More Lies from a Machine: Revisiting the Enola Gay

by Stephen Kobasa

But I have words
That would be howled out in the desert air, Where hearing should not latch them.
- Macbeth, IV, iii

Crowded in the vast museum hangar, a war toy now, the Enola Gay is once again intact. The weapon proved restorable, but not the world it destroyed. This is an example of those ironies which, along with violence, are our culture's most notable products. But what protest is adequate to the outrage?

Eight years ago, when a part of the Enola Gay's fuselage was first displayed at the Air and Space Museum in Washington, three of us marked it with blood and ashes, part of the history of resistance to the exhibit which has been lost in the same way the plane's history has been erased by the Smithsonian curators.

For a brief moment, the plane was like one of those legendary sites of murder which ooze the evidence of the crimes committed there.

Now the plane has been once again washed clean, and the academics have gathered to beg for words, demanding that a more complete history of the plane's use be included in a display which now praises it as merely a triumph of technology.

But what printed narrative would be complete? What list of the dead? How account for the mutilated conscience of a man like the one for whose mother the plane is named and who, when asked his opinion of the more contemporary demands for the use of nuclear weapons, replied:

"Oh, I wouldn't hesitate if I had the choice. I'd wipe 'em out."

How will the Hibakusha present at the opening of this new museum console the dead with their message that they have seen the distant machine a second time, now displayed as near and wonderful?

A possible answer would be to drag the plane into the desert to be scoured by sand to a metal skeleton, puzzled over by wandering naturalists, and explained by no documents other than the screaming of ghosts.

-by Stephen Vincent Kobasa

The Nuclear Resister
August 2004