Bare with me – I’m trying to get back into blogging…
I’m going to get wordy and ranty and get something off my chest I’ve carried with me for a while, but you’re kinda here for photos right. So first, a picture:
So the story goes back a while, to November 2013 when I took my first trip to Washington DC as part of a conference I was speaking at on behalf of my old employer. The trip was pretty whistle-stop (as it should be right? You’re working not on holiday…) but I did get a small window of about 2-3 hours loose on my own on Washington’s National Mall during ‘museum open hours’ and faced with an endless choice of the world’s best museums to go in, being a proper boy I went for the Air and Space museum.
And it blew my mind. I mean I touched a rock from the moon for crying out loud. I saw the Wright Brother’s plane and some badass rockets.
But I left feeling underwhelmed, as whilst there I learned the *really cool* stuff like the Space Shuttle and Concorde etc. were out at the other Air and Space museum an hour out of DC by Dulles airport (because when you’re The Smithsonian one space museum isn’t enough you know?) So a hat tip there for all the really geeky plane types who haven’t researched it themselves, go to the one out of town.
So fast forward to June 2015 and I was in DC again as part of another trip with the current day job and I managed to ensure that I got a day out at the Udvar-Hazy centre (that’s the Dulles airport one). It lived up to the wait and I even got to go behind the scenes but that’s another blog post for another day. In between I’ve been to Japan and as regular readers will know, I went to Hiroshima.
For those that haven’t guessed the connection, that shiny plane up top (that actual one – it’s the real thing) dropped the atom bomb that flattened Hiroshima. I felt very moved and affected by the visit to Hiroshima – as you should. I strongly disagree with the heavily biased, political slant that you’re exposed to when you visit the Peace Museum there, but you know, when you learn about what happened you’ll let anything go.
At the time I wrote about my visit (click here) I tried to reconcile how both sides of an event like that must feel – especially having grown up with a family largely anti-Japanese due to their own experiences with WWII. But the visit to the US was the first time I’ve been confronted with a significant moment in history from both sides.
A lovely, lovely guide took me round the Udvar-Hazy centre. A retired USAF helicopter pilot with a gentle tone and warm personality spoke from the heart and with genuine excitement to my fellow tour-goers and I. I’ve huge respect for front of house museum staff, in many cases they’re volunteers who do their work for the pure love of culture and heritage – they really are the jewels in a museum’s crown. Yet I felt offended to listen to the description and tale of the Enola Gay – glorifying the ‘unique role the plane played in solving WWII’ and bringing an end to the conflict. Like that shiny object was the savior of the world. The description and reverence was so one-sided and lacking in respect and understanding for the other side of that plane’s past it was vulgar. When you visit Hiroshima, the US aren’t the devil, they’re one-half of a two-sided story.
Unfortunately, not so in Washington DC. And that hurt…
Maybe growing into being a culture and heritage professional through working at an archive has biased me somewhat – there your purpose is to provide evidence and let others draw their own conclusions. I believe museums, archives, galleries, libraries have a right to tell a curated story but it should always be fair and provide all sides to reflect upon. It’s part of why they exist; to educate and provide a space to learn and reflect on what has gone before.
So there I stood looking through the window at the sight instruments used to guide that bomb – at one point someone looked through that sight and sealed the fate of Hiroshima and history. And I don’t care who was killing who – everyone played a part, everyone lost people somewhere.
I looked with a lump in my throat, choking on ill-formed words and ideas and a tear in my eye looking at a machine.
I feel privileged to be lucky enough to have experienced both curated views of that day – it’s an honour many will never have. And the Air and Space museum worked – it encouraged discourse inside me – I just can’t reconcile how other people walked away from that tour and what they took with them as their reading on history.
I love engineering, I’m a complete geek for machines and how things work – to be in a place holding the pinnacle of so much of mankind’s engineering achievements is awe-inspiring. But some feats of engineering should never have been used, some things are more important. There’s nothing awe-inspiring about that plane beyond the fact it ever achieved fame – and at what cost? I wish I could have taken that tour guide to Hiroshima and then followed his tour again… Life is about balance.