Police arrested at least 20 protesters Wednesday at the National Air and Space Museum where the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb to end World War II went on display.
Lines of tourists snaked around the block outside the Smithsonian Institute as the Enola Gay exhibit opened after months of controversy. Then the doors were temporarily closed by protester disruptions.
Eight demonstrators unfurled banners from a second-floor balcony above the main entrance, shouting “Never again! Never again!” Antibomb pamphlets rained down on people waiting to enter the museum, as one annoyed tourist shouted back, “Take your politics elsewhere!”
Those arrested were charged with making a public nuisance.
The pamphlets questioned the necessity of bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki to bring an unprecedented deadly end to the war. Some protesters called the B-29 bomber a destructive symbol that should not be in a museum commemorating human achievement. Others argued the exhibit didn’t tell the whole story.
“The story is not complete if people aren’t aware of the devastation and the loss of life in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and there’s almost no attention to that at all on the exhibit inside,” said Jo Becker, executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
But Smithsonian Secretary I. Michael Heyman defended the exhibit that has been the focus of a sometimes-bitter controversy.
“I don’t believe that this is a glorification of nuclear weapons. It says, ‘This is the Enola Gay. It dropped the bomb that ended the war.’ It doesn’t take a position on the morality of it,” Heyman said.