The bombing of Hiroshima wasn't a racist act by U.S.

September 04, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

If those who control the past really do control the future, then you can see why the fight over the Enola Gay is so important.

The Enola Gay is the B-29 bomber that dropped the atomic jTC bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.

Some months ago, the Smithsonian Institution announced it was going to put the forward section of the Enola Gay's fuselage, including the bomb bay and cockpit, on display at the Air and Space Museum in Washington to mark the 50th anniversary of the event.

But part of the original exhibit was going to say "for most Americans . . . it was a war of vengeance. For most Japanese, it was a war to defend their unique culture against Western imperialism."

And then it was to say: "Some have argued that the United States would never have dropped the bomb on the Germans, because Americans were more reluctant to bomb 'white people' than Asians."

This is standard revisionist history, and while these matters have been debated among historians for decades, the Smithsonian appeared to be taking sides and saying the United States had done a terrible and racist thing by dropping the bomb.

Thousands of veterans disagreed, however, and they signed petitions, while dozens of members of Congress wrote letters. And last week, the Smithsonian announced that it was going to change the display.

Now, the exhibit, which is set to open in May of next year, also will include a section tentatively called: "The War in the Pacific: An American Perspective."

And I think it is very generous of the Smithsonian to admit there even is an American perspective. And we can only hope that somebody will get the bright idea of including a few pictures of Pearl Harbor and the Bataan Death March in the display.

There is no need to re-fight World War II in this exhibit, but it would be nice if the children of today (and the Air and Space Museum attracts lots of children) were aware that Harry Truman did not decide to drop the bomb on Japan as a whim or as an evil act of rage.

The generation that lived through World War II is dwindling, and soon their protests will no longer be heard. True, we do have history books, but history is made much more "exciting" to children by nifty displays.

And if you want to see what kids are learning about World War II today, go down to Disney World and take a look at the American Adventure exhibit.

There you will watch talking robots and a nifty movie about

American history, and when it gets to Pearl Harbor, you will hear the actual voice of Franklin D. Roosevelt in his famous War Message to Congress.

He says: "Yesterday, December 7, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked. . . ."

In reality, FDR went on to say, " . . . by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."

But in the Disney version, FDR's voice fades out at that point, and the stirring music comes up, and you never hear just who it was who attacked Pearl Harbor.

Because, after all, a lot of Japanese tourists come to Disney World. And today Japan is our ally and our creditor and, heck, it all happened a long time ago anyway.

So Disney teaches forgetfulness. And the Smithsonian wanted to give us a version of history that says we dropped the bomb in a spasm of vengeance and racism.

In fact, however, dropping the bomb saved both American and Japanese lives. We lost 12,000 men invading Okinawa, for example, while the Japanese lost 110,000. An invasion of Japan would have resulted in far more deaths and similar ratios.

And while conventional bombing was savaging Japan (the March 1945 fire-bombing raids on Tokyo killed more than died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined), the military clique in charge of Japan continued to wage war. It was only the incredible horror of the atomic bombs that moved the emperor to surrender.

And though racism toward the Japanese certainly existed, the United States (along with Great Britain) had no trouble incinerating 135,000 white people in two raids on Dresden, about the same number of Asians we incinerated in Hiroshima.

Why we dropped the bomb on Japan can certainly be debated.

But let's be fair to future generations and give them the information they need to understand both sides.

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