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The Enola Gay at the National Air & Space Museum
by Paul Straney and Robert Sacchi

Page 2

The exhibit's opponents succeeded in canceling The Last Act. They may of also defeated their own purpose. By sanitizing the atomic bombings it is easy for a neutral observer to conclude the US has something to hide. Some people have made spurious accusations against the people who decided to use atomic weapons against Japan. Some have charged the US used nuclear weapons to impress the Soviet Union. Another charge is the US used nuclear weapons against Japan instead of Germany for racial reasons.


The Enola Gay's bomb bay. The small bracket in the middle center was the type used by the "Fat Man" type of atomic weapon, the type used against Nagasaki. There are four smaller brackets on the sides of the bomb bay that were used to secure the "Little Boy" in the bomb bay. The "Little Boy" weapon was used against Hiroshima. Both types of brackets were installed in the Enola Gay's bomb bay.

The Last Act's August 1994 script explained why the US dropped atomic bombs on Japan and not Germany. The script pointed out there was some discussion about using the weapon against Japan for technical reasons. Some felt Germany would have been more likely to exploit the intelligence coup if the weapon fell largely intact into enemy hands. The script also explained it was an academic question since Germany surrendered before the US completed its first atomic bomb. The museum dropped this issue from their October 1994 script. The Last Act's final script underscored the probability of high US casualties as the reason for president Harry S. Truman's decision to use nuclear weapons. The script gave numerous examples of the damage and casualties the Japanese Kamikaze (suicide) planes caused. The script also talked about the Japanese no surrender doctrine.

The October script had numerous illustrations of Japanese brutality. These illustrations included the Rape of Nanking, the Bataan Death March, and a picture of a Japanese soldier beheading an Australian prisoner. The script pointed out the Japanese gave their prisoner-of-war camp Commandants orders to execute their prisoners before Allied forces could liberate them.

The Last Act told about the bombings of Shanghai (1937), Rotterdam (1940), London (1940), Dresden and Tokyo (1945). This could have given visitors an understanding that destroying cities did not begin with Hiroshima.

Visitors can learn much from a "Contextual, accurate, fair, and balanced" (1) atomic bombing exhibit. The Last Act's first script portrayed the atomic bomb's horrors without adequate perspective. A child's charred lunch box with the carbonized food still inside is, in Dr. Richard Hallion's words, "An emotionally laden artifact." (2) The Air & Space Museum's Enola Gay exhibit makes the US appear insensitive to the atomic bomb victims' suffering. The film with the crew members' recollections shows some footage of the devastation. It also shows bombing victims for 10 seconds. The victims were all alive, all adults and probably all males. (3) Making a comprehensive exhibit on the atomic bombings is a very difficult undertaking. The Last Act scripts were over 500 pages long. The Last Act's final script came close to accomplishing this Herculean task. It is unfortunate the public will never see The Last Act.

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    1 Dr. Hallion suggested exhibiting the Enola Gay without comment would be less controversial than a contextual exhibit. However, he used these words to describe what a comprehensive exhibit should be.

    2 One of the first items cut from The Last Act's script was Reiko Watanabe's lunch box. Reiko Watanabe was a first year middle school student. She died in the Hiroshima bombing. No one ever found her body.

    3 Some of the victims may have died shortly after they were filmed but there is no way to tell from the film. The film shows one victim who is facing away from the camera. It is impossible to be sure of the victim's gender by just watching the film. The film does not tell whether the victims shown were military or civilians.

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Paul F. Straney and Robert Sacchi © 1996