The exhibit that bombed : the Enola Gay controversy and the culture wars in the United States
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This dissertation seeks to place the so-called Enola Gay controversy of 1994-5 into the wider context of the culture wars in the United States. The controversy surrounded the preparations for an exhibit of the Enola Gay – the aircraft that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima – at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II. The resulting dispute has traditionally been understood as a clash between commemorative and critical voices in the US. Although this is certainly part of the story, there has been no serious attempt at establishing the location of the controversy within the wider cultural battles in the US. This dissertation therefore seeks to understand how the controversy related to, and had had an impact upon, other debates in the culture wars such as those surrounding provocative art, sexual orientation, and the teaching of history in US schools. This dissertation will argue that the controversy, as part of the wider culture wars, helped lead to a rejection of such notions as compromise and settling disputes through reasoned debate in American political and cultural discourse. Instead, the culture wars have given rise to a new climate for debate, one in which personal conviction based on strong emotions far outweigh any well-reasoned argument based on logic and dispassionate research. The eventual cancellation of the proposed exhibit should therefore be understood as indicative of far wider ideological battles in US culture. The cancellation set a worrying precedent for future debates in the US as it showed that some aspects of the nation’s history are beyond question and should not be challenged.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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Embargo Date: 2022-05-02
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Print and electronic copy restricted until 2nd May 2022
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