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Museums Still Can’t Agree on How to Talk About the 1945 Atomic Bombing of Japan

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    Museums Still Can’t Agree on How to Talk About the 1945 Atomic Bombing of Japan

    • Author

      Erin Blakemore

    • Website Name

      history.com

    • Year Published

      2018

    • Title

      Museums Still Can’t Agree on How to Talk About the 1945 Atomic Bombing of Japan

    • URL

      https://www.history.com/news/atomic-bomb-hiroshima-nagasaki-museum-controversy-los-alamos

    • Access Date

      June 24, 2018

    • Publisher

      A+E Networks

Though an American and a Japanese museum that tell the story of the atomic bomb agree on the horrors of nuclear war, they can’t agree on whether to call for the abolition of the weapons that cause it.

As a result, the Los Alamos Historical Museum—located in the New Mexico city where the atomic bomb was born—halted a traveling Japanese exhibition on the history of the bomb because of its theme of nuclear disarmament, the Associated Press reports.  

The Hiroshima-Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Exhibition, produced by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the city of Nagasaki, tells the story of how two Japanese cities were destroyed by twin nuclear bombs in August 1945. So far, it’s been hosted in 37 cities in 13 countries over the past two decades. But it looks like Los Alamos won’t be one of them.

Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui (far left) standing next to Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue as they look at a display with local students at the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Exhibition in 2016. (Credit: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui (far left) standing next to Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue as they look at a display with local students at the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Exhibition in 2016. (Credit: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)

The exhibition, which has been traveling around the world since 1995, features artifacts, survivor testimonies and other items related to the 1945 bombings, which killed an estimated 80,000 people in Hiroshima and 40,000 people in Nagasaki. It includes objects like the shredded jacket of a junior high school student who was injured in Hiroshima and a rosary that was with a parishioner who was killed instantly while worshiping at a Nagasaki church.

Heather McClenahan, the Los Alamos Historical Museum’s director, told the AP that the museum’s board of directors wasn’t comfortable with the exhibition’s call for the abolition of nuclear bombs. Though the AP reports that the museum refused to host it until all parties could come to an agreement over how nuclear abolition was presented, McClenahan later denied the report. “We never cancelled the exhibit because we had never agreed to host it,” she told the Los Alamos Monitor. “We just want to make sure it’s respectful to our community.”

An informational panel describing the aftereffects of the A-Bomb at an exhibit titled "60 Years Later: The Hiroshima-Nagasaki A-Bomb Exhibition" at Chicago's Peace Museum, in collaboration with the Nagasaki Peace Memorial Hall and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, in 2005. (Credit: Tim Boyle/Getty Images)
An informational panel describing the aftereffects of the A-Bomb at an exhibit titled “60 Years Later: The Hiroshima-Nagasaki A-Bomb Exhibition” at Chicago’s Peace Museum, in collaboration with the Nagasaki Peace Memorial Hall and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, in 2005. (Credit: Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

The Los Alamos National Laboratory, where the atomic bomb was designed and tested in the 1940s, is still operational. It employs 11,200 people, 39 percent of whom live in Los Alamos itself—constituting about 35 percent of the town’s 12,000 residents. The lab currently produces the nation’s plutonium pits: triggers that set off the explosions that make nuclear weapons so deadly. Whether it will continue to do so is currently in question; as the federal government looks to update its nuclear infrastructure, it’s considering relocating pit production to South Carolina instead.

The museum is still engaged in discussions about potentially hosting the exhibition, according to  McClenahan. Should the museum present a strong point of view on nuclear abolition? Or should it let visitors come to their own conclusions from the mangled objects and tortured testimonies of Japanese survivors? Until both museums can come to a consensus, don’t expect to see the exhibition in Los Alamos any time soon.

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