum wrote the institution that "for 44 years the Smithsonian has been in possession of the historic plane, and it has never been properly and prominently displayed. It seems a travesty that when the Enola Gay is finally exhibited, it will be in a manner that many veterans find objectionable." She said the Smithsonian ought to give the Enola Gay to a Kansas museum.

The Smithsonian said "no" and continued planning its own display, which it describes as "in context."

That context has become too much for lots of members of Congress. Last week a bi-partisan group of 26 members denounced it as anti-American. They charged that the Smithsonian display will have 32 photographs of Japanese war casualties, but only seven of American ones; 97 photographs of Japanese suffering, but only eight of suffering victims of Japanese warfare.

I would guess that Senator Kassebaum and the others who feel the Smithsonian's plans are outrageous will lose this fight. The bias against dead white European males in literature and philosophy also includes a bias on the part of many against the living and dead Europeans and North Americans, almost all of them white and male, who won World War II.

Certainly war is hell, and nuclear war is worse than hell. Killing civilians is nobody's idea of decent or right. But World War II, which the United States did not start, had long since become a war against civilians by August 1945.

Furthermore, most of the soldiers, sailors and Marines who would have been killed if the U.S. had had to invade Japan, which it probably would have had to do if there had been no bomb, were civilians, too -- coerced into temporary duty.

Dropping the bomb should be commemorated -- celebrated -- not for the horror it inflicted (though that should be noted), but for the horrors it pre-empted: A continued World War II, including another -- bloodier -- D Day, and, just maybe, the avoidance of a World War III.

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