I have long known about this object–seen all the films, read all the books–but to be here in its presence, to finally see its "face," has taken me by surprise. Enola Gay holds me speechless. I am at the Smithsonian Air and Space museum viewing only the fuselage of this iconic bomber. It is years before the large annex will be constructed and the fully restored plane will be displayed. The original theme of this display, hotly debated for years, included information on the civilian deaths but that inclusion was fought by veterans groups. They sought to minimize the fact of the Japanese dead. They wanted the emphasis on how many of our soldier's lives were probably saved by ending the war before the planned invasion of the Japanese main islands. Even though the resulting display is a shadow of the original plan, its power remains potent.
The world in which I grew up was shaped by this silver warrior. In truth it was the cargo rather than the plane that held sway over my world, but, for me, this bomber marks when we took a seat under our modern sword of Damocles.
All of my early memories revolve around air bases, the Cold War, and Dad on alert near the B-52s. The alert force was comprised of armed bombers and their airborne tankers that were to launch in under fifteen minutes in order to beat the arrival of a Soviet sea-launched missile.
One vivid memory was my family visiting Dad as he spent a week in the alert barracks. All...
... middle of paper ...
... images flashed into my head: The matador in Fail Safe, "Into the valley of the shadow of death rode the 600," from When the Wind Blows, "Fire One!" from The Bedford Incident, and finally, Major Kong riding the bomb to trigger the end of the world in Dr. Strangelove. Dad used to speak about the enemy and megatons, but now it's about the latest bird at the feeder and the blooms on the magnolia tree he planted. If only the world had mellowed half as much as he.
Back in the present, the gleaming metal calls out for me to touch it. The layout of the display prevents me and I wonder about that pull to come into contact with this bit of technology and history. It ended a terrible war by erasing over 70,000 fellow humans in less time than I have spent staring at this exhibit. Is it the raw power or a fascination with the horror; I fail to find an answer before moving on.
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